Carol and I had talked about the Mi’gmaq language thriving in the community of Eskasoni and how nice it would be to actually visit one day. A couple weeks later, we actually put the plans into actions and we were finally on our way to Cape Breton. I’ve been there in the past and one thing always came over me…a sense of home—even though Eskasoni is an 8 hour drive away from my home in Listuguj. During my visits there, I’ve been blessed to have met the kindest people that have welcomed me into their homes. But the biggest shock of my life was hearing the Mi’gmaq language spoken all around me by the community members: children, teenagers, adults, and elders. I soon realized it was hearing my own language that felt like home. Sadly, Listuguj is rapidly losing its language. I’m 25 years old and I am one of the youngest speakers left in my community. The only people I really can converse with in Mi’gmaq are older family members (50+) and elders.
I first met Blaire Gould when she came to Listuguj to meet with my aunt Mali Ann and my mom Janice on their Mi’gmaw language teaching techniques. As soon as I contacted her in regards to our trip to Eskasoni, she was more than willing to arrange meetings with Eskasoni’s Mi’gmaq Immersion teachers. On the first day in Eskasoni, we met two sisters who were retired immersion teachers: Barbara Joe and Frances Young. Frances spoke about her younger days when she couldn’t speak a word of English and the family learned to speak English by reading newspaper articles out loud to their father. During our talk, the women had made an interesting comment: it’s up to the mother to pass on the language to their children. Alan pointed out the term “Mother-tongue”. I realized I was just given a huge responsibility. I always knew my future children would be speakers, but the level of importance in passing our language is on a much bigger scale than just personal identity (as a Mi’gmaq woman). It’s how we indentify a community. But the question is, how can Listuguj be a Mi’gmaq community when its own people do not practice traditional ways, such as speaking Mi’gmaq? Without our language, our people will be nothing more than just numbers under the Indian Act.
The second day when Blaire invited us to Chapel Island, one immersion teacher stood out most to me. Sherise is a Mi’gmaq Immersion teacher, a mother and a breast cancer survivor. She introduced herself to us as the “Queen of the Island”. She spoke with us about her experiences as a teacher, and having her own children enrolled into the program even though they are fluent speakers anyway. One of her children had been somewhat neglected in the classroom because she was already a fluent speaker. As a result, she had lacked the necessary reading skills according to the curriculum. Sherise was very shocked at this because the teacher would always praise the little girl on how well she’s doing in her class. Starr, also a Mi’gmaq Immersion teacher and Sherise’s best friend, was first to notice the child’s lack of comprehension and reading skills. This reminded me of the Mi’gmaq teachers I had in school and how they would often use me to help out the other non-speaking students. I was not only bored in class, but looking back it was not fair for me as a student. These ladies both agreed that if a student is excelling in a subject, give them an even higher level of work to complete and help them become the best students regardless of his or her language abilities.
I always looked up to Eskasoni as a strong Mi’gmaq community, but even they are worried about the declining levels of Mi’gmaq speakers. However, what I had learned from these amazing teachers through the stories and experiences shared, I’ve never been surer of my decision in becoming a Mi’gmaq language teacher. I came out of there with so many resources and advice; and it also helped me learn more about what my role will be in my own community. I’m very thankful for the work and contributions McGill has done thus far in helping Listuguj recognize the importance in preserving our language. I feel there is a now strong awareness that Mi’gmaq language in Listuguj is rapidly disappearing, and it’s our responsibility as speakers to keep the language alive and strong.
Potlotek, also known as Chapel Island, is a Mi’gmaq community about an hour’s drive from Eskasoni. The menigu (‘island’) is located right on the Bras d’Or Lake, and is only accessible by a (short) boat ride. Our second day of travels brings us here, because around this time of year Potlotek is a central meeting place for people in the Mi’gmaq community; many families from Eskasoni go to Chapel Island for St. Anne’s Mission, and have been doing so for years.
The picture painted at Potlotek is encouraging, to say the least! Stepping foot on the island means seeing families gathered together outside of their cabins, mijua’ji’jg (‘children’) running around yelling to each other in Mi’gmaw. The atmosphere is friendly and welcoming—you can really feel a sense of community here.
