michif1Métis youth participating in the Kenora Métis Council’s Michif
program: (left to right) Katelyne Stenlund (daughter of Region One
Councilor; Theresa Stenlund), Kira Boucha, Darcie Boucha; Hailey
Fortier (granddaughter of Kenora Metis Council President Joel
Henley); Mathew Camire (in the back corner); Kylie Camire; Asht
on Bell (AJ) (with the talking stick); Alana Boucha (on the floor);
Shalayne Raymond (standing with the sash).
All across the Métis homeland there is a growing movement to revitalize Michif, the language of the Métis people. Efforts are being made to both preserve the language and teach it to young people. A recent article in Legion Magazine entitled “Saving Michif” drew attention to Michif programs in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and British Columbia and important work is also going on in Ontario.

The article in May/June 2011 Legion Magazine explains that although Michif was already widely used by 1840, it, like other Aboriginal languages was often suppressed and even banned. As a result, Michif did not get passed on to younger generations and most Michif speakers today are elderly, from around 65, to well into their 80s. Part of the growing pride of Métis people across the homeland is awareness that Michif is an important aspect of our history and culture. Insuring the language is passed on to new generations michif2An example of the family orientated learning going on through the
Kenora Métis Council’s Michif program: Métis Elder Greg Triskle with
his great-grandchildren Katelyne Stenlund and Hayden Stenlund.
Hayden is the youngest student in the program. His great-grandfather
provides spiritual guidance and direction for the students. He tells
stories and shares his knowledge and teachings of growing up off
the land where he was a trapper and bush worker.
has become a priority. The Manitoba Métis Federation has Michif programs in six of its communities while the Métis Nation British Columbia has established www.learnmichif.com, a website dedicated to teaching Michif. The Gabriel Dumont Institute in Saskatchewan has created DVDs and CDs that target all age groups and draw on the knowledge and guidance of Métis elders and Michif speakers.

The Métis Nation of Ontario (MNO) is playing a major part in the movement to revitalize Michif. The Education and Training Branch has recently produced a Métis Education Kit that includes posters with Michif words (along with English and French) describing several important elements of Métis culture. The Education Kits are available to Métis educators throughout Ontario.

Some of the most important work being done revitalizing Michif is taking place at the community level. An excellent example is “The Sharing the Michif Language” course initiated by the Kenora Métis Council. Over 20 Métis are participating in Michif language classes that are being funded by the Federal Department of Canadian Heritage through the Aboriginal Languages Initiative (ALI). The program provides 20 weeks of language instruction through a variety of different media. Speakers and instructors from Manitoba have facilitated some classes and on-line learning, short drama skits, uniquely created versions of popular games, cooking and crafting activities, and visits to outside venues have all been used to teach Michif. While the majority of participants are young people, the ages have ranged from six to 84, which has provided a great opportunity for youth to interact and learn from Métis elders.

“Children were encouraged to learn with the adults and elders as the vehicle of learning historically through the family system,” explained Theresa Stenlund, the Provisional Council of the MNO (PCMNO) Councilor for Region 1 (which includes Kenora), “we felt by re-creating this form of education, we could develop a family-orientated learning atmosphere. It was incredible how much they learned and how much we learned from them! All the participants were very accepting and patient of this process and it enhanced our learning experience.” Besides being the PCMNO Councillor, Theresa also has two children enrolled in the Michif Course.

In order to motivate the children (and adults), students participate in monthly trading posts where they earn Métis dollars throughout the classes that they can use to purchase and barter for items with Fur Trader McPherson. To encourage participation, Métis dollars were handed out to students who participated in class and/or volunteered to help with snacks, clean up, and/or deliver a Métis presentation of their own choosing.

So far, some of the Michif phrases the students have learned include the following:

  • Tawnshi Kiya? (Hello, how are you?)
  • Nimiyou ayawn. (I am fine).
  • Tawnshi eyishinikawshoyan? What is your name?
  • . . . Dishinikawshon (My name is . . . )
  • Tawnshi ayshikeeshikawk? (How is the weather?)

    “The Métis culture for our children is an important aspect of knowing who they are and the rich history they come from,” stated Theresa. “It is our strong Métis identity that needs be taught to our children and grandchildren. The Métis in this area and across Ontario have deep roots to the land and the Métis way of life that needs to be shared more often. I am very pleased that the Kenora Metis Council is offering the children and adults of the Kenora area a chance to regain our language and also expose and teach our Metis culture throughout the Michif lessons,” she added.