Mi'kmaq is making a comeback in a Nova Scotia community
A Nova Scotia-based indigenous group is already living the benefits of a Mi'kmaq revitalization project funded by the federal government.
Delina Petit Pas, chairperson of the Mi'kmaq Burial Grounds Research and Restoration Association, says she is already hearing more Mi'kmaq spoken around her.
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A series on 2013 federal spending announcements by students from the Carleton School of Journalism.
"I go shopping and they’ll say 'hello' to me and 'how are you' in Mi'kmaq," she said. "You notice and you know that's going to happen in our community for a while."
In October, the Department of Canadian Heritage gave the Mi'kmaq Burial Grounds Research and Restoration Association the $66,060 grant under the Aboriginal Languages Initiative. This money went toward the Mi'kmaq language project in Nova Scotia's Lunenburg County.
While it isn't a lot of money, it makes a big difference for the association. The program financed a retreat for 20 people in the fall as well as regular ongoing language classes within the community, Petit Pas said.
"We have, on average, about 40 people that attend the lessons, and so you can imagine what that does," Petit Pas said. "When they meet they're conversing so we're finding that it's quite a success."
According to the 2011 Statistics Canada census, Mi'kmaq is one of the top 10 spoken mother tongue Aboriginal languages in Canada, with 8,030 speakers.
Len Westerberg, a spokesman for the Department of Canadian Heritage, said the federal government is focused on language revitalization programs.
"For the past fiscal years and for the next one, priority is given to projects which offer direct language instruction outside of a school, college or university setting," Westerberg wrote in an email.
This is what the Mi'kmaq language project aims to do, according to Petit Pas. But it's just the beginning of a very long process.
Re-learning what was lost
Darin Flynn, University of Calgary linguistics professor, says programs like this are a starting point, but the climb is steep to make a real run at revitalizing the Mi'kmaq language.
Spreading the language learning to the entire community may take years.
"Psychology plays a huge role in learning the language because it's such a long-term commitment that you really need a drive," he said. "And if you don't have that drive coming from somewhere or it's encumbered by some past experiences it's really hard to forge ahead."
Flynn said he doesn't see any bad in programs like this.
"The very worst thing that could happen is that the language won't fully take on with that next generation," he said. "But even then they'll have such a positive community effort along the way."
It will take community commitment to fully revitalize the language and this could pose a problem, as speaking Mi'kmaq has only just recently come into vogue.
"There are people that fell through the cracks when it was decided in the early 1900s that to speak your language in school was inappropriate and you were strapped when you did that," Petit Pas said. "So they're re-learning what they had lost."
Though participants will be learning Mi'kmaq from other second-language learners, Joey Windsor, a linguistic PhD candidate at the University of Calgary, said this isn't bad.
"It’s kind of like the old photocopy story," he said. "A photocopy of a photocopy isn't the same as the original.
"And you probably don't think about it, but most people who learn a second language are learning a second language from a second-language speaker."
Windsor said learners pick up on different aspects of second languages so they can work together to learn the entire package.
Jaime Myslik is a student in Carleton's Masters of Journalism program. This story is part of a project by the Carleton School of Journalism on federal spending announcements in 2013.