Michif language in the classroom
- NC Raine | April 27, 2023
Chalyn Smith and Ada Bojarski’s classroom is abuzz with the sounds of multiple languages.
The youngsters, in the pre-kindergarten and kindergarten class at McDermid Community School in Regina, are encouraged to play, to learn, to speak in both English and the Metis language known as Michif.
It’s not an immersion program, it’s an enhancement called Mii Pchi Zaamii (Michif for “my little friends”), said Smith.
It’s part of a 2020 Metis Nation-Saskatchewan (MN-S) initiative with the Early Learning and Child Care Ministry to bring Michif and Dene to young students across all 12 MN-S regions.
The kids learn Michif words for animals, colours and numbers. They learn words for emotions and, eventually, can describe how they feel in a sentence.
“We’re bringing Michif language into the early year’s classroom,” said Smith. “When working with four- and five-year-olds, we’re not looking for fluid language speakers. We’re adding this culture and language in as an addition to what they are already getting in a regular classroom.”
This program at McDermid is the only program of its kind in the Regina Public School Division.
At McDermid, Smith and Bojarski have a small group of students – only 10 kids, which means far more one-on-one time with each student than many other pre-kindergarten and kindergarten classes, which can have up to 25 students, said Smith.
This means the classes feel less like school and more like a small family, she said.
The students call the teachers the Michif word for “aunt,” because they aren’t just teaching the language and culture, but Metis values too.
“We really just want a family atmosphere,” said Smith. “We are developing the best young humans we can.”
Vanea Cyr, Supervisor of Indigenous Education at Regina Public Schools said Michif culture and language is slowly disappearing in the southern region of Saskatchewan.
“The north part of the province is much more rich with Michif speakers and culture,” she said. “So this program is about creating more Michif speakers in the south.”
The goal is to revitalize an important language and culture before it is lost.
“At that age, the students are like sponges,” said Cyr. “They soak up the language and they soak up the culture.”
After seven months, the instructors are seeing results.
Smith often hears her young students speaking Michif words to each other during free time, and parents are reporting that their kids are beginning to speak Michif at home.
It’s a small step that could make a big impact.
“I think this is part of reconciliation, and the Calls to Action to understand other cultures, learn languages and history,” said Smith. “I really believe it opens our eyes. In the bigger picture, I think it helps eliminate racism and misunderstandings we have for other cultures.”
In addition to the pre-kindergarten and kindergarten enhancement program, McDermid also has Michif lessons for Grades 4-8, includes Michif in their newsletters and uses the language during assemblies. The school hosted a “Carnivaal aen Michif” in March that featured Metis artwork, jigging and other Metis culture.
“It’s long overdue that we Indigenize the classroom in a way where we’re not learning everything by sitting down with a worksheet,” said Smith. “I think its a way of moving away from the colonial classroom.”