A CLEBC employee recently asked me how many Indigenous languages are spoken in Canada. Not knowing the answer immediately spurred me to want to do some research, so this week’s post is all about stats, stats, stats!
According to Statistics Canada, 70 Indigenous languages were reported as being spoken across Canada as of 2016. These languages can be divided into 12 language families: Algonquian languages, Inuit languages, Athabaskan languages, Siouan languages, Salish languages, Tsimshian languages, Wakashan languages, Iroquoian languages, Michif, Tlingit, Kutenai and Haida.
The table below includes a breakdown of the Indigenous languages spoken in Canada:
One in Five First Nations People can converse in an Indigenous Language
“In 2016, 207,755 First Nations people reported being able to conduct a conversation in an Aboriginal language, representing 21.3% of the First Nations population. A higher percentage of the First Nations population with Registered Indian status could converse in an Aboriginal language (27.3%), compared with the First Nations population without Registered Indian status (1.9%).
In 2016, 44.2% of the First Nations population with Registered Indian status were living on reserve. However, among the First Nations population with Registered Indian status who could speak an Aboriginal language, 72.7% were living on reserve. The overwhelming majority of on‑reserve residents are First Nations people, and it may be easier to learn an Aboriginal language and maintain knowledge of it in an area with a high concentration of other speakers. In 2016, a higher percentage of First Nations people with Registered Indian status living on reserve were able to speak an Aboriginal language (44.9%), compared with those living off reserve (13.4%).
The Aboriginal languages spoken by the largest number of First Nations people were Cree languages, Ojibway, Oji‑Cree, Dene and Montagnais (Innu).” [Stats Canada]
An extremely important statistic: The number of Indigenous people who can speak an Indigenous language is higher than the number who have it as a mother tongue
According to Stats Canada:
“In 2016, 15.6% of the Aboriginal population reported being able to conduct a conversation in an Aboriginal language. This is compared with 21.4% in 2006. While the percentage of the Aboriginal population able to conduct a conversation in an Aboriginal language declined between 2006 and 2016, the number of people in the Aboriginal population who could speak an Aboriginal language increased by 3.1%.
In addition to the ability to speak an Aboriginal language, the census collected information on mother tongue. Mother tongue is defined as the first language learned at home in childhood and still understood. In 2016, 12.5% of the Aboriginal population reported an Aboriginal mother tongue (either as a single response or in combination with another language, such as English or French).
In 2016, as in previous censuses, the number of Aboriginal people able to speak an Aboriginal language (260,550) exceeded the number who reported having an Aboriginal mother tongue (208,720). This is evidence that people are learning Aboriginal languages as second languages. Learning an Aboriginal language at home in childhood as a primary language is a crucial element of the long‑term viability of Aboriginal languages. However, second‑language learning can be an important part of language revitalization, and efforts to preserve and revitalize Aboriginal languages through second‑language learning are underway across the country. These efforts include incorporating Aboriginal language instruction in classrooms, creating standard orthographies and developing language immersion programs.” [emphasis added]
We acknowledge that the land on which we work is the unceded territory of the Coast Salish peoples, including the territories of the xʷməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish), and Səl̓ílwətaʔ/Selilwitulh (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations.