A St. Albert museum has gone online and international to help keep the Michif language alive during the COVID-19 pandemic.
St. Albert’s Michif Cultural Connections is now hosting free weekly online meetings where people can learn to speak Michif, the traditional language of the Métis.
The meetings are an extension of the in-person Michif conversation club that met last summer at Juneau House, the home base for Michif Cultural Connections. Like many St. Albert facilities, Juneau House closed to the public on March 13 due to concerns about the novel coronavirus, which put all the Michif centre’s activities on hold.
Michif Cultural Connections workshop host Joshua Morin said he asked on Facebook on March 16 if anyone would be interested in joining an online Michif language gathering, and got about 70 comments in response. He and Sherwood Park Michif language coach Graham Andrews hosted the first one on March 18, and plan to host similar meetings at 8 p.m. every Friday until Juneau House reopens.
“We have a pretty steady number of about 17 people, I’d say,” he said of the group, with people signing in from across Canada and the U.S.
Andrews, one of the few fluent Michif speakers in the Edmonton region, said it was exciting to see people from Vancouver Island to Montreal to Turtle Mountain (North Dakota) come together in this forum.
“It’s enabling us to work together toward one goal, and that is preserving of our language, which is our culture.”
Michif is the traditional language of the Métis, but very few of the 600,000 Métis in Canada speak it. Statistics Canada reports that just 1,210 Canadians can carry on a conversation in Michif, while just 85 use it as their main language at home.
“There are very few people in the world right now that can have a conversation, regardless of how simple, in Michif,” Andrews said, and anything we can do to raise awareness of the language is fantastic.
More online Michif lessons are in the works. Morin is posting weekly video clips on Facebook where he demonstrates how to say phrases in Michif such as “snow” (la niizh) or “let’s stay home” (aandaan ayaataak). Andrews is working with Michif Cultural Connections, the University of Alberta, the Native Women’s Association of Canada, and the Buffalo Lake Métis Settlement to create a more formal online Métis language course that should roll out later this year.
Morin said these online meetings give Métis Canadians a chance to reconnect with their culture, which has helped the Métis through many trying times in the past.
“It’s the backbone of our nation,” he said of Métis culture, and it’s something you can fall back upon when you’re struggling.
It’s times like these that people need to come together and form heartfelt connections with one another, Andrews agreed.
“How better to do that except through our language?”
Visit the Michif Cultural Connections Facebook page for details on the Friday language meet-ups.