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

  • Canadian Press

Ontario NDP MPP Sol Mamakwa poses for a photo at Queen's Park in Toronto on Friday, May 16, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

TORONTO -- A First Nation legislator is addressing Queen's Park in his own language, marking the first time a language other than English and French has officially been allowed in Ontario's legislative chamber.

New Democrat Sol Mamakwa is speaking to the Ontario legislature in Oji-Cree.

For the first time in its history, the Ontario legislature is allowing, interpreting and transcribing a language other than English and French.

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.

About 100 supporters have gathered in Toronto to watch the historic moment, including Mamakwa's mother, siblings, friends and First Nation leaders.

Mamakwa, from Kingfisher Lake First Nation in northern Ontario, says the milestone is important because Indigenous people are losing their languages and his speech and question in the legislature will 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 to English, which will then be translated into French.

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

He is set to speak for 10 minutes in Anishininiimowin, or Oji-Cree, before taking the lead in the question period.

Mamakwa says he plans to ask a health-related question.

This report by was first published May 28, 2024.