We meet with Sherise Paul-Gould, Starr Paul, and Kattirin Johnson, all of whom have been teaching at various grade levels for many years in the Mi’gmaw Immersion Program at Eskasoni. Below are some memorable experiences shared with us:
1. Kattirin (Kat) Johnson is a grade 4 immersion transition teacher. Transition helps Mi’gmaq Immersion students that have been in the program since kindergarten move into English.
The year starts out in Mi’gmaq but eventually everything turns into English
- Teach Mi’gmaq grammar (graded more harshly than English); focus on topics like word order variability (English vs. Mi’gmaq) and past and future tenses (learning correct person endings)
- Teach various aspects of English grammar
- Initial observation: Mi’gmaq immersion students in grade 5 were reading at a much higher level than students that were not part of the immersion program
- Conducted a study with students in immersion which showed that students taught exclusively in Mi’gmaq from kindergarten to grade 3 perform better than those that are not in the immersion program. The immersion students not only excelled in Mi’gmaq, but were later excelling in English literacy (see previous bullet point).
- Their research also showed that the students had higher levels of self-esteem/confidence and were more likely to get involved in extracurricular activities.
- This link has a nice sum up of Starr and Sherise’s talk from FEL 2013. Look for “An Inquiry into Two Aboriginal Language Immersion Programs”
Throughout our meeting, Starr, Sherise, and Kat stressed the importance of having an immersion program. This was one of the most important, if not primary, way of preserving the language in Eskasoni. Starting an immersion program is a large and complicated milestone, but it is absolutely necessary to keep the language going. What do you say, Listuguj?
Our latest venture has brought us (Alan, Carol Rose, Douglas, Lola, and Yuliya) 739 km southeast of Listuguj to Eskasoni, a Mi’gmaq First Nations Reserve in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. Eskasoni is a model community where the Mi’gmaq language is alive and spoken daily between its community members. Leaving on Sunday, we set out to meet with community members and Mi’gmaq teachers who are helping preserve the language.
The first day we met with our host, Blaire Gould, the Mi’kmaw Kina’matnewey Mi’gmaq Language Coordinator. Blaire Gould works with all programs related to education and the Mi’gmaq language. These tasks include working with Mi’gmaq online dictionary, leading professional development workshops, presenting on the Mi’gmaq language programs around the continent, coordinating Mi’gmaq language programs in and around Eskasoni and between all that she organizes the bienniel L’nuisultinej conference at St. Francis Xavier University.
Retired teachers (a.k.a. The Pioneers of the Immersion Program) Barbara Joe and Fran Young and former Mi’gmaq immersion teacher Mary Propser-Paul joined us over tea to talk about their experiences teaching Mi’gmaq.
We talked to them about our newest development, learnmigmaq quizlet, which they received with enthusiasm. Grade 1 Mi’gmaq immersion teacher Cindy Poulette, has been using a flashcard game in her classroom. The grade 1 children sit in groups while Cindy holds up a card with a picture on it. Whichever group gueses the correct Mi’gmaq word first receives a point. She liked the audio and image function that quizlet provides. Due to its versatile and accessible nature, quizlet can be used in classrooms via the internet and projected on a screen for such games. When offline, the quizlet app can also be accessed with a smartphone or tablet and any list that had been opened beforehand can be used. The quizlet interface can accommodate a game such as Cindy’s for classes of all ages and all levels.
Meeting at the Elder Centre, we talked with retired and current teachers about the state of the Mi’gmaq language in Eskasoni as well as the programs in effect and under development. Eskasoni has an immersion program up to grade 4. The immersion program is taught at the community school in Eskasoni where all courses are transmitted in the Mi’gmaq language. Grade 4 is the transition year where classes are bilingual English and Mi’gmaq to prepare them for grade 5 where all classes are in English.
In the afternoon we took a tour of Goat Island, a cultural walking experienced located in Eskasoni. We walked around the island which had various mini villages set up along the way, each one having different theme. The themes of the mini villages included basket-making, waltes (a traditional Mi’gmaq game) and replicas of wigwams.
