A Fort Smith man wants to make Michif, a Métis language, one of the official languages of the Northwest Territories.

Vance Sanderson is the manager of the N.W.T. Cree Language program and also advocates on behalf of Michif speakers. He said it's hard to estimate how many Michif speakers there are in the territory.

Vance Sanderson

'It's a language that's very special to Métis people,' says Vance Sanderson. (submitted by Vance Sanderson)

"It's a mixture. Within the N.W.T. there are a lot of different groups that are influenced by the languages they speak, so you could have French/Slavey Michif, you can have Chipewyan/French Michif, you can have Cree Michif, so depending on which community and how they use French within their aboriginal language, it can differ," he said.

  • Tune into Trail's End this afternoon for the full interview with Sanderson

"So I'd have to say the number is around 300."

NWT has 11 official languages: English, French, Inuktitut, Inuinnaqtun, Inuvialuktun, Gwich'in, North Slavey, South Slavey, Tlicho, Chipewyan and Cree.

According to the N.W.T.'s 2009 Community Survey, five of the N.W.T.'s nine official aboriginal languages had less than 500 fluent speakers in the territory.

Sanderson said a campaign to get Michif added could include a count of speakers or a poll to see if the idea of adding the language has popular support.

Making language more visible

As part of aboriginal languages month, the N.W.T. Cree Language Program is working on making Cree and Chipewyan more visible in the community through signage in stores, and Sanderson said Michif could also be used.

"There are a lot of Métis people who are fighting for Michif recognition within legislation within our territory," he said.

"It's a language that's very special to Métis people and to share it and have it recognized would be even more special for everyone."

Michif was the language spoken in the home of N.W.T. Premier Bob McLeod and his brother, Liberal MP Michael McLeod, according to Aboriginal Business Quarterly

Northwest Territory Métis Nation president Garry Bailey said he supports Sanderson's initiative to have Michif recognised as an official language of the N.W.T.

"Of course we all support it," he said. "We support all of our aboriginal languages, bringing our languages back. We just got to get GNWT on board."