FASS News, Sociology, Anthropology

Federal government appoints Ron Ignace as first Commissioner of Indigenous Languages

June 16, 2023

Ron Ignace, former chief of the Skeetchestn Indian Band, acclaimed researcher and respected alum and member of the SFU community, has been appointed the first Commissioner of Indigenous Languages.

Le7 pyin te sitq̓t te swumécwilcstem re qweqwelténs re xwexwéyt te qelmúcw wel me7 yews. Ta7 me7 scú7tsems re snecwentém re qweqweltén-kt re sts̓eléwt.s ne swet.s k smenmenúl̓ecws ne7élye ne tmicw-kt.  Tikwemtús me7 sucwentwécwmentem re qweqweltén-kt.

We celebrate this day where we breathe new life into all of our Indigenous languages for the future. Our languages will no longer stand in the shadow of other languages here in our land. Let us always honour our Indigenous languages.

~Ron Ignace, Commissioner of Indigenous Languages

Ron Ignace, former chief of the Skeetchestn Indian Band, acclaimed researcher and respected alum and member of the SFU community, has been appointed the first Commissioner of Indigenous Languages.  

On Monday, June 14, 2021, the Honourable Steven Guilbeault, Minister of Canadian Heritage, announced the first appointees to the new Office of the Commissioner of Indigenous Languages:

  • Ronald E. Ignace, Commissioner 
  • Robert Watt, Director 
  • Georgina Liberty, Director 
  • Joan Greyeyes, Director 

As the press release outlines, the Office of the Commissioner will operate independently from the Government of Canada. They will support and work with Indigenous peoples, their respective governments; other governing bodies, communities and organizations; the governments of Canada and the provinces and territories; and all Canadians to support the self-determined work of Indigenous peoples in reclaiming, revitalizing, maintaining and strengthening First Nations, Inuit and Métis languages. 

As a member of the Secwepemc Nation, Ron Ignace was the elected chief of the Skeetchestn Indian Band for over 30 years. He holds a BA and MA in Sociology from University of British Columbia, and Ignace completed his PhD in Anthropology from SFU in 2008, his dissertation focusing on Secwepemc oral history.

Ignace has held positions of chairman of the Shuswap Nation Tribal Council and president of its cultural society, where he initiated a broad program of research and reclamation on Secwepemc language and culture. His work includes the long-standing, innovative university partnership with SFU. 

Alongside his life partner, linguistics and Indigenous studies professor Marianne Ignace, Ron Ignace co-founded the award-winning Kamloops program at SFU in 1988 and co-developed with colleagues and departments at SFU, the university’s first First Nations Studies courses and programs, and the First Nations’ language courses and proficiency certificate programs (now the Department of Indigenous Studies and Indigenous Languages Program, respectively). 

The Ignaces also co-wrote Secwepemc People, Land and Laws: Yerí7 re stsq̓ey̓s-kucw, an award-winning, critically acclaimed book covering 10,000 years of Secwepemc history and law.

 In 2019, their decades of work with BC’s Indigenous communities was recognized with a Governor General’s Award for Innovation. 

“As Ron‘s partner in life, research and Indigenous language revitalization, I am proud and thankful that he was appointed as the inaugural Indigenous Language Commissioner in Canada,” says Marianne Ignace.  

“My words are echoed by the messages of congratulations and support that he has received from Indigenous language communities, organizations and individuals that support language revitalization throughout the country, and from his and our colleagues at SFU and many other institutions.”

SFU’s Indigenous Languages Program (INLP) continues to be a site for the critical work of sustaining and revitalizing Indigenous languages, and the program will continue to strengthen partnerships with Indigenous communities and organizations. 

As the director of INLP, Marianne Ignace says the department is “especially proud of the recent and upcoming graduates and graduands of our partnered intensive Indigenous immersion programs at the Yukon Native Language Centre, Champagne-Aihishik First Nation, the Heiltsuk Nation, Squamish Nation, and in the Secwepemc Nation. And we also support the creation of new speakers and torch-bearers of the həṅq̓əmín̓əḿ ̓ (Downriver Halkomelem) language whose descendant communities together are bringing their language back through intensive learning, the Haida community of Old Massett, and the Vancouver Island Hul̓q̓umi̓num community.”

Read the full press release on Commissioner Ron Ignace and the Directors within the newly formed Office of the Commissioner of Indigenous Languages here.