A few weeks ago Janine and I attended Dr. Lindsay Morcom’s seminar on “Language Preservation, Education, and Diversity”. The following are some highlights from her seminar.
- The medium is the message. We view the education system as a system that can tell you what is useful and what is important. If your language is not part of the equation , then you are told that it is not important. This was the way schools used to rob language from children in the past. But, by the same reasoning, there is is no reason that a school system in the hands of Native people shouldn’t be able to counteract the damage inflicted in the past.
- There is a high correlation between immersion programming and self esteem (collective and personal). Taylor & Wright (1995) (see attached article) conducted a study with Inuit, White, and mixed-heritage participants to see the connection between heritage language instruction and self-esteem. The results showed that early heritage language education had a positive effect on personal and collective self-esteem of minority-language students. This has many long-term benefits, such as a stronger sense of personal identity, stronger connection to collective identity (feeling like you belong to a group), and positive impacts on academic success.
- Aboriginal language immersion programs have an important role in language revitalization, maintenance, and education. Usborne et al. (2011) (see attached article) compared a strong Mi’gmaq immersion program with a Mi’gmaq as a second language (L2) program, and found that students in the immersion program not only had stronger Mi’kmaq language skills compared to students in the L2 program, but students within both programs ultimately had the same level of English. This ultimately shows that learning a Native language at a young age does not negatively impact the process of mainstream language-learning.
- The type of language programming (immersion, L2 ) should be decided on a case-by-case basis, as it is more of a continuum: programs of study in the language, programs of study for the language, or a combination of both. Factors that should be considered: what is the goal of the community? what is the history of the community with the language? what is the status of the language now? (e.g. is it used everyday in the community? are there many fluent speakers?) Illustrated with 3 case studies: Pokomchi’, Dene, and Michif.
- Native language programming allows students to learn through a culturally-appropriate lens, which is important. Just as everyone has different learning styles (visual, aural, tactile) a culturally-appropriate lens can be conducive to learning and can help propagate traditional practices, values, etc.
For those interested to find out more, there were two articles that we discussed: Identity and the Language of the Classroom and Learning through an Aboriginal language – the impact on students’ English and aboriginal language skills. Also, Dr. Morcom has allowed us to post her slides from the seminar, which you can find here: Language Preservation, Education, and Diversity.
Today is the middle of the Foundation for Endangered Languages annual conference at Carleton University in Ottawa. I (Gretchen) and Elise are here already and we’ve met up with a few people (hi Hilary!) and we’ll be joined by Jessica and Hisako today. We’ve heard some great talks so far: you can see the program of events here.
This afternoon is an electronic poster presentation on Using Technology to Bridge the Gap Between Speakers, Learners, and Linguists, which will about LingSync and the LingSync Spreadsheet app, by Elise, Erin, Carol, Hisako, Alan, Jessica, and Gina, representing McGill, Concordia, and iLanguage Lab.
I (Gretchen) and a few other people are livetweeting on the hashtag #FEL2013, if you want to follow along.
By now most of my family, friends, and acquaintances are familiar with my views based on the things I write. I go on and on (and on and on) about the importance of maintaining environmental integrity in order to preserve our language and culture. And while environmental integrity is still a serious concern of mine, I wish to bring shift my attention towards language and culture.
We Mi’gmaq have been resisting colonial encroachment for centuries. We have fought colonialism and assimilation into the Canadian body politic. We have fought and continue to fight the exploitation of our lands and resources – speaking up on behalf of all our relations. While the fight against these forces has many battlegrounds, such as the forests, the waters, social media and the courts, the fight to preserve language is within: within our Nation, within our communities, within our families, and within ourselves. If the integrity of our territory is diminished, our language and culture are diminished with it. I have always asserted this. But the inverse has recently been brought to my attention: without Mi’gmaq language informing our values, we will partake in the destruction of our own territory. Indeed, we are now beginning to see Mi’gmaq individuals and communities using their lands and waters in ways that our ancestors would find objectionable. This change in values towards the integrity of our territory is a reflection of the lasting legacy of colonialism and assimilation, only hastened by the loss of Mi’gmaq language speakers.
