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Cape Breton student sings beautiful Mi'kmaq rendition of the Beatles' Blackbird: watch

Students at the Eskasoni high school recorded the track to mark the International Year of Indigenous Languages

Students at the Eskasoni high school recorded the track to mark the International Year of Indigenous Languages

Sixteen-year-old music student Emma Stevens from Allison Bernard Memorial High School on East Cape Breton Island performs the Beatles classic Blackbird in the Mi'kmaq language. (YouTube)

Blackbird is one of the Beatles' most beloved songs — and now a small East Coast school has made it their own by creating a rendition in the Mi'kmaq language.

Music students at Allison Bernard Memorial High School in Eskasoni, Nova Scotia created the cover as part of the International Year of Indigenous Languages, a United Nations initiative aimed at raising awareness of endangered Indigenous languages around the world.

Led by music teacher Carter Chiasson, students recorded the Paul McCartney classic in their native Mi'kmaq language, with translation by Chiasson's colleagues Katani Julian and Albert "Golydada" Julian.

"There are less than 10,000 people left in the world who speak the language. And in this community, which is the biggest Mi'kmaq community, it's dying. Somebody said recently that it's possible it could disappear within two generations," says Chiasson in a phone interview with q.

"So that's what spurred this. We just want to raise awareness of the language, raise awareness that it's endangered, and there are all kinds of initiatives within the community and within our school to try to combat that. This was just our little part in that."

Sixteen-year-old singer Emma Stevens is fluent in Mi'kmaq, but says she picked up a few new words in the process of learning the song. Because Mi'kmaq words can be long, she also had to pack a whole lot of syllables into some of the lyrics.

"There are a lot of words that are four letters in English, but eight letters in Mi'kmaq," she says with a laugh. 

For Stevens, recording the song was not only about preserving the language, but also about creating cultural understanding.

"I'm proud and I'm really passionate about it. My culture is one of the biggest things in my life. So sharing it with others outside of the community, and people who don't speak Mi'kmaq and don't really understand it, it gives them a different perspective and shows them that our language is very beautiful," says Stevens, who hopes to continue singing, and to become a social worker.

"And it's not only our language. If they learn about our culture and what we've been through, then maybe they'd understand more."

So what does Stevens hope happens next with the song?

Without missing a beat, the young student answers, "I want Paul McCartney to hear it."

Here are the lyrics in full:

Pu'tliskiej – Kime'sk 

Pu'tliskiej wapinintoq 
Kina'masi telayja'timk 
tel pitawsin 
eskimatimu'sipnek nike' mnja'sin 

Pu'tliskiej wapinintoq 
Ewlapin nike' nmiteke 
tel pkitawsin 
eskimatimu'sipnek nike' seya'sin 

Pu'tliskiej…layja'si 
ta'n wasatek poqnitpa'qiktuk 

Pu'tliskiej…layja'si 
ta'n wasatek poqnitpa'qiktuk 

Pu'tliskiej wapinintoq 
Kina'masi telayja'timk 
tel pitawsin 

eskimatimu'sipnek nike' mnja'sin 
eskimatimu'sipnek nike' mnja'sin 
eskimatimu'sipnek nike' mnja'sin

Boo-dull-ees-kee-edge wobbin-in-toq 
Kee-na-ma-see dell-I-jaw-dimk 
dell-bit-ow-sin 
ess-gum-mud-dum-oo-sup-neg nike' mn-jaw-sin 

Boo-dull-ees-kee-edge wobbin-in-toq 
ew-la-bin nike' num-mid-deh-geh 
dell-bit-ow-sin 
ess-gum-mud-dum-oo-sup-neg say-ya-sin 

Boo-dull-ees-kee-edge, lie-jaw-see 
don wassa-deg poq-nit-ba'q-ik-tuk 

Boo-dull-ees-kee-edge, lie-jaw-see 
don wassa-deg poq-nit-ba'q-ik-tuk 

Boo-dull-ees-kee-edge wobbin-in-toq 
Kee-na-ma-see dell-I-jaw-dimk 
dell-bit-ow-sin 

ess-gum-mud-dum-oo-sup-neg nike' mn-jaw-sin 
ess-gum-mud-dum-oo-sup-neg nike' mn-jaw-sin 
ess-gum-mud-dum-oo-sup-neg nike' mn-jaw-sin

About the Author

Jennifer Van Evra is a Vancouver-based journalist and digital producer for q. She can be found on Twitter @jvanevra or email jennifer.vanevra@cbc.ca.

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