Métis Nation-Saskatchewan teams up with Canadian Geographic to save Michif language

Sask Bulletin
February 22, 2020

Gilles Gagnier, publisher and chief operating officer of Canadian Geographic Enterprises (left), was on hand to make the partnership with the Métis Nation-Saskatchewan official. He is joined by Sherry Soll, MN-S minister of heritage and language and Glen McCallum, president of MN-S.

Things could not really have worked out much better for the Métis Nation-Saskatchewan in seeking out a national partnership to preserve the Michif language in a major way.

“They approached us,” said a smiling Glen McCallum, MN-S president, following a news conference that put the official stamp on the partnership between MN-S and the nationally lauded Canadian Geographic magazine, with its more than 3.4 million readers in Canada and abroad. Canadian Geographic is committed to spending $1.8 million on projects to preserve the Michif language.

McCallum and Gilles Gagnier, publisher and chief operating officer of Canadian Geographic Enterprises, indicated the partnership is an ideal fit for both.

“We feel confident we have the right people involved and they bring great credibility to the table,” McCallum said, noting that this partnership has been in the works for the past two-plus years.

Gagnier, who was also present for the official signing of The Future of Michif program at Gabriel Dumont Institute in Saskatoon, thanked the leaders of MN-S for the trust they have bestowed upon Canadian Geographic.

“Today we go forward together. We’re not going to solve this single-handedly in terms of preserving the Métis culture and language, but it’s too important not to try. We’re sure as a result of this that more Canadians will be talking the Michif language in the future and we have a plan in store working together,” Gagnier added.

Canadian Geographic had its origins in 1930 and one of the watershed moments for the organization was the publishing of the Indigenous Peoples Atlas of Canada, which Gagnier referred to as the first steps on the path to reconciliation for the organization, while noting that this landmark agreement is further evidence of that commitment.

As for the MN-S, this is another poignant example of how they aim to capitalize on the momentum created by the Canada-Métis Nation Accord signed by the federal government in 2017 which recognizes the Métis for its own collective identity, language and culture.

“We [Métis people] have been on the sidelines for long enough, and this partnership is another important part of what needs to continue to happen. It’s a story that needs to be told in terms of how far we have come in the last 15 to 20 years. Partnerships like this at the grassroots level help get our people excited about their language and their culture which is their identity,” McCallum stressed.

McCallum spoke after the official signing ceremony about how partnerships like this are integral in creating legitimacy for the Métis peoples of Saskatchewan and Canada.

“As much as anything, this is an education piece we want not only our own people to benefit from, but for people in general to respect us and feel comfortable with us. It took a while for us to get there, but we’ve had to educate our own people along the way,” McCallum said.

According to Gagnier, there are plans for a multi-platform engagement program that will celebrate Michif and Métis culture while building national capacity to educate and inspire the next generation of Métis youth to learn their heritage language. Plans include a documentary film as well as an ongoing social media awareness campaign.

McCallum sees this awareness partnership as a springboard to enhance what has become an all but moribund language. A native of Pinehouse and Beauval, McCallum said when he returns to visit “I know I belong because I can hear my own language and I can be me. It makes me proud and it feels good. When we know our language, we shall never forget who we are as Métis,” McCallum shared.

Sherry Soll, who is the MN-S minister of heritage and language, recalled that while growing up in Manitoba, she was discouraged from speaking Michif, which she cited as one of the reasons for its decline over the years.

“I grew up knowing what it’s like to not know the language, so for me this is very personal and the language is in danger of being lost,” Soll said.

According to McCallum, partnerships such as this represent not only a significant step forward for Métis people, but will benefit all Canadians.

“This is about being inclusive and respectful of all cultures in Canada and that’s part of our tradition we have to maintain. Working together is what it’s all about, and we want to help build a stronger nation because we [Métis] are true Canadians,” McCallum said.