On January 1, 1500, estimates for the Indigenous population ranged from 200,000 to 500,000 people, though some suggest it was as high as 2.5 million, with between 300 and 450 languages spoken. But now, indigenous languages are dying at a concerning rate. For instance, on February 11, 2016, Alban Michael, the last fluent speaker of the Nuchatlaht language, died in Campbell River, British Columbia, at age 89. Raised on Nootka Island, Michael spoke only Nuchatlaht until he was forced to learn English at a residential school in Tofino as a child. He nevertheless maintained his fluency in Nuchatlaht so that he could speak with his mother, who did not speak English.1
Some of the languages and dialects also have very few first language speakers, and some have no known speakers. In 2016, Statistics Canada reported that for about 40 Indigenous languages in Canada, there are only about 500 speakers or fewer.2 This number does not distinguish between fluent and learning speakers, which means that a more accurate estimation of the number of fluent language speakers of any particular Indigenous language might be less.3
- Thecanadianencyclopedia.ca. 2021. Indigenous Peopls | The Canadian Encyclopedia. [online] Available at: https://thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/timeline/first-nations [Accessed 1 February 2021].
- Thecanadianencyclopedia.ca. 2021. Indigenous Languages in Canada | The Canadian Encyclopedia. [online] Available at: https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/aboriginal-people-languages [Accessed 1 February 2021].
- Thecanadianencyclopedia.ca. 2021. Indigenous Language Revitalization in Canada | The Canadian Encyclopedia. [online] Available at: https://thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/indigenous-language-revitalization-in-canada [Accessed 1 February 2021].