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Children learn Mi’kmaq language at Esgenoôpetitj’s first immersion camp

Click to play video: 'New Brunswick summer camp teachers children to speak Mi’kmaq' New Brunswick summer camp teachers children to speak Mi’kmaq
Watch: A new summer camp in Esgenoopetitj First Nation in New Brunswick is providing children with the opportunity to learn Mi’kmaq words and phrases while they participate in traditional activities. As Suzanne Lapointe reports, while the camp is still in its first year, the organizers are hopeful it can continue to be an annual event.

Ten children from Esgenoôpetitj First Nation spent the week learning Mi’kmaq as part of the community’s first immersion summer camp.

Twelve-year-old Eldon Taylor is already hoping there will be another camp next summer.

“I learned a lot of things, like my language, my original tongue, I learned about my culture, I learned so many things,” he said on Friday.

He said his mother is very happy when he tells her “Kesalul,” which translates to “I love you.”

“She’s really ecstatic when I say that because I never used to talk to her in Mi’kmaq,” he said.

Siblings Xander and Samoqon Perley enjoyed making drums and rattles from moose hide during the camp as learning new words.

“My favourite word is kitpu, it means eagle,” Ten-year-old Xander said.

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Lead teacher Karen Somerville said the children’s excitement over learning the language brought her a lot of joy.

“I see it, and they’re so eager! They’re so proud that they actually did something that comes from history and their ancestor had practiced the same thing,” she said.

“As soon as a child starts hearing it, they start responding to it naturally and it’s such a beautiful thing to see. Seeing our children speak it, they’re shy, the sound sometimes can be hard sounds but they are able to move it into their vocabulary and use the language properly, so yeah I’m very pleased.”

Read more: Mi’kmaq dub of animated film ‘Chicken Run’ helps keep Indigenous language alive

Project coordinator Candida Nickerson said the goal was to teach the children the language while partaking in traditional activities like drum-making and kayaking.

“Our language is a really descriptive language, so as we’ve been creating our drums, our rattles, our movements, (Somerville’s) been explaining to them what it means and the definition of the word and the phrase to hopefully help them remember. Because it’s the action that they’re gonna associate with the word.”

She said that while most of the children had some previous exposure to the language either through their parents, or through their education at the Esgenoôpetitj school, this was a rare occasion to be immersed in it and interact with other speakers.

While Nickerson’s parents spoke Mi’kmaq, she primarily grew up speaking English. She said teaching the language is helping her learn at the same time.

“The language is within me. It’s within my DNA. It’s a part of who I am, I was born with it. It’s just sleeping. So what I’m doing right now is I’m waking it up. So I’m waking it through this revitalization committee, through these camps and I hope to encourage this with all our children, we need to wake it up.”

She is hoping to secure funding to make this an annual event. While she is hopeful it will work out, young Eldon Taylor is ready to step in if needed.

“If there isn’t any funding then I want to start a GoFundMe and keep this going,” he said.

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