Ota Nda Yanaan
Ota Nda Yanaan We are Here
This is a prototype site, the opening chapter of a larger web project which aims to celebrate Métis culture and life-ways through stories, the Michif language and community maps.
Our first stop: Camperville, Manitoba. 52˚N 100˚W
Ashtum. Come with me.
This encounter marks the beginning of many more to come. I hope that what you see and hear inspires you to join the conversation, to share your own stories and experiences to add to the legacy.
I created Ota nda yanaan-We are here to contribute to the preservation, revitalization and accessibility of Michif, the language of the Métis of North America. I wanted to foreground the stories and knowledge of those who still speak it, so that we won’t lose this cultural legacy.
My hope is that this project will provide a space for multiple communities to share their approach to the language, allowing users to engage with and trace the linguistic, historical and cultural diversity across the Métis nation. This site also aims to connect language and life-ways to the places where Métis people are today, vibrant and diverse communities, which have been left off the proverbial map.
Ota nda yanaan-We are here involves a literal and figurative re-mapping of Métis communities in cyberspace. I see it as a political act of reclaiming a place through the language, stories and experiences of the people who inhabit it.
Michif is unique in that it was literally created anew, drawing mainly from French and Cree and in some communities, Saulteaux and Déné. Our history, geography and relationships with our families and neighbors are palpable in its words and phrases, as are the varied trajectories of Métis communities in North America.
I have Métis roots, but I didn’t grow up speaking Michif. Many Métis lost the language in the generations following the resistance struggles of the 1800s. State repression, racism and colonial policies forced many Métis underground. Michif was considered a ‘bastard language’, and Métis, ‘traitorous half-breeds’ that we were, weren’t the most popular kids in the schoolyard.
Now, in 2010, Michif is close to extinction.
With the support of First Person Digital, an exciting collaboration of the National Film Board of Canada and Studio XX, I was able to create this prototype phase of the site, starting in Manitoba, the province where I grew up .
Last summer, my son, my husband Aras - a sound recordist - and I, along with my photographer friend Jane and her daughter, ventured five hours north from Winnipeg to Camperville. Here we met dynamic elder women who speak fluent Michif and are working to save their language. Villagers generously opened their homes to us, shared jokes and stories over tea and bannock, and showed us favorite places and personal maps, some of which you see on the site.
Kihchi-marsii to the people of Camperville, particularly Rita Flamand, Ramona Flamand, Grace Zoldy, Ernie and Lynn Urbanowski and Kyla Flamand for your generous collaboration, for being the trailblazers in this project and for venturing into ‘uncharted’ cyberterritory with us.
Thank you to Kat Baulu of the National Film Board of Canada and Paulina Abarca-Cantin of Studio XX for your support and for spearheading the First Person Digital program. FPD made this exploration possible.
Michelle Smith, Project Creator
Developed in association with NFB and Studio XX’s
First Person Digital Program
With generous support from Canada’s Cultural Development Fund
Kat Baulu (NFB)
Paulina Abarca-Cantin (Studio XX)
Michif Language Consultant and Translator
Project Creator, Art Director, Videographer, Editor, Writer
Sound Recordist, Sound Designer, Composer
Web Designer & Programmer
Skawennati Fragnito - Aboriginal Territories in Cyberspace (AbTec)
Excerpts from Li Paviyóñ
Courtesy of author Bonnie Murray and illustrator Sheldon Dawson
Courtesy of Lynne Urbanowski and Rita Flamand
Warm thanks to
Ernie and Lynn Urbanowski
Jason E. Lewis
Chartrand’s Gas Bar
Quarry House B&B
© 2010 Productions Yeeboo
Michif is the language spoken by the Métis of North America. Like the Métis, the language draws from European and First Nations cultures. It is a unique tongue that combines largely French and Cree, with Saulteaux and Dene influences in some communities. Generally actions or verbs are Cree and names or nouns are French. Michif is an oral language. There is no standardized version of written Michif although a number of resources have been developed to present Michif in written form.
According to Linguist Peter Bakker, “The impetus for the emergence of Michif was the fact that bilingual Métis were no longer accepted as Indians or as French, and they formulated their own ethnic identity, which was mixed and in which a mixed ‘language of our own’ was considered part of their ethnicity” (1997 p 4).
Michif, a result of “language intertwining”, was once widely spoken by thousands of Métis in North America, largely through the Canadian prairies and northern United States. It is now an endangered language, with an estimated 500 speakers remaining. It is not yet taught in the schools and most speakers are over the age of 60.
