Existing Legislation on Indigenous Languages

August 5, 2020


Below is an overview of each of the current legislations in Canada and around the globe that work towards Indigenous Language preservation.

Prepared By

First Peoples’ Cultural Council

Suggested Use & Distribution

The reference documents below, as well as the list itself, is an excellent quick-guide to current legislation and can be used by educators, cultural and community leaders, and local government representatives when determining current language protections.

Canada: Official Languages Act
For reference, here is the current Official Languages Act for French and English.
Here is a more general summary of the legislation.

Canada: S-212 An Act for the advancement of the aboriginal languages of Canada and to recognize and respect aboriginal language rights
There is currently a private member’s bill in progress through the Senate that aims to provide recognition, but not official status, for Aboriginal languages.
For more information: [click here

Canada: Nunavut
Official Languages Act 2008
General Information

The Act gives official status to the Inuit language, English and French. It provides for the following rights: 

  • Use of any official language in the Legislative Assembly and the Nunavut Court of Justice and appeal court proceedings.
  • Anyone can communicate with or receive services in an official language from the head or central office of any territorial institution and non-head offices also have a duty to provide a service in an official language where there is demand.

Nunavut also has the Inuit Language Protection Act 2008

  • Children in grades K-3 have the right to receive instruction in the Inuit language.
  • A new Language Authority is created to establish language standards.
  • Inuit will have the right to work for the government in their own language.
  • Municipalities must offer services in the Inuit language.
  • By 2019, all school grades will have the right to an Inuit language education. However, this will likely be delayed: [click here]

Canada: Northwest Territories

Official Languages Act 1988

  • Chipewyan, Cree, English, French, Gwich’in, Inuinnaqtun, Inuktitut, Inuvialuktun, North Slavey, South Slavey and Tłįchǫ are the Official Languages of the Northwest Territories (along with English and French).
  • Grants equal rights and privileges for their use in government institutions (legislature, courts).
  • People can receive government services in a language where there is a significant demand for that language.
  • There is a language commissioner and an Aboriginal Languages Revitalization Board.

Canada: Yukon
French and English are the official languages but services may be provided in Aboriginal languages (Language Act 2002).

Canada: Manitoba
The Aboriginal Languages Recognition Act 2010
The languages of Cree, Dakota, Dene, Inuktitut, Michif, Ojibway and Oji-Cree do not have official status, but are recognized as the Aboriginal languages spoken and used in Manitoba.

New Zealand
Māori Language Act 1987

  • Declares the Māori language to be an official language of New Zealand
  • Gives people the right to speak Māori in certain legal proceedings
  • Establishes a commission to oversee the implementation of policies, procedures, measures, and practices designed to give effect to the declaration of Māori language as an official language.

USA: Hawaii

In 1978, Hawaiian is made an official language of Hawaii (along with English) and the the study of Hawaiian is accorded special promotion by the State.

Sweden, Norway and Finland

The Sami language has official status in Sweden and also in some municipalities of Norway and Finland.

  • For example, the Swedish legislation applies to areas where Sami has a long tradition and entitles individuals to use Sami in their dealings with administrative agencies and courts.
  • The legislation also gives the right for pre-school and elderly care to be partly or completely in the minority language.
  • Swedish National minorities and minority languages policy

United Kingdom – Wales
Welsh is not an Indigenous language, but has faced many similar challenges as a minority language native to Wales.

  • The Welsh Language Act 1993 and the Government of Wales Act 1998 provide that the Welsh and English languages be treated equally in the public sector, as far as is reasonable and practicable.
  • The Welsh Language (Wales) Measure was passed in 2011 confirming official status, creating a language commissioner and new provisions for the language.
  • Detailed language strategies and related information