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Revitalizing the Michif language

By University Advancement and Communications Posted: June 22, 2022 4:00 p.m.

Dr. Melanie Griffith Brice says that language reclamation is important for Michif people because it helps to heal the intergenerational trauma caused by colonization.
Dr. Melanie Griffith Brice says that language reclamation is important for Michif people because it helps to heal the intergenerational trauma caused by colonization. Photo: Dr. Melanie Griffith Brice

“According to Statistics Canada, fewer than 1,000 people speak fluent Michif – and most of them are over the age of 70,” says Dr. Melanie Griffith Brice, the Gabriel Dumont Research Chair in Métis/Michif Education for the Faculty of Education at the University of Regina.

Brice says this puts pressure on those fluent in the language, and means there is a lot of urgency to passing Michif on to younger generations. 

“Two fluent Michif speakers have died since the first Michif immersion language-learning camp that Saskatchewan Urban Native Teacher Education Program (SUNTEP) put on last summer. So it’s a priority to work with other language activists to design projects to  help to pass Michif on before it’s too late and the language and all its fluent speakers are gone,” says Brice.

“People hear the term ‘Métis’ and they often just think ‘mixed.’ But it’s not a mixture. It’s a unique and separate culture. Writing Michif/Metis with a slash honours people who identify as either Métis or Michif.”

Metis flag

A new project is helping to revitalize the Michif language.
Photo: Adobe Stock

But however one identifies, what’s clear is the language is disappearing. Brice wants to change that.

“During the pandemic, I created an online mentor and apprentice program, where fluent Michif speakers met one-on-one with language learners and taught them for about six hours a week over the course one year.”

And, because she wanted to learn her language, for the first time she became one of her own research participants.

“My Metis family is from Meadow Lake so my mentor was teaching me Northern Michif – where Cree has a stronger influence than French.” She says Southern Michif is closer to an even split between the two.

Brice explains that the Michif language is half Cree and half French, where the verbs are in Cree and the nouns are in French.

“Michif is a very unique language. It’s also a difficult language to learn because it doesn’t follow the same rules as other contact languages. For example, usually one language rule will be applied to all the words from both languages, but in Michif the grammar rules for Cree and French are both upheld.”

For Brice, learning Michif has helped deepen her connection to her culture and her family.

“There’s so much culture tied to language, which is why learning Michif has helped to provide me – and the other learners – with a better understanding of who I am and where I came from,” says Brice. “And as I come to better understand who I am as a Michif, I can share, teach, and promote the language, and also help to preserve our culture and our cultural identity.”

Brice says seeing her own growth and development with the language, in conjunction with her work and research around language revitalization has also significantly deepened her connection to her history, her ancestors, and her culture. 

“Language reclamation is important for Michif people. It helps to heal the intergenerational trauma caused by colonization. It helps us to connect to our own unique ways, cultures, and traditions that are more than 200 years old,” says Brice. “I certainly have a stronger sense of belonging now than I did before I started to learn Michif, so my goal is both to help revitalize the language and provide ways for Michif people to discover, as I have, this deeper connection and belonging. It’s critical for Michif people now and into the future.”

Truth & Reconciliation is one of five areas of focus in the University of Regina's [2020-2025 Strategic Plan kahkiyaw kiwȃhkomȃkȃninawak – All Our Relations]. We strive to honour and integrate Indigenous ways of knowing and being in our teaching and research endeavours.