Tobique filming elders to save language

A group from the Tobique First Nation has hired a local production company to train community members in video production in a bid to save their language.
Gary Sappier, who is working with the elders on the project, says he's enjoying their wisdom. ((CBC))
A group from the Tobique First Nation has hired a local production company to train community members in video production in a bid to save their language.

Over the next 20 weeks, the group plans to archive Maliseet stories told by elders in their native language.

Elder Victor Bear said many members under the age of 50 don't know how to speak Maliseet.

He said when he speaks to his grandchildren in Maliseet, they just look at him with an expression that says: "What the hell's he talking about.

"This is why we're doing this, is to bring our language back, because we're losing it," he said.

It's a picture-painting language, said Allan Tremblay, another Tobique elder.

"Like you know a lot of our words describe things, as opposed to having one word for it. Like a colour, like green, we'll say…'the colour of a fir tree,' or the ground, brown, we say…'the colour of dirt.'"

Some of the stories they're telling are about the evolution of the language itself, such as the word Glooscap, "the original name of the god we believed in," said Elder Patrick Paul.

"Now the missionaries said, 'This is a lie. Don't even talk about that. It's a lie.' So now the word 'lie' is 'Glooscap,'" he said.

The group is travelling around Tobique and to spots along the St. John River that have significance to Maliseet history.

A map of what was once perhaps the largest Maliseet village settlement in the 1600s. ((CBC))
This week, they were recording near Woodstock, the site of what was once perhaps the largest Maliseet village settlement in the 1600s.

"What surprised me is the camaraderie with the elders," said Gary Sappier, a well-known musician from the Tobique, who is learning how to operate the video equipment.

"To get their wisdom, and to hear their old stories. A lot of it is history, and a lot of it is fun," he said.

Serena Moulton also enjoyed the experience.

"Working with my elders, that's what I think a lot of the younger people need to do is to interact more with their elders because they are the ones who know how to speak the language, and that's who we need to learn from."