Australia’s citizenship program should focus on Indigenous introduction, Darwin linguistics teacher says

As IRCC prepares the revised citizenship study guide, with what I understand extensive consultations with Indigenous peoples (to be released later this year?), some interesting reflections from Australia on improving the understanding of Indigenous peoples and new citizens, and language:

As Ganesh Koramannil passed through Sydney Central train station in 2004, a man approached and asked him for $2.

It was an interaction he would have long forgotten, except the man was the first Indigenous Australian Mr Koramannil had ever met.

It could have remained among his only insights to a culture with more than 60,000 years of history, had his wife not turned down a job in Canberra to take up one in Maningrida, 500 kilometres east of Darwin.

After moving to the Arnhem land community four years after arriving in Australia to study English, Mr Koramannil was finally introduced to “the most welcoming culture” he had ever come across, which he said had unprecedented similarities with his own.

“You give an Aboriginal language speaker any Indian name, they will pronounce it very clearly without any accent. Give it to the Europeans, they will give you six varieties,” he said.

“There’s linguistic similarities between Aboriginal languages and Indian languages. My mother tongue for example is Malayalam. There are sounds that are very much part of Yolngu language.

At the time of publishing, Mr Koramannil was the only Territorian to write a submission to the Australian Citizenship Legislation Amendment Bill 2018, which aims to toughen the eligibility requirement for new migrants to become citizens.

But Mr Koramannil said that for many migrants, their knowledge of Indigenous Australia would never extend far beyond his experience at the Sydney train station.

He said Australia’s immigration program offered no systemic way of introducing newcomers to Indigenous culture.

Instead of introducing stricter tests and eligibility requirements, Mr Koramannil has called for an “experiential” citizenship pathway, where migrants were taught about culture, history and values in dedicated sessions.

“The link to our Indigenous past and its present and future relevance [should] be included as a mandatory requirement for citizenship,” he said.

Tougher citizenship test proposed

The original bill to toughen up citizenship requirements was struck down 2017, when the Government missed the deadline for the Senate which saw it struck off by default.

The Greens, Labor and the Nick Xenophon Team had all opposed the changes.

But One Nation senator Pauline Hanson introduced it again 2018 and it was referred to a committee for inquiry.

Among the proposed changes will be a separate English language test, which will check for a ‘competent level’ of listening, speaking, reading and writing skills.

It would also increase the general residence requirement, meaning newcomers will need to live in Australia for eight years before applying for citizenship.

The citizenship test would also include questions about Australian values and the privileges, and responsibilities of Australian citizenship.

In April 2017, when the first bill was launched, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said the Federal Government was “putting Australian values at the heart of citizenship processes and requirements”.

The Multicultural Council of the Northern Territory wrote a submission to last year’s bill, stating that while it was important for migrants to learn English, proficiency should not be an indicator for a person’s ability to make a positive contribution.

It said the idea may have adverse impacts for those from non-English speaking backgrounds and humanitarian entrants.

“It is our experience that fluency in English to the level proposed for migrants from non-English speaking backgrounds in a stand-alone English language test is not usually gained within the period of settlement, but can be viewed as a lifelong skill,” it said.

It said many of the proposals were “at best, unnecessary and, at worst, divisive and counterproductive”.

‘Language cannot be devoid of racial identity’

During Mr Koramannil’s time in Maningrida, he said Indigenous children, who had seldom met an Indian person before, would come up to and say “You are from India”.

It fascinated him.

“I said ‘How did they know?’ You know Maningrida — 600 or 700km away from here, one of the largest standalone Aboriginal communities — and kids of six years old [recognised me],” he said.

Looking back on it, he said he believed the children had sensed a familiarity between the two ancient cultures, just as people who spoke more than one language could recognise features of languages they didn’t speak.

In his opinion, if citizenship tests focussed so closely on English proficiency, it would come at a cultural and linguistic cost.

Mr Koramannil now works in Darwin teaching linguistics at a tertiary level.

