An­other piece of the puz­zle

Grand Falls-Wind­sor Qalipu com­mu­nity take on Mi’kmaq lan­guage camp

The Central Voice - - Front Page - BY SARAH LADIK

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.

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