“By writing down our language, we are showing that we are a strong nation”
A real pioneer and long-time head of the Michif language department at the Manitoba Metis Federation, Norman Fleury has devoted his entire life to recording the language, a true link among all descendants of the Red River Settlement.
“I was still in my mother’s womb when already I was hearing Michif spoken. I grew up with an awareness that I was Michif; Metis, I didn’t know what that was! So for me, Michif is not only a language, it is my entire culture. It is neither French, the language of our fathers, nor Cree, the language of our mothers. It’s the language that we, children of French and First Nations’ blood, Catholic with French names, invented on the banks of the Red River. My grandmother always said: ‘English is the language that we borrow. But when God created men, he gave French to the French, English to the English, Dakota to the Dakota, Cree to the Cree, and Michif to the Michif. Language is what defines us and Michif is both a language of the land and a spiritual language.’ It is exactly what we are: a people both attached to their land and spiritual at the same time.”
You could listen to Norman Fleury talk for hours. Because this great Michif specialist, born in St. Lazare, Manitoba, was able to borrow the art of storytelling from the oral tradition of his people.
“We were around well before Manitoba was Manitoba, before Canada was Canada. But our culture has always been oral. Nothing surprising in that: I myself was part of the first generation of Michif to attend school. “One day, Peter Bakker, the linguist, came to learn about this language. He stayed with us a long time, learning about the birth of our language, our culture. Until then, we had no idea our language was special, that it, more than borders, formed our identity, whether we were in North Dakota or in Saskatchewan.” Therefore recognizing the importance of Michif, Norman Fleury never stopped documenting his language, and in addition, the whole culture that formed the very essence of his people. Teacher, writer, and not ably, author of the first Canadian dictionary of the Michif language, Norman Fleury also made it his duty to write down the stories of his people, from generation to generation. “These are the stories that I learned from my grandparents, old songs, which have to be preserved for our children. The memories of the older generations must be told. That is where the rebirth of our language will begin.”
Transmitting culture is a mission that Norman Fleury cannot help but also see as an invaluable aid for new generations in search of direction: “There are more and more people who struggle with their identity. Re-connecting with their history, their music, their culture... It takes all of that, and thus writing down our language, to show that we are a strong nation.”