The way he sees it, language is so deeply ingrained in a person’s racial identity that selecting citizens based on their language skills is tantamount to profiling.

“[Selecting people based on] language is profiling. And these days we speak multiple languages. And especially people trying to come to Australia, very few people won’t be bilingual.”

As a linguistics professional, and former IELTS examiner, he said he’d seen many “monolingual anglophone Australian professionals” fail to get their band score in writing.

The only reason he could see for such a test was to keep people of certain backgrounds away.

“The question is why are you trying to keep people away? Do keep people away on character for example, criminal background and that. But language is racially profiling,” he said.

Mr Koramannil said forming connections with Australia’s culture, values and history should instead form the basis of citizenship.

He believes newcomers should spend some of their time in Australia prior to becoming citizens learning about the country’s past, culture and values.

He has suggested ‘cultural welcome centres’, where Indigenous people could meet new migrants and explain their perspective of Australia to them, acting as “cultural translators” and helping forge connections.

Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs is due to file a report by December.

The ABC has contacted the committee for comment.

Source: Australia’s citizenship program should focus on Indigenous introduction, Darwin linguistics teacher says

Why Indigenous Languages Should Be Taught Alongside French and English

Chelsea Vowel makes the case (the practicalities will be a challenge):

There are constitutional protections and billions of dollars of funding for Canada’s two official languages, but what of the languages of the original peoples on these lands? I’m not suggesting that all 70 Indigenous languages be made mandatory and offered in every corner of this country. Instead, we need to be looking at supporting these languages where they exist, on the lands whence they originate. In Iqaluit, that would be Inuktitut, while in Halifax it would be Mi’kmaq. Each province and territory should pass an Official Languages Act recognizing the Indigenous languages that originate in those areas, and bolster this recognition with funding to ensure language transmission continues in schools, workplaces, and government. Incentivizing second-language learning in an Indigenous language could be done by hiring speakers in daycares, schools, and public service positions.

It often feels as though we are being asked to justify the continuing existence of our languages to a Canadian audience who may not value them. I believe we need to remind Canada that Indigenous languages are an Aboriginal right, enshrined in section 35 of the Constitution, as well as an inherent right — to speak and pass on our languages — that is recognized internationally by the United Nations Declaration on Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), which Canada has officially adopted. What we need now is an implementation of those rights, supported with adequate funding.

Everyone stands to gain. Embedded within our languages are cultural concepts that have the potential to give all Canadians a deeper understanding of our place in relation to the world around us. Our languages have been systematically devalued for generations out of a misplaced sense of their inferiority. Yet many of the concepts currently being explored by Western medicine, environmentalism, and the humanities are foundational within Indigenous cultures and languages. Holistic health and teachings, understandings of interconnectedness with human and non-human beings, and ways of being in good relation with one another are all described in our various Indigenous languages.

Public perception has a powerful impact on policy, and when Canadians are told that Indigenous languages are on the rise, this obscures just how desperate the situation is. Twenty-four of the Indigenous languages listed in the census have less than 200 speakers each, and if what we truly need are highly fluent speakers, then even these numbers are likely inflated. Even among the so-called robust languages — Cree, Inuktitut, and Ojibway — language loss is speeding up.

We can and must start planning to offer these languages alongside English and French throughout the country. Don’t let a rosy reading of the statistics lull you into a false sense of security. In 10 years, we will once again count the number of speakers of Indigenous languages in Canada. Without immediate, robust, and heartfelt intervention, language decline will be irreversible. As someone who has fought hard to access and reclaim her own Cree language, I am asking Canadians to recognize that we are at a tipping point. Please, support us, and come learn with us.

via Why Indigenous Languages Should Be Taught Alongside French and English – Chatelaine

Josiah Wilson, the Indian Act, hereditary governance and blood quantum

Fascinating account of the different aspects of identity, ranging from bloodline requirements to culture, and the challenge this poses across a number of fronts:

The story of Josiah Wilson, the Haiti-born, Heiltsuk First Nation adopted basketball player, has raised questions of Indigenous identity much bigger than whether he should be allowed to play in an All-Native Basketball Tournament in B.C.

