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  • Indigenous, Minority, and Heritage Language Education in Canada:Policies, Contexts, and Issues
  • Patricia A. Duff and Duanduan Li

In contrast to the plethora of studies published in recent years in The Canadian Modern Language Review and other journals on the teaching and learning of French and English as additional languages in Canada and the teaching of academic content through these languages for second language (L2) learners, considerably less scholarly attention has been paid to education in three other critical educational contexts: Indigenous, minority, and heritage language settings. Yet Canada has a national commitment to education in languages other than English, largely because of the historical status of French in Canada: francophones are the largest linguistic minority nationally, and French is the mother tongue of approximately 22% of Canadians (vs. 58% for English), according to 2006 census data (Statistics Canada, 2007). The remainder of Canadians – approximately 20% of the total of just over 31 million – speak neither English nor French as a mother tongue and are often referred to as 'allophones' (Statistics Canada, 2007).

National policies have also aimed, in recent years, to be more responsive to the situation and status of Indigenous and other languages that are spoken by many Canadians – or that Canadians aspire to learn, often for reasons of cultural affiliation, personal identity, and connections to both their past (imagined and real) and to their future aspirations for themselves. In addition to the protection and promotion of Canada's two official languages, English and French, and thus to Canada's so-called linguistic duality, there has been legislative support for these non-official languages since the late 1960s (see Burnaby, 2008, and Duff, 2008, for recent reviews of language policies and trends in Canada).

Although government policies and publications have for several decades referred to the first peoples of Canada as Aboriginal (encompassing North American Indian, Inuit, and Métis), as explained by Ball in this issue, Indigenous is now becoming the preferred term in Canada and [End Page 1] internationally, in non-governmental discourse especially. Therefore, like other contributors to this issue, we use the term 'Indigenous' instead of 'Aboriginal' here unless citing government documents and policies.

Learners within and across each of these three categories – Indigenous, minority, and heritage language groups – are, of course, very diverse and have completely different social, cultural, educational, and linguistic histories. They are also far from homogeneous with respect to their educational needs and goals. Some learners come from homes and communities where the ancestral language has a great deal of vitality and support and enjoys a high status and visibility, and have regular exposure to significant numbers of proficient users of the language. Children may grow up hearing, speaking, reading, and writing the language right through to adolescence or adulthood, across both informal and formal settings. In other cases, children and adults may already have shifted to either English or French and may have only latent or partial knowledge of the ancestral language, often in a spoken vernacular, without a full range of literacy skills and with limited knowledge of standard varieties of the language or of the varieties taught in formal educational settings; they may not possess a full range of registers in the language, including academic registers and sociolinguistically differentiated language reflecting different levels of formality and politeness. In more extreme cases, the target language may have very few remaining proficient speakers and few curriculum materials or schooling opportunities and supports to ensure that new generations can learn the language well and use it in their everyday lives, or even occasionally.

This introductory article briefly describes the current context for Indigenous language education and research in Canada, then foregrounds the challenges facing francophone minority learners in anglo-dominant contexts, and finally summarizes issues connected with heritage language education in an increasingly culturally and linguistically diverse country. We then discuss the unique contributions of each of the five articles featured in this special issue.

Terminology, policies, and contexts for Indigenous, minority, and heritage language education in Canada

Indigenous language education

According to Statistics Canada (2008), there are currently more than 1 million self-identified 'Aboriginal' (Indigenous) persons in Canada, [End Page 2] just under 4% of the total population...


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