Halifax residents celebrate Mi’kmaw language on Family Literacy Day

Bernie Francis reads a Mi'kmaw story to children at the Mi'kmaw Native Friendship Centre in Halifax on Family Literacy Day, Jan. 25, 2019. Elizabeth McSheffrey/Global News

For parents and children across the country, Family Literacy Day is a time to read and write together and celebrate the benefits of those activities in early childhood development.

But the annual Jan. 25 event took on a deeper meaning at the Mi’kmaw Native Friendship Centre in Halifax on Friday, where the celebration was about the Mi’kmaw language itself.

For centuries, colonization oppressed Indigenous languages in Canada. Today, the centre’s executive director said the Mi’kmaw language is on the rise in Nova Scotia.

“It’s getting easier and easier for us. We have people who want to learn who want to experience what it’s like,” Pam Glode-Desrochers told Global News.

“And at one time, people didn’t come forward when we offered this (programming). Now we have lineups, people are signing up for this stuff well in advance.”

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The Mi’kmaw Native Friendship Centre marked the special occasion with a children’s story explaining the origin of the Mi’kmaw Honour Song, told through the eyes of a residential school survivor. Little ones listened intently and sang along with the honorary reader, Mi’kmaw author and linguist Bernie Francis.

The language isn’t just a tool for reading and writing, Glode-Desrochers explained, it’s about relationships and culture.

“It’s the backbone of the Mi’kmaw communities. It’s something that is so much more than just the word,” she said. “It is the feelings, it is the story and it is really key to heart and soul.”

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Lisa Robinson, who has taken part in the centre’s Indigenous language programming, agreed. At the ceremony, in between drumming and dancing, she spoke about the importance of having Mi’kmaw language resources available for learners.

“As parents, it’s up to us to ensure our children learn their culture and traditions, and it’s a feeling like no other when your child speaks a language that was stolen from so many, including my grandmother, and knowing how proud she would be today,” she said.

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Part of the challenge is finding native speakers who are available to teach it, said Glode-Desrochers, but it’s something the centre continues to work on. The goal is that one day, no programming will be required, she added – reading, writing, speaking and thinking in the Mi’kmaw language will be second nature.

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