Michif Language

Minister Andrew Carrier
General Manager Sharon Parenteau

The 2020-21 year was a productive one for the Michif Portfolio despite COVID-19 restrictions. Fortunately, the funder, Heritage Canada, allowed for extensions and amendments to projects that included gatherings, trainings, or person-to-person interviews. Disbursed funds were allowed to be used "to cover reasonable eligible expenses incurred up to the total amount approved." The following projects took place over the year:

The Michif Revitalization Proposal - $250,000 (2019-2021) was approved by the Indigenous Languages Component, the Department of Canadian Heritage, for $250,000. The proposal was submitted by the Manitoba Metis Federation (MMF) as a governing member. Once it was approved, the due date was extended to March 31, 2021. The Louis Riel Institute (LRI) carried out the project for the MMF Michif Portfolio. To set the foundation for further revitalization work in Michif and other Métis Languages, this project focussed on the development of a language assessment survey, starting a strategic plan for Michif in the province, training stakeholders in proven Language Revitalization methods, proper documenting and archiving of language samples, and investing in video and audio equipment to get out to communities to start documenting our Elders.

To carry out the activities with community input, a working circle was created including the LRI, Prairies to Woodlands Language Revitalization Circle, and contractors, to carry out the work. An advisory group was then set up, called the Michif Community Circle, with 30 participants including youth, learners, teachers, Speakers, technicians, Elders, professionals, and one delegate from each MMF Region. The COVID-19 restrictions meant moving all community meetings and trainings to Zoom, and moving funds from travel to equipment, professional fees and honorariums. With the extension, and the hard work of the staff, contractors and Community Circle, most of the original deliverables were reached including developing a Communications strategy and Facebook page. To include other Métis Languages, the working group's name going forward will be the Métis Languages Collaborative.

The challenges the LRI faced in carrying out this project for the MMF Michif Portfolio included redesigning the project to work under COVID-19 restrictions and working without the funding being advanced. The LRI carried out the activities, which included paying community members, speakers, technicians, trainers, language professionals, and Elders, for their services.

Michif Documenting and Indexing Project - $295,000 (2020-21) The LRI directly applied to Heritage Canada Indigenous Languages Component for an additional Michif project for the 2020/21 fiscal year, requesting approximately $320,000. This project was designed to continue with the foundational work started in the Michif Revitalization project, including training documenters, indexers, transcribers, archiving staff, and beginning the work to document, index, transcribe, and digitize language samples. The LRI and Prairies to Woodlands have worked closely as part of the Métis Languages Collaboration, to hire or contract professionals as required for the training. Both existing and new language samples will be shared with users through a language sharing platform called Mukurtu. This project also required some redesigning and an extension due to continued pandemic restrictions. As of March 2021, the project was extended to September 30, 2021. An important piece of this project was to develop capacity for all the work required to revitalize Indigenous languages. Interested learners and speakers are being trained in some of the technical aspects. These are jobs that will become more plentiful and full-time positions will be available now that long term language revitalization funding is in our near future. The Michif Portfolio will provide meaningful work in the Métis community in the years to come.

Metis National Council Funds - $250,000 (2020-21) was a third source of funding for Michif this year. It was earmarked for the LRI's assistance on the Michif Symposium, honorariums for guest presenters from the Manitoba Métis community, as well as other Michif revitalization work deemed a priority by the LRI. Language Revitalization best practices recommend documenting language samples as the number-one priority when a language is as endangered as Heritage (or Southern) Michif. As a result, a portion of the funds were used to acquire additional video, auditory, and editing equipment for use in documenting the dwindling fluent Michif speakers in the province. The LRI committed another portion of the funds to transcribing tapes from a Belcourt Michif radio show done in the 1980s with a fluent Michif interviewer and fluent speakers. Verna Demontigny, one of the few Michif Speakers left able to handle such a task has taken this on.

A second project deemed to be a priority was to train Verna Demontigny and her husband Harvey Pelletier to use Go-Pro equipment to document everyday conversations in everyday activities at home. Verna and Harvey are one of the only couples remaining who both speak Michif. They have been hired full time by Prairies to Woodlands to assist with these projects and more. Prairies to Woodlands has been contracted through the LRI to oversee the projects due to their knowledge, experience, and training in language revitalization and documentation. The work on the last two items had to be pushed into the next fiscal year.

Other Métis languages projects happening in Manitoba with members of the Métis Languages Collaborative:

Master Apprentice Program (MAP) - P2W continued to run MAP with pandemic-safe adjustments to keep pairs as family members only or meeting by Zoom. MAP is known as the most effective program to create speakers due to the immersion nature of it.

Updated Chippawa Cree Online Dictionary (Heritage Michif) - P2W has also continued their work on updating, expanding, and digitizing the classic dictionary, which was out of print, with linguist Olivia Sammons, and Speaker Verna Demontigny and other Elders doing auditory work for the dictionary. This will be an excellent learning resource when it is done later in 2021.

Michif 1 & 2 University of Manitoba credit courses - The courses were offered again this year with enough demand to create Michif 2. The free community sessions were available on Saturdays. All learning moved to Zoom this year with instructor Heather Souter. The U of M is considering a level 3 course. These students are excellent candidates to become part of future MAP programs and become our future teachers and speakers.

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