Millbrook First Nations Chief Bob Gloade said he fully supports efforts to have official language status designated for the Mi’kmaq in Nova Scotia.
Gloade’s comments echo those of Eskasoni Chief Leroy Denny who is pushing for official language designation for his people.
Denny said in an interview with the Cape Breton Post that he discussed the idea with Premier Stephen McNeil and members of his cabinet during a meeting the province’s chiefs had with them prior to Christmas and they seemed receptive to the concept.
Denny said he expects to have a meeting this month with Education Minister Zach Churchill. A review of legislation in place in other parts of Canada is to be part of that process he said.
Gloade said he is aware of those discussions and he too believes it is time for the issue to be brought to the fore.
“I feel it’s also necessary as well,” Gloade said. “We are the ancestral people of the province and they’re trying to get it recognized as an official language as they continue to put emphasis on revitalizing the language here in the province.”
Gloade said there are few people within Millbrook, including himself, who can communicate fluently in their ancestral language.
“Its extremely important,” he said. “Personally, I don’t speak it, I’m not fluent. I had very little education in regards to the Mi’kmaq language in my community growing up because it didn’t exist.”
Gloade said the Mi’kmaq language began dying off after being discouraged during the period of the now controversial residential school system in the 19th century, when the Canadian government developed a policy called "aggressive assimilation" to be taught at church-run, government-funded industrial institutions.
The concept of the day was that the best chance for success for the aboriginal people was to learn English and adopt Christianity and Canadian customs, which they would then pass on to children, with native traditions diminishing or becoming completely abolished in coming generations.
But Gloade said he believes it now is time for that concept to be reversed so that the younger generation of today and in the future can regain their lost or dying language and traditions.
“It’s in the public school system now but we have to do more work to restore the language here in the province,” he said. “We need to put more emphasis on that in order to restore the language.”
Gloade, like Denny, said having the Mi’kmaq language receive official status would provide more money for First Nations education and translation services.
Federally, an Aboriginal languages act was among the 94 calls to action that arose from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which was created as a component of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement.
“One of the things that came out of it, the country has to revitalize the language, work towards working with First Nations in the country,” Denny said.
“We’ve got to protect the language for the next generation and protect it under legislation.”
The traditional relationship among the English, French and Mi’kmaq in Nova Scotia should continue to be respected, Denny said.
Eskasoni, with a population of 4,400 is the largest First Nations band east of Montreal. It also has the greatest proportion of Mi'kmaq speakers in the Atlantic region, although the use of the language is declining among people under the age of 35.
Exactly what the designation would entail – such as what services the province may be required to provide in Mi’kmaq – still has to be discussed, Denny said. Currently, translation services are available within the province’s court system for those who require them.
The only officially bilingual province in Canada is New Brunswick, where both English and French are official languages.
“This will benefit not only the Mi’kmaq but the province as well because of the relationship that we’re trying to develop here and focus on reconciliation,” Denny said.
“In order for us to make this work, we need help,” he said, adding the chiefs have a good working relationship with the province.
In parts of Cape Breton, Gaelic adorns highway signage, and there’s no reason why Mi’kmaq can’t also be included, he said. Many place names in Nova Scotia are derived from Mi’kmaq words.
With files from the Cape Breton Post.