Nova Scotia

Man behind Mi'kmaw dubbing hopes to build Eskasoni studio

Tom Johnson, the man who voiced a Mi'kmaw dubbing of the movie Chicken Run, is working to build an audio and video production studio in Eskasoni. He's hoping it will help keep the language alive.

Tom Johnson hopes to do more dubbing work in an effort to keep the language alive

Tom and Carol Anne Johnson dubbed Chicken Run into Mi'kmaw before tackling Vikings. (Tom and Carol Anne Johnson)

The man who became the voice of a Mi'kmaw-speaking Rocky the Rooster is now working to build an audio and video production studio in Eskasoni, N.S.

Several years ago, Tom Johnson and his wife Carol Anne noticed a decline in the use of the Mi'kmaw language in their community.

So, with the help of some family members, they undertook a fun project — dubbing the animated children's film Chicken Run into Mi'kmaw.

Since then, they've done translation work with the Netflix series Vikings, and dubbed other productions, all out of Johnson's garage.

"I've been doing this on my own. And I feel like there's so much demand out there that I can't keep up with it," said Johnson.

He's had to turn down projects because he doesn't have enough time to tackle them on his own. That's where the studio project comes in.

"If we had speakers, if we had elders, if we had camera operators, if we had audio engineers, if we had people who could translate text, who could write text ... you know what they say, a lot of hands make light work."

Driving Johnson's passion for the project is a sense of urgency about preserving the Mi'kmaw language and the culture's oral tradition.

"What we want to do is we want to design a studio, a place where we can bring in these speakers, knowledge holders, do interviews with them in the first language and start archiving."

Two studio spaces

Johnson has also been working with a stop-motion animation team out of the U.K. which has agreed to help the band set up a professional studio.

The Eskasoni band has contributed space in the band's former healthcare building.

The idea would be to start with two studios, which could each be used for various purposes, changing sets as required. For example, they could produce original stop-motion productions, or Mi'kmaw language cooking shows, or educational programs that can be used in schools, said Johnson.

'Keeping the language moving'

Steve Parsons, CEO for Eskasoni Corporate, is now working on a business plan for the studio and seeking federal funding.

He estimates the cost of building renovations, studio equipment and operations will come to about $500,000 to $600,000, of which the band will contribute between 10 and 20 per cent.

"We all know our chief and council is big in terms of keeping the language moving. We think the studio can do that," said Parsons.

The name for the proposed studio hasn't been finalized, but Johnson would like to see it called Kji-wikuom, which means "the biggest, or the greatest, wigwam".

"Initially in our culture, storytelling ... oral tradition, that was the end-all, be-all of information sharing," said Johnson. "A lot of these stories happened inside the wigwam."

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Holly Conners is a reporter and current affairs producer who has been with CBC Cape Breton since 1998. Contact her at holly.conners@cbc.ca.

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