L’nui’sultinej, Let us Speak Mi’kmaq: John Jeddore on Jordan Bennett and Ursula Johnson’s Mi’kmaq Word of the Day 2.0
The Mi’kmaq language is heralded as a language of the land. When early explorers took on Mi’kmaq people as their guides through the unforgiving terrain of Newfoundland’s interior, they would remark on how the words flowed so harmoniously, and likened it to the animal’s communicating, the rivers flowing, and the wind piercing the moss hanging from trees. Due to colonial impact, the language itself began to disappear. In my community, Aosamiajij Miawpukek, the priest banished its use in the church and school. As a result, the language was only spoken in homes and on the country. However, due to intermarriage and increasing European influence in everyday life, language usage began to disappear from the homes. This left the country, ntuylwo’mi, the land that sustains me, to be the sole possessor of the Mi’kmaq language. But even the country began to hear less and less of the language echo through the valleys and over the streams, until it was nearly silent. My grandfather, a Mi’kmaq trapper who was among the last to live the traditional lifestyle, told me, the country still holds the Mi’kmaq language. He said the words are still in the bogs and on the branches, they kept the language, because that is where the language came from.
I consider myself somewhat lucky; I was born in a First Nation community, with a supportive family who wanted me to learn the language and helped me however they could. Our school, once getting it back from the church, reinstated the Mi’kmaq language as a mandatory course, and there were elders in the community who still held onto the language after years of silence. However, this is not the common tale, especially amongst the Indigenous people who were raised in non-indigenous communities and did not have the accessibility that I did. Jordan Bennett took it upon himself to seek help from others who knew the language so he could gain a better understanding of where he comes from, where his roots took hold, and from those roots, where the language originally grew.
The Mi’kmaq language is not a simple language; it’s descriptive and verb-oriented, and to have a complete understanding, you need to adapt a world-view that aligns with the flow of the language. Mekwek, our word for red, describes the action of something becoming red. Qalipu, our word for Caribou (for which it originates), describes the act of digging as the animal does. In addition to these, there are locative differences. In my community, we call sugar “nakukina”, whereas in many other Mi’kmaq communities, they call it “sismoqn”. The difference comes from the description. The former describes it’s sand-like consistency where the latter describes it’s taste. Pittako, our word for Dragonfly, describes it’s length. Others call it Saq~tiej, which refers to it’s pin-like shape. The story goes, when Mi’kmaq people were sailing on the ocean, one group went north and inhabited Taqmkuk (Newfoundland), and the other went south and inhabited Cape Breton (Unamakik). Since that separation, our languages, although at the roots were the same, evolved to our surroundings, our environment.
Mi’kmaq Word of the Day 2.0 shows through the difficulty, and reveals a Mi’kmaq person who is determined to understand the language of his ancestors through the assistance of someone who is fluent and holds a Mi’kmaw world view.
Mikwite’te’n Lnuin aqq kepmite’te’n teli Lnuin
Remember that you are Mi’kmaq and respect your being as Indigenous
Please note, writers Biography and a translation is pending
Posted March 31, 2017