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Ronald Eric Ignace

Language (2024)

Skeetchestn Indian Band, Secwépemc Nation, BC

“I’m always hopeful that the government will recognize that if they are to achieve reconciliation that they have to invest in our languages and in the revitalization of our languages, because our languages are tied to the land and are important to our life.”

Ronald Ignace is a living embodiment of the strength of language and culture. Raised traditionally and coming from a long line of hereditary chiefs, Ron was forced to attend the Kamloops Indian Residential School. Not only did he defy all attempts to destroy his language, but he also went on to teach new generations – and, in 2021, became Canada’s first-ever Indigenous Languages Commissioner.

With a B.A. and an M.A. in sociology from the University of British Columbia (UBC), Commissioner Ignace returned to his community after graduation and began to serve as elected Kukwpi7 (Chief) – a position which he held for over 30 years. He was also chairman of the Shuswap Nation Tribal Council and president of its cultural society.

Commissioner Ignace has a Ph.D. in anthropology from Simon Fraser University (SFU), with his dissertation focusing on Secwépemc oral history. With his partner, Dr. Marianne Ignace, he co-wrote the groundbreaking Secwépemc People, Land and Laws: Yeri7 re Stsq’ey’s-kucw, a seminal work which covers 10,000 years of Secwépemc history and law. It received multiple accolades and was instrumental in the Ignaces winning the Governor General’s Innovation Award in 2019.

Commissioner Ignace has taught Secwepemctsín through a partnership he, Marianne, and other community leaders established with SFU in 1988, which continues to exist as the SFU Indigenous Languages Program, enabling new generations to gain fluency in Indigenous languages.

Commissioner Ignace served as chair of the Department of Canadian Heritage’s 2003-2005 Task Force on Aboriginal Languages and Cultures (TFALC) and co-chaired the Assembly of First Nations’ Chiefs Committee on Languages, where in 2015-19 he played an instrumental role in the development and passage of Bill C-91, the Indigenous Languages Act.

As a leader, historian, speaker, and advocate, Commissioner Ignace’s contributions to Indigenous language-learning and well-being have spanned decades and created change in multiple areas.