Effects of Climate Change on Indigenous Languages

The loss of Indigenous languages around the world is said to be in a “state of crisis” (Crawford, 1995) and Indigenous peoples in Canada are not exempt from this problem.

The resulting loss of a traditional language within Indigenous communities has a significant impact on the livelihoods of Indigenous peoples in Canada (Sachdev, 1998). A loss of Traditional Knowledge about the natural environment is also an important consequence of Indigenous language loss (UNEP, 2005; Tsuji, 1996). In Saanich Inlet, BC, many of the plant species in the region were used for medicines, food sources, technological, and spiritual or ceremonial purposes. The traditional languages of Sencoten and Hul’qumi’num each have corresponding names for all of the plant species in the area and many locations in Saanich Inlet are named after these plant species (Simonsen et al. 1997).

Many Indigenous languages stem from a relationship to the environment and are passed down through oral traditions through the generations. As climate changes the environment and in turn traditional activities, there is a threat to the survival of Indigenous languages. Indigenous languages are associated with action – with traditional activities. Once action and traditional activities decrease, the use of language will also decrease. If traditional activities cease, it is only a matter of time before the language is also lost. A conscious effort is required to save Indigenous languages in the face of climate change.