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#OLRCC23 -Atlantic Provinces Stories (Nova Scotia’s First Language - Mi’kmaw)

Updated: Feb 6

"We are seeing language loss in our communities but most importantly we are seeing a language resurgence in communities where youth and community people are actively in pursuit of restoring their language and culture. This legislation will help strengthen that."

Blaire Gould, Executive Director, Mi’kmaw Kina’matnewey

The Maliseet and Mi'kmaw languages are part of the Algonquian language family and are Indigenous to what is now known as Eastern Canada and the Northeastern United States. They are two of the many languages spoken by First Nations communities in the region.

The Maliseet language, also known as Malecite-Passamaquoddy, is traditionally spoken by the Maliseet people, who are Indigenous to the Maritimes region of Canada and Maine in the United States. It is estimated that there are currently around 1,500 fluent speakers of the language, although this number has been decreasing due to a lack of intergenerational transmission of the language. Efforts to revive the language have been made in recent years, with language classes and immersion programs being offered in some communities.

The Mi'kmaw language, also known as Mi'gmaq, is traditionally spoken by the Mi'kmaw people, who are Indigenous to the Maritimes and Gaspé regions of Canada and the Northeastern United States. It is estimated that there are around 2,000 fluent speakers of the language, with more speakers in some communities than others. Like the Maliseet language, efforts to revive the language have been made, including language classes and immersion programs.

Both the Maliseet and Mi'kmaw languages have a rich cultural heritage and are closely tied to the traditions, customs, and beliefs of their respective communities. The languages have been used for storytelling, song, and communication for thousands of years. They have also been used in traditional practices such as hunting, fishing, and medicine.

Despite their cultural and linguistic importance, both the Maliseet and Mi'kmaw languages have faced significant challenges in recent history. The colonization of North America by European settlers brought with it policies of assimilation and suppression of Indigenous cultures and languages, which had a devastating impact on the Maliseet and Mi'kmaw communities and their languages. The residential school system, which separated Indigenous children from their families and communities and forced them to attend boarding schools where they were punished for speaking their traditional languages, further compounded the issue.

Today, however, there is a growing movement to revive and revitalize the Maliseet and Mi'kmaw languages. This includes not only language classes and immersion programs, but also initiatives to document and preserve the languages, such as the creation of dictionaries, grammars, and language resources. There is also a growing awareness and appreciation of the importance of preserving Indigenous languages and cultures, as an integral part of the heritage and identity of Indigenous peoples.

Most importantly, on April 22, 2022 Nova Scotia also passed Bill 148, the Mi'kmaw Language Act, to recognize, promote and support the revitalization and the reclamation of the Mi'kmaw language. On July 17th, Premier Tim Houston joined thirteen chiefs and a slew of dignitaries in Potlotek First Nation for the official proclamation of the new Mi’kmaw Language Act "reinforcing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action for governments to preserve, promote, revitalize and protect Aboriginal languages through legislation and education, work collaboratively with leadership, organizations and communities in the months ahead and develop and bring forward a plan for government action to help ensure meaningful access to the Mi’kmaw language." (Karla MacFarlane, minister of L'nu Affairs). This demonstrates that treaties are not historical but living documents that set out long-standing promises, mutual obligations and benefits for all signing parties. In the case of the Mi'kmaw, the Peace and Friendship treaties between the Crown and Mi’kmaw signed in the 1700s is considered to be a foundation for language rights as much as signifying connections and creation of meaningful, co-operative, respectful and mutually understanding relationships.

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