The result is that we Mi’gmaq must make that extra effort to keep the language and culture alive. The only thing holding us back is ourselves. And I understand if this is a touchy subject. I don’t want to put blame on anyone or make people feel shame. Quite the opposite – I want nothing more than to see Mi’gmaq who are beyond proud of who they are and what they have, can, and will accomplish.
I wish to speak to the importance of a recent accomplishment. From my perspective, the Mi’gmaq Language Summer Workshop on Tuesday, August 6, 2013, was an absolute success. The speakers were eloquent, a natural occurrence when our People speak from their hearts. The food was fantastic. The booths were interesting and ranged from more formal ones to informal ones and the information they shared was of critical importance with regards to language retention and language revitalization. Perhaps this was why the discussions were so lively.
There were two things about this gathering that really caught my attention. The first was witnessing the Mi’gmaq Immersion Nursery students singing traditional songs with Pu’gwales, a local drum group. Not only are these children basically the cutest things ever, it was more than heartwarming to see them take pride in their accomplishments as the next generation of Mi’gmaq speakers. The other thing that piqued my interest was the interaction with Elders during the discussions towards the end of the workshop. I was fortunate enough to have been a moderator/note-taker for a group of roughly a dozen Mi’gmaq women.
I learned a lot about how the Elders feel about the language and how the Youth have or have not taken to it. One discussion in particular touched me on a personal level. Without sharing any names, I would like to relate what I have learned with readers. One of my relations talked about how she was confronted by her daughter one day. The daughter resentfully asked the mother why she had failed to pass her native language onto her at a young age. The mother was left speechless. It caught me off-guard to hear her say such a thing because my experience mirrors that of the mother – not the daughter.
Readers who know me may find this strange because I’m only 24 years young, but take note of what I am about to say. It is my experience, and possibly that of other Youth, that Elders sometimes resent the Youth for not already knowing the language. So we have arrived at a situation where Elders sometimes feel like the Youth resent them for not teaching them the language, while Youth sometimes feel as if the Elders resent them for not having learned the Mi’gmaq language. The level of misunderstanding between these two groups is the result of a breakdown in communication. This realization has bothered me since.
While learning the language in the most practical sense is vitally important, learning to forgive each other inter-generationally is a form of healing that I suspect will facilitate language learning and retention. All I can say is that this language workshop was a step in the right direction and it is critical as Mi’gmaq that we organize and participate in more of them. I believe that the importance of the Mi’gmaq language is the one thing we can all agree upon. And while many of us are busy becoming experts in our respective fields, we can all become experts of the Mi’gmaq language together. An “expert” is defined, by the way, as someone who has spent 10,000 hours on a subject. If you were to take a one-hour Mi’gmaq class every day for a year, it would take over 27 years to “officially” become an expert. While I love my Mi’gmaq classes, I think we can all agree that 27 years is unrealistic.
It is incumbent upon us to seek out avenues whereby we can integrate language into our daily lives. We need to take this issue to formal avenues such as Chief and Council, but also realize that the responsibility lies with us to raise the issue in informal avenues. There’s many ways to do this. Allow me to humbly suggest one. It would be great if people could just greet each other in Mi’gmaq. Those who already speak might discover other speakers and network with them, but speakers might also discover that there are people (Youth, such as myself, in particular) who are trying to learn. Learners need to hear Mi’gmaq spoken to them. They need to be prompted to listen. They need to struggle to understand. They also need to be prompted to speak. This effort can only serve to strengthen our language, our culture, and the bond we share as citizens of this paradise we call Mi’gmagi. Wela’lioq!
Ke Kula Mauli Ola Hawaiʻi ʻO Nāwahīokalaniʻōpuʻu, or Living Hawaiian Life-Force School, is located in Keaʻau, Hawaiʻi. Elise McClay and Carol Little had the opportunity to tour this school on March 4th. The school is like any other school you would find in the United States, except that all courses are taught in the Hawaiian language. Oh, and not to forget that in the school playground are pineapple gardens and pigpens. This school teaches their students all subjects from Math to Social Studies to History to Japanese using the Hawaiian language. English, which is introduced in the 6th grade, is taught in English, however.
