Mi'kmaw to be enshrined as Nova Scotia's first language
'Having our language respected and recognized, it's a big, huge step,' says Eskasoni Chief Leroy Denny
This story is part of a series from CBC's Eskasoni Community Bureau, based out of the Sarah Denny Cultural Centre. This series comes from weeks of conversations with community members about what they feel is important to see, hear and read on CBC's platforms.
Nova Scotia is one step closer to recognizing Mi'kmaw as its first language.
On Thursday, the province's Mi'kmaw Language Act was introduced after being created in partnership with First Nations.
As part of the bill, the province has also committed to developing a multi-year language revitalization strategy meant to identify priorities and steps to reclaim the Mi'kmaw language.
"This is a priority for our leadership, for our elders, to revitalize, strengthen and promote our Mi'kmaq by language because it's dying," said Leroy Denny, chief of Eskasoni, which is the largest Mi'kmaw-speaking community in the world.
"Having our language respected and recognized, it's a big, huge step. More and more young people are not speaking the language. More of our elders are [passing] on.
"If an elder passes away, it's like a library burns down, I was told."
According to the province, the number of children under age four who are learning Mi'kmaw fell to just 20 per cent in 2013, down from 44 per cent in 1999.
If current trends continue, it is estimated that by 2027, children under four will not be able to speak Mi'kmaw.
Protecting Mi'kmaw language through legislation was recommended by a provincial Mi'kmaw language team that engaged all Mi'kmaw communities and the Mi'kmaq Native Friendship Centre in Halifax.
Blaire Gould estimates that today there are roughly 3,000 Mi'kmaw speakers in Nova Scotia.
Gould will be working with the province on creating language supports through her role as executive director of Mi'kmaw Kina'matnewey, a collective voice for Mi'kmaw education.
"It's absolutely important," said Gould. "Language is integral to our being. It is part of us. It is part of our culture. [For] governments [to be] holding their Mi'kmaw partners in their highest regard, it has to be holding our customs or our values, our traditions, and most importantly, our language."
Karla MacFarlane, minister responsible for the Office of L'nu Affairs, said Thursday the legislation is a small portion of what lies ahead.
"The work we will continue to do together in the coming months will create a plan to move forward," MacFarlane said in a press release.
"Our government sees this is a critical step on the path toward reconciliation."
Denny said legislation will strengthen the work of language warriors who have been fighting for many years to preserve Mi'kmaw.
A Mi'kmaw speaker since he was a child, Denny said Nova Scotia's formal recognition can be used as a model for provinces around the country. And he expects it will result in an expansion of programs and services offering Mi'kmaw translation.
He said work is already underway to identify ways to promote Mi'kmaw learning for future generations.
The Mi'kmaw Language Act will be proclaimed on a date agreed upon by Mi'kmaw leaders. It takes effect Oct. 1, or Treaty Day.
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