Nova Scotia

Mi'kmaw to be formally recognized as Nova Scotia's first language

Nova Scotia's government will introduce legislation recognizing Mi'kmaw as the province's original language and to promote and preserve it.

Province will introduce legislation to 'preserve, revitalize and promote' the language

A group of 13 women graduated from the Mi'kmaw early childhood education program in 2020. (Mi'kmaw Kina'matnewey)

Nova Scotia will introduce legislation next year to officially recognize Mi'kmaw as the province's first language.

The announcement was made Friday by Minister of L'nu Affairs Karla MacFarlane.

A news release said the number of people who speak Mi'kmaw is declining rapidly and government will start working with Mi'kmaw Kina'matnewey, a collective voice for Mi'kmaw education, to revitalize the language. 

The province will support Mi'kmaw speakers who are working in schools and communities to preserve the language, the release said. 

According to the release, the province will reinforce the work done by the Treaty Education Nova Scotia initiative and collaborate on legislation that will ensure that the Mi'kmaw language becomes "a normal part of life in Nova Scotia."

'We want it to be everywhere,' chief says

Reacting to the announcement, the Assembly of Mi'kmaw Chiefs issued a media release on Friday congratulating Chief Leroy Denny, the assembly's education lead and chair of Mi'kmaw Kina'matnewey.

"We want to acknowledge Chief Denny's passion for ensuring our language is passed down to future generations," Chief Sidney Peters said in the release. 

Denny, who is also the chief of Eskasoni First Nation in Cape Breton, said the team is "very excited" about the new legislation.

He said Mi'kmaw Kina'matnewey has been looking for ways to revitalize, strengthen and promote the language for years.

Eskasoni Chief Leroy Denny says Mi'kmaw Kina'matnewey has been looking for ways to revitalize, strengthen and promote the language for years. (Steve Sutherland/CBC)

"We're at a time now, our language has been showing signs of language death, which is a major concern for us as a nation," Denny told CBC Radio's Information Morning on Thursday.

"One of the long-lasting effects of Indian residential schools was the systematic dismantling of our ability to pass on the language to our children, so this legislation will be key to really help us promote the language outside our communities, not just within our communities. We want it to be everywhere."

Blaire Gould, the executive director of Mi'kmaw Kina'matnewey, said she "couldn't be more thrilled" at the announcement, adding that she hopes Nova Scotia's initiatives will be a model for other Canadian jurisdictions.

"I'm very practical when it comes to understanding what legislation can do," she said. "The ultimate priority is to enable folks to recognize, for one, Mi'kmaw as the original language of this land, and two, enable them to work within their sectors to make it a priority."

Eskasoni Chief Leroy Denny tells us why legislation to officially recognize Mi'kmaq as the province's first language is so important to protecting the language in Miꞌkmaꞌki.

Gould said restoring fluency and proficiency in young people is a key priority.

Denny agreed. He's hopeful the legislation will allow current language speakers to develop more resources — like music, movies and shows — that can be used by future generations to learn the language. 

"The more developed these programs, the more kids hear the language, and if it's in the province and if they see signs everywhere, not just in our communities, it'll mean a great deal," he said.

"It'll be a great way to have our children see the language and feel it is important."

With files from CBC Radio's Information Morning