An Elsipogtog First Nation man is set to become the first interpreter of the Mi’kmaw language in Canada’s parliament.
Brian Francis, who’s already undergone training for the job in Ottawa, said it was a surprise when he found out he was chosen for the job.
“[I] kind of started thinking then that this was kind of a big deal, I guess,” said Francis.
His position results from greater recognition of Indigenous languages in Parliament.
Now members can speak Indigenous languages in the house.
Francis said “whole thing started” when MP Romeo Saganash, a Cree member, tried to use his language in the house.
“There was a problem … with the system where, ‘Well, we don’t have any interpreters for the other members to understand.’ And I think that’s what got the ball rolling.”
Now if an MP, senator or a speaker at a committee wants to speak Mi’kmaq, Francis can translate into English.
He will also translate English responses to Mi’kmaw questions and statements from English to Mi’kmaq.
Francis said it was “overwhelming” to think about the fact that Mi’kmaq will finally be spoken in Parliament.
“It’s kind of surreal, really,” said Francis.
Francis said the value of Indigenous languages are often underestimated. He said even he is guilty of this since Mi’kmaq is his first language.
“I probably don’t put as much value on it as I should and or as many of us should,” said Francis.
Loss of culture
It’s not just a lack of resources in teaching Mi’kmaq that is hurting the language. He said cultural changes have changed the language as well.
“We have entire sectors of the language that are being lost because we don’t live the way we used to live,” said Francis.
“You, know we don’t go in the woods anymore. We don’t go fishing out in the waters anymore. So we lose sectors of languages.”
Francis found himself in a tough position. He could speak Mi’kmaq but his children were having problems learning it because of the influence of English and technology.
He said it’s still difficult to grow the language, and language is key.
“An elder once told me, he said, ‘The language is the basis of our culture, that’s why they attacked it with such vigor,'” said Francis.
“And that always stuck … with me … it was genocide in a way, because they tried to eliminate their culture, which basically you’re eliminating a people. It’s an ongoing process and I think it’s still happening today.”