Michif language projects get federal funding boost in Manitoba

The official language of the Métis Nation will be getting a boost in Manitoba after the federal government announced close to half a million dollars in funding.

On Thursday, Canadian Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault and Northern Affairs Minister Dan Vandal announced  $487,000 in funding from the Indigenous Languages and Cultures Program toward revitalizing the Michif language in Manitoba.

The Manitoba Métis Federation (MMF) and the Canadian government estimate there are less than 200 fluent Michif speakers left in Manitoba and about 1,000 speakers total across the Métis homelands, which span parts of Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, B.C. and the Northwest Territories.

 “[There’s] not very many people and most of them are older now. We’re losing them every day,” said Will Goodon, a spokesperson for the MMF, who is from the Turtle Mountains region of southwestern Manitoba.

Goodon, who is learning Michif, said he welcomes the funding but also acknowledged that short-term funding can be problematic for Indigenous language teachers and learners. 

“One of my elders from the southwest region basically said that in the past, when she teaches the language — she’s taught in the Brandon school divisions, she’s taught at the Brandon university — the stops and starts [of language programs] almost make it worse,” he said.

“It’s hard to have that continuity. It needs to be there, you need to speak the language all the time in order for it to become a part of you, then the cultural parts of it becomes a part of you as well.”

Archiving projects

In 2019, the federal government said it would allot $333.7 million over five years to Indigenous languages projects, with an annual budget of $115.7 million afterward. 

The funding for Michif in Manitoba is set to be dispersed among three organizations: the Louis Riel Institute, which is the educational arm of the MMF; the Northwest Métis Council, also part of the MMF; and a non-profit organization called Two Sisters Language Resources and Applied Linguistics.

Guilbeault said some of the funding will go to archiving the Michif language and recording elders while they go about everyday activities like fishing and cooking at home.

Goodon is hoping that a long-term funding model becomes available for Indigenous languages in the future.

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