Another piece of the puzzle
Grand Falls-Windsor Qalipu community take on Mi’kmaq language camp
According to linguist Bernie Francis, there is no word for “father” in Mi’kmaq.
This caused early missionaries in what would become the Atlantic provinces some consternation, as there was similarly no word for “son” either. To be a Mi’kmaq father or son, you had to belong to someone. There are words, Francis said, for “my father,” “your father,” and “his/her father.”
Some of the 40 or so people gathered at the Legion in Grand Falls-Windsor Saturday, Oct. 13 for a Mi’kmaq language camp chuckled when Francis told that story. Over five days, they learned words in the language, but more importantly, the context of the culture from which the language evolved.
“Our culture is like a puzzle,” president of the Exploits Aboriginal Community Group, Charlene Combdon, told The Central Voice. “We’ve been exposed to dance, powwow, ceremony, but we haven’t been exposed to the language, and that’s our culture.’
More than 50 people signed up for the camp, the first of its kind in Grand Falls-Windsor — though not in the province — run by the Mi’kmaw Heritage Research and Restoration Association out of Nova Scotia. Combdon said while some could not attend all day, every day, there was great value in coming to even part of it. In addition to the adults, 16 children registered for the program.
“They’re so important to our culture, and they’re being exposed in a different way,” she said. “They’re learning how to introduce themselves in the language, and that’s how we’re going to learn too; they’ll need us to keep talking to them and responding.”
Francis, himself hailing from the Membertou reserve on Cape Breton, said revitalizing Mi’kmaq in Newfoundland has been a very different process compared to Nova Scotia.
“Much has been lost in Newfoundland,” he told The Central Voice. “There was so much racism here against Mi’kmaq, they hid it. Had they identified themselves, they would never have gotten jobs.”
He said when people from Nova Scotia initially started coming to the island in the 1970s and 1980s to impart Mi’kmaq teachings, some of what they said fell short of accurately representing traditional culture, particularly when it came to the role of women. Now, Francis sees Qalipu people reaching for a more complete understanding of their history and culture.
“It makes me feel good in the sense that they are feeling good for the little bit they’re learning,” he said, noting there is a limit to what can be taught in a few short days. “People are soaking it up, everywhere in Newfoundland. They’re just hungry for their culture.”
The afternoon session Oct. 13 did not feel like a typical language course. Francis led the discussion, but participants asked questions about etiquette, best practices, and spoke to their own complex and varied understanding of their culture.
“Most people will never speak the language fluently, but they will learn about the language,” Francis said.
While fluency may indeed be an ambitious goal, Combdon and others do plan to do their best. They have organized a weekly video call to practise, learn from, and encourage each other.
Combdon said the group is also aiming to organize some kind of event or activity every month. The next is a dance workshop happening in November. These events, she said, are open to everyone – status and non-status.
“We want to be speaking our language and showing our culture in the community, and we’re a community group,” she said. “We want to involve the whole community.”
More than 50 adults attended the Mi’kmaq language camp hosted by the Exploits Aboriginal Community Group Oct. 11-15 in Grand Falls-Windsor.
More than a dozen children registered for the Mi’kmaq language camp hosted by the Exploits Aboriginal Community Group Oct. 11-15 in Grand Falls-Windsor.
Dr. Bernie Francis, a linguist and specialist in Mi’kmaq, has worked for decades to bring the language back to Indigenous people in the Atlantic provinces, including Newfoundland and Labrador.