Rita Flamand speaks four languages including fluent Michif. She is a translator and teacher and has developed a Michif pronunciation guide. The Michif that she speaks draws largely from French and Cree with some Saulteaux, the language of the community adjacent to Camperville.
A number of organizations and individuals are working towards the preservation and revitalization of Michif.
To learn more, contact the following:
Métis Culture and Heritage Resource Centre
‘Conversational Michif Language Lessons’
Gabriel Dumont Institute
The Virtual Museum of Métis History and Culture
Michif language resources
Metis Youth British Columbia (MYBC) and the Métis Nation BC (MNBC)
Louis Riel Institute
Métis National Council
Michif and Métis Cultural Site
Rossignol School, Saskatchewan
Pemmican Publications Inc.
Language of Our Own: The Genesis of Michif, the Mixed Cree-French Language of the Canadian Métis. By Peter Bakker, 1997.
La Lawng: Michif Peekishkwewin, The Heritage Language of the Canadian Métis. Volume 1: Language Practice, MMF Michif Language Program. Edited by Lawrence Barkwell, Contributors: Norman Fleury, Rita Flamand, Peter Bakker, Nicole Rosen, Lawrence Barkwell, 2004.
The Michif Dictionary: Turtle Mountain Chippewa Cree. By Patline Laverdure and Ida Rose Allard. Edited by John Crawford, 1996.
Métis is the French term for ‘mixed’, reflecting our combined First Nations and European ancestry. The Métis population of North America numbers close to 500,000, including between 350,000 to 400,000 self-identified Métis Nation citizens in Canada. We live in rural and urban communities, across Canada and in the US states of North Dakota and Montana. Our culture, language and ways of being are diverse, reflecting the varied history and trajectories of our communities.
I think what binds us is a strong historical relationship to the land and natural environment, a sense of creativity and inventiveness, a fighting spirit and an openness to change. This has kept us going and ensured the survival of Métis ways of being and communities despite a long period where assimilationist policies and racism forced many Métis underground. Today many of us are reclaiming our culture, language and place in North America.
Over 600 people live in the Métis community of Camperville, Manitoba, located adjacent to the Pine Ridge Ojibwa reserve. The people of Camperville are the first to be featured in the initial phase of this project.
Several of the families here have roots in the Red River Settlement, what is now Winnipeg. They headed north following the 1870 Riel Rebellion and found work at the Hudson’s Bay Company outpost in the interlake region. Many stayed and established relations with the Cree and Saulteaux living on this land. They hunted, fished and trapped. Some worked in the natural salt mines in the region.
Three members of the community generously shared their stories and insights for this project.
Rita Flamand is mother to eight children, grandmother to sixteen and great-grandmother to six. She is a Michif speaker, linguist, teacher and translator. Trained as a nurse, she worked across the country for several years before returning to Camperville. In addition to her translation and language preservation work, she is an active community volunteer and is currently involved in the Minigo’sipi Seniors Group to establish a home for the elderly in Camperville.
Grace Zoldy is mother to three children, grandmother to six and great-grandmother to two. A fluent Michif speaker and teacher, Grace regularly hosts Michif immersion students in Camperville for intensive language education. She is also involved in a number of Michif language projects. She was recently honoured by Ka Ni Kanichihk Inc. for her Michif language and culture preservation work at the 9th Annual Keeping the Fires Burning in Winnipeg.
Kyla Flamand, is a 22 year old artist currently studying Fine Arts at the University of Manitoba. She is active in a number of youth programs in Camperville. She is working on learning Michif so she can eventually teach the language, as well as art, to children in Camperville.
Michelle Smith is an award-winning documentary filmmaker, media artist and educator of Métis ancestry. She has a particular interest in social, political and historical issues in relation to Aboriginal identity and intercultural relations. Recent projects include the feature documentary, determiNATION songs (co-directed with Paul Rickard) which follows three native artists engaging in political struggles through music; Buried Traces, an experimental documentary using missionary archives and live action footage to explore identity and memory; Healthy Beginnings, Supportive Communities: A Strong Future, a DVD compilation of 18 videos about having babies and raising children in a Métis context, produced by the National Aboriginal Health Organization; three documentaries for the award-winning Aboriginal Language series, Finding Our Talk and Nokum, the TV and Me, a collection of autoethnographic videos about identity and media representation created collaboratively with Métis youth in Winnipeg. She has an MA in Media Studies from Concordia University.
