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Ontario legislator makes history at Queen’s Park with speech in Oji-Cree

A First Nation legislator addressed Queen’s Park in his own language Tuesday, marking the first time a language other than English and French has officially been allowed in Ontario’s legislative chamber.

New Democrat Sol Mamakwa spoke for 10 minutes in Anishininiimowin, or Oji-Cree, to the Ontario legislature.

“I want to say thank you to everyone present. I’m very grateful, thankful for the opportunity to be able to speak my Anishininiimowin, in Indigenous Oji-Cree language in this just legislature,” Mamakwa said.

“I am speaking for those that couldn’t use our language and also for those people from Kiiwetinoong, not only those from Kiiwetinoong, but for every Indigenous person in Ontario.”

Ontario’s legislature had not previously allowed interpreting and transcribing a language other than English and French.

About 100 supporters gathered in Toronto to watch the historic moment, including Mamakwa’s mother, siblings, friends and First Nation leaders. It was a gift to his mom, Kezia Mamakwa, who turned 79 on Tuesday.

The politicians sang “Happy Birthday” to Kezia Mamakwa and gave several standing ovations to Mamakwa in an emotional question period.

Mamakwa then asked several questions in his language on elder care, demanding to know when the government would build a long-term care home in Sioux Lookout, Ont.

Premier Doug Ford pledged to Mamakwa to build that nursing home.

Mamakwa sparked the change after convincing Government House Leader Paul Calandra to allow him to speak at the legislature in the language his parents taught him.

Mamakwa, from Kingfisher Lake First Nation in northern Ontario, has said the milestone is important because Indigenous people are losing their languages and his speech and question in the legislature would mark a step toward reconciliation.

Calandra changed the standing orders on languages spoken in the legislative chamber to include any Indigenous language spoken in Canada.

The legislature brought in interpreters to translate Mamakwa’s words in real time.

Mamakwa’s words will also be represented in syllabics, an Indigenous writing system, in Hansard, the official record of proceedings at Queen’s Park.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 28, 2024

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