Efforts to save Michif, the traditional language of the Métis, have progressed to the point where it will now be taught to students at a Saskatoon elementary school.
Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools trustees voted Monday to approve the adoption of a Core Michif program at St. Michael Community School.
Samson LaMontagne, who helps teach Métis culture across the school division, gave trustees a brief overview of the history of Michif, which is largely a combination of various dialects of Cree and French.
LaMontagne said he teaches Heritage Michif, which is the most geographically spread out variant of the language and is based on a combination of Plains Cree and French.
He said Michif also has two other distinct branches, French Michif and Northern Michif. Northern Michif speakers are largely concentrated around Ile-à-la-Crosse, where the language is taught at Rossignol High School.
LaMontagne told trustees Michif is in danger of fading away as the remaining speakers age.
“If that were to occur, the Métis would lose not just a way to communicate, but also a specific worldview, cultural knowledge including religion, spirituality, oral traditions, harvesting strategies and healing techniques,” he said.
LaMontagne and others have been helping to bring Métis cultural programs to St. Michael’s as part of a partnership with the Central Urban Métis Federation Inc. (CUMFI) that began in 2015.
CUMFI president Shirley Isbister also spoke in favour of the Core Michif program. She said she’s been heartened to hear Michif phrases during visits to the school thanks to the cultural program, and she looks forward to hearing more.
“When I go to the schools and I see the children of different cultures and they’re speaking Michif, I think, ‘Holy, they’re better speakers than I am!’ And that makes me proud.”
She asked the trustees to approve the Core Michif program for St. Michael’s and begin thinking of having the school become fully bilingual in the longer term.
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