The tournament committee’s decision to ban Wilson, 20, a status Indian, because he doesn’t have at least 1/8th First Nations ancestry or “blood quantum” is a symptom of a greater conflict.

This conflict lurks in band offices, treaty offices, on the land and on reserves across the country.

What, or who, defines someone as Indigenous — is it the hereditary system, the Indian Act, a blood test?

According to the Canadian government, Wilson is an “Indian.” According to the Heiltsuk, he is Heiltsuk. And according to the All-Native Basketball Tournament, he is an adoptee, Canadian and Haitian, but not Heiltsuk.

Heiltsuk hereditary system

In the eyes of the Heiltsuk Hemas (hereditary chiefs), Wilson is Heiltsuk. The Hemas embody the Heiltsuk Nation’s traditional social structure and hereditary system of governance, which identifies members through cultural protocol and a connection to family crests and clans.

Heiltsuk Hemas standing with Haida Hereditary Chiefs

In the eyes of the Heiltsuk Hemas (hereditary chiefs), Josiah is Heiltsuk. Here, Heiltsuk Hemas are shown with Haida hereditary chiefs. (Don Wilson/Facebook)

Heiltsuk cultural adviser Frances Brown says the hereditary system is a complex set of laws that governs not only a responsibility to the land, but also social relationships to one another, including adoption.

“If there’s a customary adoption it means that you adopt a child and you do it in a potlatch where there’s many witnesses and the chiefs are there,” said Brown.

Gary Housty was one of the Heiltsuk Hemas to witness the ceremonial adoption of Wilson by a First Nations family. He says he wrote a letter to members of the all-native committee urging them to let Wilson play, but received no response.

“I really have a problem with the way they’re setting down rules that disallow people to participate in these very important cultural events, such as the All-Native Tournament. There’s so much culture there. And we are talking about culture here.

“In my eyes Josiah is a Heiltsuk boy, a Heiltsuk person. He belongs here with us,” said Housty.

Source: Josiah Wilson, the Indian Act, hereditary governance and blood quantum – Aboriginal – CBC

Indigenous peoples: In Canada, justice is not blind

The high numbers regarding indigenous incarceration rates are shocking. Comparable to Black incarceration rates in the USA:

While admissions of white adults to Canadian prisons declined through the last decade, Indigenous incarceration rates were surging: Up 112 per cent for women. Already, 36 per cent of the women and 25 per cent of men sentenced to provincial and territorial custody in Canada are Indigenous—a group that makes up just four per cent of the national population.

This helps explain why prison guard jobs are among the fastest-growing public occupation on the Prairies. And why criminologists have begun quietly referring to Canada’s prisons and jails as the country’s “new residential schools.”

In the past decade, the federal government passed more than 30 new crime laws, hiking punishment for a wide range of crimes, limiting parole opportunities and also broadening the grounds used to send young offenders to jail. At the same time, it has been ignoring calls to reform biased correctional admissions tests, bail and other laws disproportionately impacting Indigenous offenders. Instead, it appears to be incarcerating as many Indigenous people as possible, for as long as legally possible, with far-reaching consequences for Indigenous families.

But the problem isn’t just new laws. Although police “carding” in Toronto has put street checks, which disproportionately target minority populations, under the microscope, neither is racial profiling alone to blame. At every step, discriminatory practices and a biased system work against an Indigenous accused, from the moment a person is first identified by police, to their appearance before a judge, to their hearing before a parole board. The evidence is unambiguous: If you happen to be Indigenous, justice in Canada is not blind.

“What we are doing is using our criminal justice system to defend ourselves from the consequence of our own racism,” says Toronto criminal lawyer John Struthers, who cut his legal teeth as a Crown attorney in remote, northern communities. Rather than treat trauma, addictions, he says, “we keep the doors closed.”

Source: Cover preview: In Canada, justice is not blind – Macleans.ca