O On Sunday, July 17, the provincial government proclaimed the Mi’kmaw Language Act, officially recognizing Mi’kmaw as the original language of Nova Scotia. The legislation goes further than a symbolic recognition of the first language spoken here. The act promises “government support for the preservation, revitalization, promotion and protection of the Mi’kmaw language for generations to come,” and vows to “increase the visibility of the Mi’kmaw language across the province.”
But it’s not known what the efforts to revive the Mi’kmaw language will look like yet. A joint committee with representatives from Mi’kmaw organizations and the provincial government is still being formed, and it will decide what to do. In an interview with The Coast, minister of L’nu affairs Karla MacFarlane says the committee will start meeting in the fall.
“This is not just a piece of legislation, of a symbol of something,” MacFarlane says, “we're going to act on it.” In that vein, the minister says she is currently learning Mi’kmaw. MacFarlane says the revitalization could include signs in Mi’kmaw and language workshops, but again, it’s up to the committee. The Mi’kmaw Language Act comes into effect on Treaty Day, Oct 1.
In the meantime, Mi’kmaw language teacher Curtis Michael has a vision for the future under the new legislation.
“It’s a celebration, if you ask me,” Michael says in an interview with The Coast. “I think it was long overdue, to tell you the truth, because obviously we’re the first language of Nova Scotia.” Michael has been teaching Mi’kmaw to children, teenagers, and adults across the province for nearly 30 years. He currently teaches Indigenous studies at Dalhousie and posts daily language lessons on the Facebook group Mi’kmaw Motherese.
"My reason I speak Mi’kmaw is so that when I go to the spirit world I can talk to him. It’s very sacred to me and I love hearing it spoken."
Michael is from Sipekne'katik, where the Maritimes’ only residential school operated. His community was heavily impacted by language loss, and few residents speak Mi’kmaw. For that reason, language revitalization is vital. According to a press release from the province, the number of children under age four learning Mi’kmaw dropped to 20% in 2013, down from 44% in 1999. It says if current trends continue, by 2027 children will no longer be able to speak Mi’kmaw. (We assume the province means Mi’kmaw children, but it doesn’t specify.)
But speaking Mi’kmaw is also a way for the teacher to connect with his grandfather. Michael grew up speaking Mi’kmaw with him, and lost the language when he died. “My reason I speak Mi’kmaw is so that when I go to the spirit world I can talk to him. It’s very sacred to me and I love hearing it spoken,” he says.
As for the Mi’kmaw Language Act: “I hope that all Nova Scotians take advantage of it,” he says. The first thing he’d like to see is more Mi’kmaw language in schools across the province.
“We share our culture through language,” Michael says. His students at Dal have told him they’ve had little exposure to Mi’kmaw language and culture, especially those who attended schools without a lot of Mi’kmaw students. They’ve of course been exposed to plenty of French. Michael hopes to see Mi’kmaw language courses available at all schools, just like French. “I’m particularly happy when I see a non-native learn,” he says.
He also wants to see more signage in Mi’kmaw. “It burns me when I see Shubenacadie—that’s not how it’s said,” Michael says. And he hopes the Mi’kmaw Language Act will help promote existing language courses. “We try our best to promote but it only goes so far,” he says. Michael notes more attention in mainstream media would be beneficial.
With that in mind, here are some online resources if you want to start learning Mi’kmaw: