The Chronicle Herald (Provincial)
Event to memorialize Mi’kmaq language
On Saturday, the original written language of the Mi’kmaq will return to Antigonish Harbour.
The wide, shallow estuary, with its three rivers, has always been a place where the land and sea mix to make life for both.
Among this natural bounty of fish and fowl, the Mi’kmaq lived seasonally long before the first bagpipes cried across the water.
As they journeyed to often-distant winter hunting grounds, those people had a language, barely remembered now, to show the way to those who may pass after them.
“The language comes from the land, it was used as maps and to record tribal records,” said scholar and artist Michelle Sylliboy.
At noon on Saturday, she’ll be teaching the ancient symbol-based writing system, which has been argued by some scholars to be oldest Indigenous written language in North America, to any interested in learning at the
People’s Place Library in Antigonish.
Visitors will be encouraged to cut the symbols into card stock, which will be placed over lanterns for a procession starting at 7:30 p.m. that evening at both entrances to the Antigonish Landing walking
trail. The two groups, carrying their lanterns, will meet at the stage midway along the trail for a ceremony that will honour both the children who died at residential schools and those who survived.
Held as part of the Antigonight: Art After Dark festival, the ceremony will include musicians who will improvise an accompaniment to a hieroglyphic poetic message they co-wrote with Sylliboy that will be shone on the land adjacent to the harbour
“As an artist, scholar and survivor, I knew if the opportunity came I wanted to honour the children myself,” said Sylliboy, referring to the discovery of large unmarked burial grounds near former residential schools earlier this year.
“I wanted it to be outside, because the children were buried in various parts of the country, often away from the schools themselves and away from their families.”
The theme of this year’s festival, running Sept. 3-18, is connection.
“The works presented transform the way we think about our relationships and connections to one another and to the non-human world,” explains curator Jessica Mensch in a news release announcing the festival.
“Re-evaluating social hierarchies and our priorities within them, they often take the form of storytelling, presenting a vision a world not yet seen before.”
The festival has continued its evolution over its 12 years from a largely one-night affair into a two-week event taking place at multiple venues, including Antigonish Town Hall, the Red Sky Gallery, The People’s Place Library, The Credit Union underground parking lot and Columbus Field.
There is an online component as well, which can be followed on the festival’s Facebook page or at www.antigonight.ca
Local and artists from across North America will be creating and performing in a variety of mediums.
For Sylliboy, the festival is an opportunity to share the memorial, which she developed after long discussions with elders from across Mi’kmaki, with the broader public.
And it’s a direct connection to her work as a professor at St. Francis Xavier University.
“My elders preserved the language because it was always ours and that to me is a very important thing,” said Sylliboy.
“One of the things I am trying to do is to reclaim the historical narrative that was lost.”