New Zealand - Canada
Language loss is a worldwide issue. Australia's neighbour, New Zealand, has struggled with the loss of the Maori native tongue for the past two decades but has succeeded where Australia has failed. In 1980, The Maori people of New Zealand faced much the same problem as the Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders; they called a large tribal Hui (meeting) that year to determine the future of the language. A programme called Te Kohanga Re, 'The Language Nest', was developed. 'The programme consisted of a total school immersion of young children in the Maori language, values, and ways of life', according to Alison Yaunches. The technique used by the Te Kohanga Reo centres has attracted the attention of many other countries as word of the programme's success spreads. One such group is the Cochiti Pueblo of New Mexico.
European settlement of New Zealand was a unique enterprise and differed from Australia's colonisation. Where Australia was declared 'Terra Nullius', New Zealand was recognised as being owned, and the Europeans settled the land through negotiations rather than force. The Treaty of Waitangi, signed on 6 February 1840 between the English Captain William Hobson and approximately 45 Maori chiefs, established British sovereignty over the islands, while protecting Maori rights to their lands and natural resources. In the majority, the Europeans maintained the peace with the Maori to whom the land belonged. Perhaps this is one of the reasons the Maori language has survived settlement more efficiently than many Aboriginal languages. However, largely, this survival is attributed to the fact that Te Reo Mäori was the national language and varied little from tribe to tribe.
The First Peoples of America are also struggling to save their languages, with many organisations such as Native Languages of the Americas preserving and promoting American Indian languages. On the American continent, the history of genocide and assimilation of the Aboriginal echoes Australia's experience in some ways. Canada, like Australia, implemented boarding schools in an effort to socialise the indigenous people. The damning report, 'Hidden From History: The Canadian Holocaust', explaines that survivors of the boarding schools and their families from both Canada and the US are now drafting a resolution they aim to have introduced in Congress that would demand compensation for the roughly 100,000 native children taken from their homes in the 18th and 19th Centuries - with the goal of assimilating them into white society; America's stolen generation.
Activists argue that Washington is liable under international law for any continuing effects of that system, including the loss of aboriginal languages and the widespread violence in many native communities.
There are three groups within Canada that comprise the Canadian Aboriginal, the First Nations (often referred to as 'Indians'), the Inuit (northern people formerly referred to as 'eskimos'), and Métis (people of mixed French and Indian blood who originally settled in western Canada). The issue of loss of cultural heritage and language has effected them all.
The policy of forced assimilation has devastated Aboriginal people. Its legacy is loss of language and destruction of culture, chronic addictions, community violence, suicide, broken families, mistrust of leadership and authority, and shame. In the past decade, many residential school survivors have also come forward with stories of physical and sexual abuse suffered while attending residential school.
In response to outcries from the Aboriginal community in Canada, the government issued a 'Statement of Reconciliation'. This statement was contained within a document entitled 'Gathering Strength - Canada's Aboriginal Action Plan.' The document acknowledged the state's role in the implementation and running of these schools, and acknowledged the damage they have caused to Aboriginal culture. The Aboriginal Healing Foundation (AHF) was created and the Government committed $350million in funding. The Aboriginal response to the statement varied. Some thought the statement was a step forward in Aboriginal reconciliation, while others interpreted it as a means of minimising lawsuits. Despite the differing opinions, the statement was widely interpreted as an apology.
Programmes have been initiated in Canada to maintain Aboriginal language. They are government-funded and run by elders in the community. One such organisation is the Yukon Native Language Centre. Programmes include adult education and diplomas in native studies, and school-based learning. Nearly all Yukon communities have school-based Native Language programmes. These are offered to both non-native and native students, with the aim of exposing the students to the local language and to encourage a positive attitude toward it.
The loss of language long associated with a culture cannot be taken and replaced without harmful effects. The Australian Aboriginal and the Torres Strait Islander people have lost a tremendous amount of distinct, irretrievable culture, with only four per cent of their languages remaining strong today. The loss of language is felt broadly through the communities of those affected. Through the loss of language, and culture (which are synonymous), a sense of alienation, hostility and disregard has emerged, effecting all manner of life throughout Australia. The struggle for language is common throughout the world. Some languages have been saved, but most are still in danger, like many of the languages of the Americas. Others have died out entirely. New Zealand is a beacon of light for those who struggle; their success has inspired others to carry on the fight to save their cultural heritage.