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“Aashtum nichimos! Oota! Oota!” (Come here, Sweetheart. Hurry!)

Reconnecting to Indigenous Culture and Family through Language

Trish Kelly is a citizen of the Métis Nation of BC, with family ties back to the Red River. She is as an accessibility and inclusion consultant and led the development of the Disability Inclusive Employer Self-Assessment tool for Open Door Group. To recognize Indigenous History Month, Trish will share her experience reconnecting with her Métis language and the proud history of the Métis as an act of resistance and love.  

“Taanishi Kiiyawow, Trish Kelly dishinakashon. Aen femme Michif niiya. Prince Albert pi Carleton oschi niiya, maaka Squamish niiwiikin eekwa. Gonneville, Delorme, Larocque, pi Chartrand son mes nom de famii.” (Southern Michif language)

I just introduced myself in Southern Michif, one of the languages of the Métis Nation, a language that I am just getting to know now in mid-life. I’m not fluent, but if Stats Canada is right, there are only several hundred fluent speakers across the country. But I think it’s fair to say that more Métis people are reclaiming our languages every day and I hope to be a small part of the language revitalization of Michif; for myself, for others like me who grew up without access to our culture, and specifically for my mother.

As far as I know, my mother only knew one sentence in Michif. She had a complicated relationship to her indigeneity, but I think if she’d known more, she would have taught me. While her family experienced discrimination, she had a great bond with her Métis grandmother, and she held on to that love and pride for where she came from despite the racism and exclusion her family experienced.

Her parents discouraged the speaking of Michif. Being indigenous at all, and definitely being Métis, was a dangerous identity to claim. The family tried to pass for white, an experiment that succeeded in keeping my mother and her siblings from being forced into day schools or residential schools, but at the cost of access to our culture and language.

About two years ago, I read the seminal book The Northwest is Our Mother by Jean Teillet who applied a lawyer’s thoroughness to telling the history of the Métis Nation from its inception. Her book gave me a new degree of pride in my lineage and lit me up with a desire to learn the language.

I signed up for a Michif course, and in one of the early classes, my teacher said, “Be gentle with yourself when you are learning this language.” He advised us to celebrate each word we learned and said that the most important phrases we could learn were how to tell our family that we love them.

And one class, I heard a phrase that was familiar to me. It was the one phrase of Michif my mother had taught me. She’d said her grannie always seemed to calling it after her on their trips out on the prairie. “Aashtum nichimos! Oota! Oota!” In that class that I learned the meaning of this phrase to be “Come here, Sweetheart. Hurray!” It was like coming out of a patch of bad cell reception into a good signal again. It was as if I was hearing this message directly from my great grandmother herself, telegraphed to me through two generations of poor connection, but the love was still there.

For many Canadians, Indigenous History Month is a time to come to terms with the facts and the truth that must come before reconciliation. For me, it is a chance to remember the love that my family bravely held on to with such care through generations to gift to me.

Written by: Trish Kelly, a citizen of the Métis Nation of BC