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Aboriginal languages

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More than 50 different Aboriginal languages exist across Canada, yet only three of them—Cree, Inuktitut and Ojibway—have a large enough population base to make their long-term survival likely.

Among the nearly 1.2 million people who identified themselves as an Aboriginal person in the 2006 Census, the third-largest group, Inuit, had the largest proportion of people who speak an Aboriginal language: 69% of the 50,845 Inuit could speak Inuktitut.

North American Indians, or First Nations, were the largest Aboriginal census group, with 698,025 people. Of these people, 29% could speak an Aboriginal language well enough to carry on a conversation. This compares with the Métis, the second-largest Aboriginal group, at 4%.

While Inuktitut remains strong overall, fewer Inuit are reporting it as their mother tongue. In 2006, 64% of Inuit reported Inuktitut as their mother tongue, down from 68% in 1996. Knowledge and use of the language are also declining: 69% of Inuit could converse in Inuktitut in 2006, down from 72% in 1996. Fewer speak it as their main language at home: 50% in 2006, down from 58% in 1996.

As with the Inuit, more First Nations people could speak an Aboriginal language (29%) than reported one as a mother tongue (25%), suggesting many have learned an Aboriginal language as a second language.

The most commonly spoken First Nations language is Cree. The number of Cree speakers increased 7% from 2001 to 2006. In 2006, 87,285 First Nations people could converse in Cree, 30,255 in Ojibway, 12,435 in Oji-Cree and 11,080 in Montagnais–Naskapi. Four percent of Métis spoke an Aboriginal language