Nova Scotia

'So many gems': Mother, son rejuvenate Mi'kmaw language resource

After a hiatus of a few years, the Mi'kmaw language resource called L'nui'si is resuming. But this time it's going under a new name — Language Keeper.

'To know our language is to see what our ancestors saw'

Talon Simon is teaching Mi'kmaq and other Indigenous languages with the help of his mother, Heidi Simon, and volunteers from Indigenous communities. (Erik Garf )

After a hiatus of a few years, the Mi'kmaw language resource called L'nui'si is resuming.

But this time it's going under a new name — Language Keeper.

Talon Simon and his mother, Heidi Simon, decided now would be the perfect time to rejuvenate the initiative since 2019 has been declared the International Year of Indigenous Languages by the United Nations.

Talon and Heidi are from Elsipogtog First Nation in New Brunswick. Talon now lives in Dartmouth, N.S.

"To know our language is to see what our ancestors saw," said Talon. "And because our language is so old, it holds so many gems and so many beautiful stories."

L'nui'si was started by Talon's older sister, Savannah (Savvy) Simon, in 2014.

At the time, Savannah was sharing videos on YouTube, instructing how to say words or phrases in Mi'kmaq. Alongside her videos, the hashtag #SpeakMikmaq was trending.

It was around 2017 when content began to slow down. Savannah was starting a family and would soon start travelling.

Although her passion for language preservation didn't slow, finding time and resources to post to the same extent as before became difficult. 

Language movement relaunch

After Heidi and Talon attended a language conference in Fredericton, N.B., they felt compelled to bring L'nui'si back, but under the new name.

"We were seeing all the buzz around Indigenous languages," said Talon. "People were messaging us constantly, they wanted it back."

To teach the Mi'kmaw language in different dialects, Language Keeper focuses on a "hear, say, repeat" approach.

"My mom is a fluent speaker in the Mi'kmaw language," said Talon. "And she says she never learned it by the alphabet, through spelling or reading. She learned it from hearing it."

Heidi Simon and her son, Talon (submitted)

Talon edits the videos with a clip or GIF, often something from pop culture, to help entertain and communicate the word or phrase of the day.

Heidi helps to pronounce and spell the words and she is often the voice in the videos.

But they're still looking to record other Mi'kmaw speakers to help create their videos.

Language Keeper in classrooms

For now, Talon and Heidi are focused on producing daily content for various social media platforms. But they say they would like to see their language resource taught in classrooms throughout Atlantic Canada.

Since L'nui'si began and evolved into Language Keeper, Talon said the most rewarding part of the work is to hear young people speaking in their ancestral language.

"I'm able to talk to my mom, my elders in their language, and they smile, because they know that it'll be alright, that the youth are carrying it on."

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