The school opened its doors in the 1980s. At this time, there were only a handful of speakers of the Hawaiian language and only about 45 under the age of 18. The Hawaiian language was falling into near extinction. Dedicated and devoted teachers promoted the usage of the Hawaiian language at this school. Now, there are around 300 students who matriculate there, many students having attended since kindergarten or pre-school. Throughout the hallways, students of all ages can be heard chattering in Hawaiian. The classrooms are full of posters and pictures with Hawaiian text. Some students of Nawahi now use Hawaiian at home as their primary language, after having learned it at school. Many students say they will raise their children in this language and hope that their children can also attend a Hawaiian language immersion school.
It was truly an enlightening and empowering experience to see such a successful language revitalization program. This does not happen over night, though. Many of the teachers have been there from the beginning and can attest to the many hardships they encountered and overcome which ultimately led to its success.
This list quickly sums up a few of the presentations I really enjoyed at ICLDC, in no particular order. The days were very packed, so sadly I only got to see a fraction of the interesting talks that were happening from 9-5:30 every day (in 6 different conference rooms!), but hopefully this gives you a quick idea of the types of great conversations and work that is being done by linguists, language revitalizationists, and language conservationists around the world.
- What does it meme? Lexicography for a new generation of language learners (Patricia Anderson, Tulane University)
- The Algonquian Online Interactive Linguistic Atlas (Marie-Odile Junker, Nicole Rosen, Hélène St-Onge, Arok Wolvengrey, Mimie Neacappo)
- This website maps a lot of different dialects of various Algonquian languages, putting equivalent sentences (for instance, translations of “This is my mother.”) side-by-side on the map. You can choose to use the website in English, French, or without colonial languages altogether.
- All their technology (using Python and MySQL) is open-source and non-proprietary, so this model could easily be adjusted to show language variation in other language families as well.
- The documentary linguist as facilitator: The view from Trung (Dulong) (Ross Perlin, University of Bern)
- As linguists we have to find ways of situating our own roles in communities studying languages that we may not speak.
- One potential model we can draw from is the literature on being a facilitator, placing “a focus on process and group dynamics, impartiality or neutrality, the evoking of participation, trust and consensus-building, and resource aggregation.”
- Sharing worlds of knowledge: Research protocols for communities (Andria Wilhelm, Universities of Victoria and of Alberta; Connie Cheecham, Northern Lights School District)
- Copyright law and other legal measures are generally insufficient when it comes to protecting Indigenous communities, specifically with respect to intangible property like linguistic expertise.
- It is important for researchers to collaboratively form concrete research protocols with their community/the community they are working with!
- These protocols may address guidelines for principles of respect, ownership & profit, informed consent, access, fixation, and any other facets are relevant to your work.
- Developing a regional Master-Apprentice training network in Australia (Gwendolyn Hyslop, Australian National University)
- Last year, Leanne Hinton and others led workshops for representatives from 31 Indigenous language communities in order to instruct them in the best strategies for engaging in the Master-Apprentice Program.
- They practiced (among other techniques) non-verbal communication, going through wordless books in the language, listening and repetition, immersion sets, talking about modern items/new vocabulary, games for counting, and puppet play.
- The goal of these sessions was to “train the trainer” and form a network of MAP groups throughout Australia–it was more popular than anticipated, and they had to run 3 workshops instead of the planned 1!
- People generally found that language pods, where 3-6 people engage in immersion together, felt more comfortable and natural than the usual MAP pair system of a single speaker and a single learner.
- We should try these out, too! And it would be great to get Leanne Hinton out for a workshop, no?
- Developing consistency by consensus: Avoiding fiat in language revitalization (Lance Twitchell, University of Alaska Southeast; James Crippen, University of British Columbia)
- The Tlingit language has a lot of sounds, to put it lightly. Developing an orthography was a bit of a problem, and for a while there were two separate writing systems. Over time, speakers merged the best features of each into what is known as the ‘email’ orthography to some people, a process that happened gradually, by internal consensus rather than external decree.
- This presentation said that standards should be violable; mistakes should be okay, since a language is owned by everybody who uses it; it is helpful to standardize aspects of the language until wide usage, not after.