“By wri­ting down our lan­guage, we are sho­wing that we are a strong na­tion”

La Liberté - MMF-Une culture riche - - PUBLI-REPORTAGE | ADVERTORIAL -

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.”

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