Mi’gmaw community in New Brunswick takes novel approach to language learning

The language class in L,nui Menikuk (Indian Island) Mi’gmaq Nation in New Brunswick doesn’t have a teacher.

There’s no one leading the students in exercises or writing on the blackboard at the front of the class.

Here, everyone learns from each other.

“Yeah, it brightens up your day. Mi’gmaw language is a joyous language,” said Vince Barlow, one of the students.

Barlow is a fluent speaker.

“You remember words that you haven’t used for about 50 years,” he added. “They come up and it’s, ‘Oh, yeah, OK.’ The simplest of words you forget if you’re not using them.”

Barlow, Elders and new speakers meet every Thursday at the band office, located about 180 km north east of Fredericton.

This isn’t school. Language socials is the preferred term.

“When you come, you have the opportunity not only to learn the language, but you’re learning stories,” said Ashley Sanipass, the event coordinator. “You’re learning about different medicines, you’re learning about your ancestors.

“There’s so much that’s tied into it that people get to hear about.”

Harrison Milliea travels from Elsipogtog First Nation to attend the socials. He said speaking Mi’gmaq connects him with the ancestors.

“A lot of times we forgot our ancestors,” said Milliea, “and when we talk over here and when we bring them back, it brings back the that feeling of they are still around.”

Sannipass said she started the program three years ago so Elders could hear their language and teach others about it.

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