Meet our Knowledge Keepers–here to share their stories, history and wisdom.
Here you will find biographies about our Métis speakers and information about their cultural experiences. These individuals have provided important leadership in the Métis community and are acknowledged for their dedication to the protection and preservation of Métis culture.
Our aim is to help connect organizations and educators with Métis knowledge keepers, Elders, and cultural leaders.
Our Elders and Knowledge Keepers know the importance of keeping culture and tradition alive and are eager to share their experience and wisdom with others. We have compiled a list of experts ready to impart their knowledge to you.
If you have a gathering or an educational session planned and would like to engage one of the speakers listed, please book below:
Elder Norman Fleury
St. Lazare, Manitoba
If you’ve heard recordings of Michif words, you’ve likely heard Norman Fleury’s voice! Norman is a Métis educator and leader in the efforts to preserve the Michif language.
Originally from St. Lazare, Manitoba, Norman has travelled around the world educating people on the history and intricacies of the Michif language. He currently works with the University of Saskatchewan as a linguist, translator and Elder and has worked with the Gabriel Dumont Institute and the Louis Riel Institute to create language resources for Michif learners.
He was also instrumental in working with Canadian Geographic and the Métis Nation–Saskatchewan in creating the Back to Batoche and the Métis Gathering site, both of which would not have been possible without his knowledge or expertise.
He’s also an outspoken language advocate and one who can move from Michif to French to English very smoothly.
Norman credits his mother and grandmother with teaching him the importance of maintaining the Michif language and passing it onto others. His tireless work on dictionaries for the Michif language will help ensure the language lives on for future generations.
When Norman isn’t working on preserving Michif, you might find him on his farm near Woodnorth in southwestern Manitoba.
Vince Ahenakew grew up speaking Michif — he learned it from his grandmother and his elders back home in Île-à-la-Crosse, Saskatchewan.
He went to Rossignol High School in Île-à-la-Crosse, and decided to move into teaching via the NORTEP program. He then came back to his old high school, first as a teacher, then admin, then vice-principal, and now principal.
As the principal of Rossignol High School in Île-à-la-Crosse, he’s noticed young people don’t speak Michif with the same confidence and at the same level as the generations before.
He worked with the Gabriel Dumont Institute to create an app, Northern Michif To Go, which he hopes will bridge the gap to younger speakers and encourage them to learn the language in ways that might be more accessible to them.
Vince is fluent in Northern Michif, a variation on the Michif language. He’s spent much of his life educating, both in general and about the language. He’s also the author of Nēhiyawēwin masinahiķan, A Michif-Cree dictionary which features thousands of words in both languages.
In his work, Vince realizes the most important goal is to get young people to use the language. He teaches a Michif class and typically gets a few students who want to learn. But like the app, Michif needs to go where young people are.
He hopes to see the Michif language used in movies, in TV shows and in video games, places where young people can see themselves represented and have a desire to learn their language.
Vince has also been on town council for 30 years, has four children and a couple of grandchildren. He also claims he’s the best hockey player in northern Saskatchewan.
La Ronge, SK
Laura Burnouf’s career as an Indigenous language teacher spans more than 30 years — and even though she’s retired from formal teaching, she’s not stopping her pursuit to maintain and teach the Michif language.
Originally from Beauval, Saskatchewan, a Métis-Cree community, Laura taught in many First Nations in northern Saskatchewan, before moving into teaching with the Northern Teacher Education Program (NORTEP). She planned to teach with NORTEP for two years at the most.
What she thought might have been a two-year stint turned out to span 23 years. In her fourth year, her passion for teaching Indigenous languages showed itself, and while at NORTEP, she taught Cree, Indigenous studies and math. In that time, she earned her Masters of Education in 2005 and a Masters of Indigenous Language Revitalization in 2018.
Laura is fluent in Michif-Cree, but in her retirement is focused on Michif because the language has fewer speakers. She is focused on developing materials for Michif learners, with a particular interest in how technology can help the next generation of learners carry on the language. She is also the president of the Métis local in La Ronge, the Regional Representative for Métis Nation–Saskatchewan WR1 and continues to help younger Michif learners whenever she can, even though she retired as a teacher.
Laura enjoys playing the guitar and singing, using those skills to help facilitate language learning. She helps fellow educators with learning holiday-themed Cree or Michif songs. Says Laura, “It’s been a long career, but it’s not over yet.”
Faye Maurice heard her grandmother speaking the Michif language when she was young, but she didn’t learn until she was in her 30s, after attending a Francophone-Michif conference. When she heard Norman Fleury speak Michif, she started to cry. That was when she decided to learn her language.
It’s been a lifelong journey for Faye, who is now a traditional Knowledge Keeper for Saskatoon Public Schools. Everyone at school calls her “auntie,” which she likes over nookhoom because “aunties can discipline.”
Though she doesn’t consider herself a fluent speaker, she has worked to create resources for young Michif learners over the past seven years – something she didn’t have when she was first learning the language. For Saskatoon Public Schools, she’s helped create posters and flashcards that include 101 words or phrases for everyday use of Michif.
Faye tries to help wherever she can, in hopes that young language learners will feel the same connection to the language and culture that she felt when she first started learning.
Lyla Phillips is a graduate of the SUNTEP program at the University of Saskatchewan. She is involved in the MN–S Michif Early Learning Pilot Project (MELPP) at their respective schools. Lyla works with students in Saskatoon and Regina.