Addressing Indigenous language loss by unsettling the racialized linguistic hierarchies entrenched in Canada’s language policies

Laura Jennifer Davis


This article aims to contribute to the discussion about language policy in Canada and to provide policy makers and the general public with a broad historical and social context in which to situate these policies.  As is widely known, Canada’s Indigenous languages are critically endangered, which has detrimental consequences for Indigenous communities. As a result, Indigenous communities and the Canadian federal government have both been working towards solutions to the challenge of Indigenous language loss.  In this paper it will be argued that there are racialized linguistic hierarchies entrenched in Canada’s language policies which result in social, cultural, and economic inequities between different language groups; that these inequities are issues of rights that need to be addressed according to Canada’s national and international commitments; and that the proposed policy solutions for addressing Indigenous language loss would be most effective if they reflected an unsettling of these linguistic hierarchies. 

First, this article will demonstrate the social, cultural, and economic effects of the linguistic hierarchies in Canada’s language policies on French as a non-dominant official language, on non-Indigenous non-official settler languages, and on the Indigenous languages of Canada.  The consequences for policy will then be discussed in terms of language rights, linguistic human rights, international and national commitments and constitutional issues, and practical considerations for language policy planning and implementation will be suggested.  It will be concluded that in planning legislation to satisfy the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action, it would be helpful to consider the relations between Indigenous languages and the other minority languages of Canada and to decolonize and break down the linguistic hierarchies in place in order to prevent further gaps between policy and reality


Indigenous; language loss; language policies; hierarchies; language rights; policy planning

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Working Papers of the Linguistics Circle

EISSN: 1920-440X
ISSN: 1200-3344

University of Victoria