Photo by Communications Nova Scotia -- Pictured before the bill was introducted are (from the left): Blaire Gould, Executive Director, Mi’kmaw Kina’matnewey; L’nu Affairs Minister Karla MacFarlane; Chief Leroy Denny, Eskasoni First Nation and Chair, Mi’kmaw Kina’matnewey; and Justin Huston, CEO of L’nu Affairs.

By: Adam McNamara

HALIFAX: On April 7, the province of Nova Scotia introduced legislation recognizing Mi’kmaw as Nova Scotia’s official first language.

A press release from the Department of L’nu Affairs says this new legislation, which comes into effect on the upcoming Treaty Day, will support efforts to preserve and promote the Mi’kmaw language now and for future generations.

Through the Mi’kmaw Language Act, the province is working with several communities and organizations to develop “a language revitalization strategy.”

“This legislation was created in partnership with the Mi’kmaq and further commits government to helping protect and revitalize the Mi’kmaw language,” said Karla MacFarlane, Minister of L’nu Affairs. “The work we will continue to do together in the coming months will create a plan to move forward. Our government sees this is a critical step on the path toward reconciliation.”

Blaire Gould is executive director at Mi’kmaw Kina’matnewey, one of the organizations the province is working with to develop a language revitalization strategy.

“We are seeing language loss in our communities but most importantly we are seeing a language resurgence in communities where youth and community people are actively in pursuit of restoring their language and culture,” Gould said in the release. “This legislation will help strengthen that.”

Christina Deveau, spokesperson for the Office of L’nu Affairs, says there was no officially recognized first language in Nova Scotia. They hope legislating Mi’kmaw as the official first language will show the government’s commitment to protect the language and culture of the Mi’kmaw people.

“The legislation will take effect on Treaty Day, October 1, and planning will begin from there. We’ll work with Mi’kmaw partners to establish a timeline for having the strategy in place. There is urgency to this work, as the number of people who can speak Mi’kmaw is in rapid decline and the language is at risk.”

A report released in 2019 by the Mi’kmaw Language Initiative, recommended the province facilitate legislation to protect the Mi’kmaw language.

The report stated the number of children under age four learning Mi’kmaw has dropped, from 44 per cent in 1999, to 20 per cent in 2013. The report estimates if trends continue, by 2027 children under four will not be able to speak Mi’kmaw.

Anne Marchand, principal of Mi’kmawey School in Potlotek, says she’s excited to hear this legislation is being introduced.

“I’m very happy that it’s finally going to be taught because of the danger of losing it altogether. I hope that even non-natives will have that strong desire to learn it. Many Indigenous students go to off-reserve schools, so it will be great to learn it there as well.”

Marchand hopes to see language programs offered and accessible to not only Indigenous who are away from First Nation communities, but also classes for non-Indigenous people as well.

“I’d like to see after-school classes for non-native people as well as indigenous people who have somehow lost their mother tongue. A class specializing in the Mi’kmaw Language in university and community colleges would be a great asset as well.” 

The Mi’kmaw Language Act aligns with Nova Scotia’s collaborative work with the Mi’kmaq to respond to the Calls to Action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, as well as the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Calls for Justice, to ensure meaningful access to language, culture, and identity as a foundation for resilience and safety.