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Indigenous translator for Pope's Canada trip: the Church must work to save our languages


Throughout his trip to Canada, Pope Francis has spoken in Spanish, Italian, and English.

Yet to reach the roughly 200,000 speakers of Indigenous languages spread throughout Canada the Pope has had to rely on Indigenous translators.

In his first public address in Canada, Pope Francis apologized the Church's role in supporting colonizing practices which oppressed the use of Indigenous languages. 

For many Indigenous people, that apology only goes into effect when the Church begins working concretely to undo the damage to Native communities and the near extinction of their language.

HENRY PITAWANAKWAT
Indigenous language translator for papal visit
If they start doing some kind of action and helping us with funding to revitalize our language and culture, then I will believe him.

So far, the Canadian Bishops' Conference has said it has paid out more then 50 million Canadian dollars in cash and in-kind contributions to Indigenous communities, and has pledged to contribute 30 million more over the next five years.

But, residential school survivors such as Elder Henry Pitawanakwat say that resources are needed specifically for cultural projects to help communities move forward by tapping into Indigenous knowledge that prioritizes care for the earth and living respectfully in community.

HENRY PITAWANAKWAT
Indigenous language translator for papal visit

The dire situation we're in know with climate change and social issues, those answers lay in the language. If we could use and bring back this language we could use that knowledge not only to remember the past but to save the future, for our future generations.

Pope Francis himself spoke of the need to pass on the wisdom contained in Indigenous languages while in Canada, and praised the work of Catholics who learned and respected the languages of the communities they served.

POPE FRANCIS
How much good was done in this regard by those missionaries who, as authentic evangelizers, preserved indigenous languages and cultures in many parts of the world.

While English and French are Canada's only official national languages, two of Canada's territories give Indigenous languages official status. Across the country, almost all of Canada's Indigenous languages are considered endangered. 

JM