Métis Language Gathering (March 14-15, 2024)

The Office of the Commissioner of Indigenous Languages hosted the first of many regional gatherings with a focus on Métis language revitalization and preservation. The goal of this event was to engage with and hear directly from Métis Elders, Youth, language keepers, experts, and speakers and support their unique vision on reclaiming, revitalizing, maintaining, and strengthening their languages. Held on Treaty One territory and the territory of the Métis people (Winnipeg, MB), the event brought together nearly 100 participants who collectively discussed Métis language immersion programming, funding, identity, and youth perspectives on language revitalization.

At Hotel Fort Garry, Oliver Boulette, the Master of Ceremonies, introduced the Kinew Youth Fiddlers (Andy, Kannon, Kieran, and Katherine) who began the evening event with an energetic performance. Elder Verna DeMontigny delivered an opening prayer in Michif. The Commissioner of Indigenous Languages, Ronald Ignace, and Director Georgina Liberty also shared opening remarks.

Following dinner, the gathering witnessed several performances: fiddle music by mother-son duo, Alex and Patti Kusturok; dancing by the Kinew Youth Dancers (Lacey, Rocco, Jayda, Carlitos, Bijou, and Francesco); and Michif songs by David Lavallee. Each of these performers actively do the work to keep traditions alive through practice and performance, which concluded the first day with inspiration and hope.

On the morning following the welcome by Director Liberty, Elder Verna DeMontigny offered an opening prayer. Master of Ceremonies David Heinrichs provided an overview of the day and introduced Commissioner Ignace, who shared his story as a residential school survivor. Commissioner Ignace also emphasized the importance of Indigenous languages, the Commission’s priorities, and the need for substantial funding to support language immersion programs. This set the stage for the first panel discussion, moderated by Janel Leiterman.

The panel focused on immersion programming, with panelists Heather Souter, Verna DeMontiguy, and Laura Burnouf highlighting the benefits of immersion learning methods. They encouraged embracing the silence that comes with language reclamation and allowing learners time to think and speak while learning. Burnouf reminded teachers to be compassionate with themselves, given the high expectations and time pressure involved. Souter emphasized that beautiful things can happen in immersion – specifically through Master Apprentice – as she’s witnessed healing within families, relationships, and within learners, themselves.

Breakout rooms generated ideas and discussion on the following four topics: funding model, innovative programs, identity, and generative Artificial Intelligence.

Following an opening prayer by Elder Norman Meade of Manigotagan, participants enjoyed a lunchtime presentation by Dr. Daniel Brant focused on Indigenous Languages and Adequacy of Funding. Emphasizing the need for significant funding and the need for celebrating and uplifting Indigenous languages, Dr. Brant recognized the tremendous scope of language learning and quoted Dr. Lorna Williams: “You’re not learning a word; you’re learning a world.”

After lunch, another panel discussion was held and moderated by Brielle Beaudin-Peimer. Panelists Candance Behrendt, David Delorme, and Josh Morin discussed the Youth perspectives of Michif language revitalization. They shared their unique journeys, the importance of collaboration and patience, and to find the fun and laughter while facing the many challenges of language learning.

The gathering ended with Charlene VonBurkenhaut’s theatrical performance of Minoosh Doo-Kapeeshiw (Cat Goes Camping).

As the gathering concluded, it became clear that individuals who are deeply invested in revitalizing and preserving the Michif language have insights that will shape the future work and initiatives of the Commission. Throughout the event, participants shared similar aspirations and challenges.

Regarding funding, most Elders, language keepers, and teachers concur that sustainable, long-term funding is essential for successful immersion programs. Adequate funding ensures that educators are well-equipped and supported to expand and maintain these vital language programs. While funding remains a critical concern, a significant challenge lies in cultivating a pool of motivated adult fluent speakers who are passionate about passing on the language and continuing the important work initiated by their Elders.