'Magical' Michif: First kitchen party connects keen learners with Métis language

Dozens of participants keen to learn the Métis language gathered at the inaugural Michif kitchen party at the University of Manitoba's Indigenous learning centre on Saturday evening.

About 100 participants celebrated culture and language at Migizii Agamik

About 100 participants gathered for the first Michif Kitchen Party on Saturday, November 30, 2019. (Submitted by Brad Boudreau)

A group of unconventional students huddled around makeshift kitchen tables at the University of Manitoba's Indigenous learning centre on Saturday for a lesson in Michif.

Dozens of participants, both young and old, gathered at the Michif kitchen party held at Migizii Agamik on Saturday evening to connect with the traditional Métis language, which is only fluently spoken by about five to 10 per cent of Métis people across the country.

Laura Forsythe, the Métis inclusion coordinator at the University of Manitoba, is bringing people together to keep the mixture of Cree and French words alive.

"The flame has just started now to actually rebuild and reclaim our language as a whole, as a nation," she said.

Michif is spoken by communities living across Métis homelands, not limited to Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta.

"They understand that it's a value and it's unique to our culture and it's important," Forsythe said.

Twenty-eight university students are currently enrolled in the school's Michif language program, including individuals from Russian, Polish and Filipino backgrounds, Forsythe said. The university has been hosting monthly workshops where they invite elders to teach attendees how to introduce themselves and how to discuss the weather and their families, but it didn't have a space for everyone to get together and practice their speech.

So Forsythe decided to switch things up — and throw a kitchen party.

Learning language over food

One woman who attended the Michif kitchen party was thrilled to connect with her Red River Métis heritage on the Prairies.

Monique Courcelles, who was born in British Columbia, moved to Manitoba in 2015 to be closer to her relatives.

"Belonging is a big part of my life. This is part of who I am," she said.

Courcelles said the kitchen party provided her first direct experience with Michif. She said she picked up some useful phrases while sitting around a table with two other women as well as students who are taking the Michif course.

"With the fiddle music and the singing and the spoons, it was just overall magical," Courcelles said, adding that they played games and ate a meal consisting of meatballs, vegan chili, fresh produce and bannock with jam.

Monique Courcelles participated in the Michif Kitchen Party at the University of Manitoba's Migizii Agamik. (Submitted by Monique Courcelles)

Another participant said the most impactful thing about the night for him was seeing how the language brought people together.

"It was not an average gathering. Everyone felt like family, even if I had not met many of them," James Lavallée wrote in a message.

"Truly an amazing experience. Inspires me to keep learning and actively [make] opportunities for the language to grow and strengthen our community," Lavallée said.

Learn more about diverse Indigenous languages across the country here in the Original Voices series by CBC Indigenous.

With files from Cory Funk