Language shapes thought. Linguists and cultural anthropologists established that point long ago. Now, think about the implications if you lose your language.
To that end, more voices in Nova Scotia are calling for ways to strengthen use of Mi’kmaq, the first tongue spoken in the province and region, but one in danger of fading. Fortunately the proposals are gaining traction.
Chief Bob Gloade of the Millbrook First Nations band is among those to recently express support for the designation of official language status for Mi’kmaq in Nova Scotia. His comments follow those of Eskasoni Chief Leroy Denny, who is pushing for official language designation for his people.
The pitch is getting a good reception, with Premier Stephen McNeil and cabinet members saying they are open to such an idea. Denny has said he expects to meet this month with Education Minister Zach Churchill for discussion of the topic.
Mi’kmaq in Nova Scotia have expressed concern for some time about the waning in use of their native language over the years, to the point where now just a minority of Aboriginal people would speak it fluently. That doesn’t mean, however, a lack of interest, but more so that the milieu and materials to boost use of the language are needed.
At issue are the factors that helped bring about the loss: the now discredited residential school system in place in the last century that saw children uprooted from their communities and placed in government-funded, church-run institutions. Native language use and cultural observances were forbidden, and punishment and abuse of the children was rampant.
It was all part of a misguided attempt at cultural assimilation, and it’s not hard to see what that would mean for the language.
Descendants of European settlers in the Maritimes can possibly relate to such a loss. Some of those of Scottish background still bemoan the treatment centuries ago as the English gained control in Scotland and, in a bid to efface culture and traditions, outlawed the speaking of Gaelic.
Present-day attempts to revitalize that language – or any other that was once suppressed – are seen as a noble effort, although a challenge.
In the case of Mi’kmaq in Nova Scotia, proponents hope that official status would mean more funding for educational materials and translation services.
This of course would involve a cost, as with any education-enrichment program. Discussions with the province would need to take a careful look at what would be implemented, what makes sense and would have the greatest benefit to those interested in a resurgence of the language. They need to determine what’s practical, since it’s never wise to add extra elements of bureaucracy that serve little or no purpose.
But this represents a worthwhile effort, one that could mean a richer cultural fabric for the province, and also a strong illustration of the history of this region of Canada.