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April 7, 2022 – Summaries of appearances on PROC's study on the inclusion of Indigenous languages on federal election ballotsCEO appearance on the Main Estimates 2022-2023 before the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs

Meeting Information


Inclusion of Indigenous Languages on Federal Election Ballots

  • Jean-François Daoust, Assistant Professor, University of Edinburgh
  • Dwight Newman, Professor of Law and Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Rights in Constitutional and International Law, University of Saskatchewan
  • Allison Harell, Professor, Political Science Department, Université du Québec à Montréal

Opening Statements

Jean-François Daoust

  • When discussing the principles and values of Canadian society, it makes sense to take proactive steps to increase the participation of groups that participate less in democratic life, for example, by including Indigenous languages on the ballot.
  • While research is limited, the vast majority of electors find voting easy and ease of voting is not one of the major reasons people choose not to vote. For this reason, we should not expect a higher turnout if Indigenous languages are included on the ballot.

Dwight Newman

  • The inclusion of Indigenous languages on ballots is not required by the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), but would be a good step toward voter inclusion.
  • There are a number of issues related to the inclusion of Indigenous languages on ballots that need to be discussed, including the threshold, the use of Latin alphabet vs. syllabics, the costs and the possibility of being able to use the money in other areas of Indigenous participation.
  • Facsimiles are an option that could be tested rather than have Elections Canada (EC) make widespread changes across the country all at once.

Allison Harell

  • Though past studies show that socioeconomic and trust in the federal governments are important barriers, including Indigenous languages on the ballots could be a symbolic gesture and could make the electoral process more legitimate to Indigenous voters.
  • The CEO highlighted challenges for EC in creating multilingual ballots that should not be ignored, but the inclusion of electors' languages is valuable (English and French only ballots can create barriers).
  • The threshold for inclusion of Indigenous languages should be whether or not Indigenous communities want them.

Questions by Subject


When asked about the legal implications under UNDRIP, Mr. Newman indicated that the Government of Canada is under no obligation to include Indigenous languages on the ballot. He added that the use of a facsimile would be an acceptable alternative in the spirit of UNDRIP as it would make the process more accessible by removing barriers.

Mr. Newman also specified that when it comes to Indigenous languages on ballots, the committee should mostly concentrate on article 13.21 of the declaration.

Lessons learned from other jurisdictions

When asked if other jurisdictions were facing similar challenges and what had been done to address them, Mr. Newman explained that Australia, New Zealand and the United States are natural examples given the nature of their colonial past. He added that it would be important to explore what the United States was able to accomplish in 1975 and how they were able to do it so quickly.

Ms. Harell added that it might be worthwhile to look at what was done with special ballots in provincial and territorial elections during the pandemic.

Increase inclusion and next steps

When asked about what can be done to promote inclusion, Mr. Daoust mentioned that though the inclusion of Indigenous languages on ballots might not directly impact voter turnout, the symbolic impact might have indirect effects on turnout by increasing the overall trust in the federal government in the long term.

Ms. Harell underlined the significant operational challenges and explained how starting with a pilot project that is feasible in the short term may be a better option. The failure of a rushed, widespread process could be disastrous and have serious long-term consequences. She emphasized that one of the most important steps to take is to consult and seek input from Indigenous communities to better understand how they can be further engaged in the process. The importance of building in house counsel within EC was also mentioned.

When asked about the advisability of having pictures of the candidates on the ballot, witnesses agreed that it is of importance to look for creative solutions that would not require translation or transliteration, while having to consider the unintended effects and other consequences that could result from these solutions.

Main barriers to voter turnout

All pointed out that of the main barriers to voter turnout, in addition to a lack of trust of the federal government and socioeconomics, is a general lack of interest in politics.

Ms. Harell explained the importance of consulting with as many Indigenous communities as possible in order to better understand the variety of challenges, as the situations may differ from one community to another.

1 UNDRIP Article 13 :1. Indigenous peoples have the right to revitalize, use, develop and transmit to future generations their histories, languages, oral traditions, philosophies, writing systems and literatures, and to designate and retain their own names for communities, places and persons. 2. States shall take effective measures to ensure that this right is protected and also to ensure that indigenous peoples can understand and be understood in political, legal and administrative proceedings, where necessary through the provision of interpretation or by other appropriate means.

*This is an unofficial summary of the Committee proceedings – please refer to the official transcripts for clarification.

Meeting Information


Inclusion of Indigenous Languages on Federal Election Ballots

  • Marjolaine Tshernish, General Manager, Institut Tshakapesh
  • Denis Gros-Louis, Director General, First Nations Education Council

Opening Statements

Marjolaine Tshernish

  • Indigenous electors must have access to services and documentation—including ballots—in their mother tongue.
  • Indigenous people do not see themselves in Canada's democratic process and feel excluded. This sometimes leads them to refuse to participate in federal/provincial elections or the Statistics Canada census.

Denis Gros-Louis

  • The committee's study is an important first step, but the solutions must go beyond including Indigenous languages on federal election ballots.
  • Many elders speak only one language and become foreigners in their own country when they leave their communities.
  • In communities that are members of the First Nations Education Council (FNEC), views are polarized on the issue of voting in Indigenous communities; some take part and others categorically refuse to do so. The most common reason is political.
  • Issues related to identity and language promotion are important and must be studied to better understand the issues related to Indigenous voter turnout.
  • Mr. Gros-Louis made four recommendations to EC: (1) provide EC staff and senior management with awareness training focused on history and the intercultural attitude that should be adopted; (2) collaborate with the Office of the Commissioner of Indigenous Languages; (3) ensure that elector information appears not only on the ballot, but also in an information document available in Indigenous languages; and (4) ensure that the images presented in information booklets reflect the identity of different Indigenous nations.

Questions by Subject

Exercising the Right to Vote

When asked about reconciliation and the fact that it involves the inclusion of Indigenous languages on the ballot, Mr. Gros-Louis and Ms. Tshernish both mentioned the importance of consultation, collaboration and respect in day-to-day work with Indigenous communities.

When asked about the impact of colonialism on voter turnout, M. Tshernish mentioned that being excluded from the political process for so long has led to a decrease in participation for Indigenous electors.

Operational considerations

On a question related to challenges of producing ballots and on how to best respect language rights, Ms. Tshernish said that Innu written language has been standardized and explained that information products should be made available in Indigenous languages.

M. Gros-Louis added that EC does not have the expertise and capacity and recommended that EC reach out to communities to learn more about their needs. M. Gros-Louis also mentioned the FNEC's willingness to help with translation of election material. He referred to the use of pictures in election material that would create a sense of respect for Indigenous electors and said there is a need to be proactive as part of the reconciliation process.

Miscellaneous/other issues

In response to a question about the request for ballots in Indigenous languages for the Quebec provincial elections, Ms. Tshernish explained that no specific request had been made to the Quebec government, as the work is done mainly in the communities themselves. She added that it is good for other levels of government to help promote the revitalization of Indigenous languages.

*This is an unofficial summary of the Committee proceedings – please refer to the official transcripts for clarification.