Skawennati Fragnito is an artist and independent curator with a BFA from Concordia University in Montreal. Since 1996, she has been working in New Media, beginning with the pioneering, Aboriginally-determined, on-line gallery and chat space, CyberPowWow, which exhibited artwork and essays until 2004. Her own artwork, which addresses history, the future, and change, has been widely exhibited. Imagining Indians in the 25th Century, a web-based paper doll/time-travel journal has been presented across North America, most notably in Artrain USA’s three-year, coast-to-coast tour of the show “Native Views: Influences of Modern Culture”. A print version of this piece is in the collection of the Canada Art Bank. 80 Minutes, 80 Movies, 80s Music, her ongoing series of one-minute music videos, continues to grow; and her current production, TimeTraveller™, is a multi-platform project featuring a machinima series. Its website, www.TimeTravellerTM.com, won imagineNative’s 2009 Best New Media Award. Skawennati is currently Co-Director, with Jason E. Lewis, of Aboriginal Territories in Cyberspace (www.AbTeC.org), a network of artists, academics and technologists investigating, creating and critiquing Aboriginal virtual environments. Their project, Otsì:!, a game mod created with students from Kahnawake Survival School, won imagineNative’s 2010 Best New Media Award. Skawennati has also been awarded a 2011 Eiteljorg Fellowship for Native American Fine Art.
Jane Heller is a Montreal-based photographer, graphic designer and art director. Her award winning work (Photo District News, Lux Québec) has been published in Maclean’s, Dwell, Glamour, Fashion, Bicycling Magazine, Arrive Magazine, Report on Business Magazine (Canada), Red Bull (Austria).
Sound Designer and Composer
Aras Bukauskas has worked in sound recording, sound design, music composition and performance for over 20 years. He is a video game audio designer as well as a musician, dj and composer. Composer credits for film include Turbulent Waters (2004), Notre pays est ici (2007), My friend Ana (2008). Sound design credits include Buried Traces (2009).
Web Designer and Programmer
With an Arts degree, Julie Lapointe started out in the decorative arts before becoming involved in project administration. It’s on the web that she found the ideal venue to combine her creativity and organizational talents. In 2000, following training in multimedia, she began creating websites recognized for both their originality and functionality. Today, mouse in hand, she continues to make headway in the digital arts.
Chris Morin is a Métis artist, designer and writer recently transplanted in Montreal from Saskatchewan. He worked as arts and entertainment editor for the Saskatoon university paper, The Sheaf, and continues to write and do design work for Planet S.
Camperville is a Métis community located five hours north of Winnipeg on the northwestern shores of Lake Winnipegosis. Some villagers call it Mine’igo Sipi, the Saulteaux term for the ‘River of Plenty’ that runs through the community.
The Métis in the area have always been autonomous and self-sustaining. In the early days groups of families would depart for month-long trips to the bush to hunt, fish and gather berries to see them through the winter. Fall and winter fishing were community events. Local midwives tended to births and women’s healthcare and had knowledge of healing plants and herbs.
The Oblates missionaries brought religion to the community, working closely with the Hudson’s Bay Company to offer spiritual guidance to HBC employees in the area. The name of the community was changed to Camperville in 1914 after Father Joseph Charles Camper, one of the first priests to come to the settlement. Soon after, the mission set up a residential school for both the local Cree and Saulteaux children and those living in the outlying communities. The church burned to the ground in 1930. It is said that a teenage boy set fire to it in hopes of leaving the residential school and returning home to his family. The church was rebuilt the following year. The Métis children were taught by the mission’s priests and nuns at a nearby day school.
Significant changes took place in Camperville post 1950s: Highway 20 was built, connecting Camperville to the south and west. Outsiders took an increasing interest in the community, the land and its resources. Industrial fishing wiped out the local stocks and a moratorium on fishing was declared, leaving many families in poverty. Midwifery and homebirth were looked down on and women were encouraged to travel to Winnipegosis to have their babies. Welfare arrived, along with Child and Family Services, breaking down family structures and threatening collective life. During the ‘Sixties Scoop’ dozens of children were taken from their homes and placed in adopted families in the south. The children who stayed had to leave the community to go to school.
Elders speak of the cooperation and support that helped the community get through the challenging times. This spirit continues to guide community life. In general Métis communities do not receive regular financial support for services and infrastructure. Projects are locally initiated and financed. Recently community members got together to establish a local school with Métis teachers. It was named Philomène Chartrand School after the midwife who helped bring over 300 Camperville children into the world. Housing, youth and community councils support local initiatives and plans are underway to create a nursing facility for the elderly so they don’t have to leave the community to seek care.
And the language, while under serious threat, is far from dead. Language keepers regularly host students for intensive immersive Michif learning and youth are enthusiastic about reclaiming their cultural heritage.
Camperville Community Website
Manitoba Historical Society – Camperville and Duck Bay
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