Origins of Michif
The Origins of the Michif Language
From Elder Norman Fleury’s teachings we learn that Michif integrates French and First Nations languages, such as Cree or Ojibway, in its structure. Elder Fleury explains that Michif emerged during the fur trade and evolved into a distinct language among the High Plains Métis.
There are unique linguistic patterns in Michif that are distinctly Métis. Linguist Peter Bakker studied these fascinating features and published his findings to an international community, bringing worldwide awareness to the unique nature of the Michif language.
Some families have spoken Michif for generations. Russell Fayant, a Métis educator working with the SUNTEP Program in Regina, Saskatchewan, has had Michif spoken in his family for over ten generations. Michif fluency and comprehension is severely disrupted in most families due to historical interferences related to colonization.
Unfortunately, at present, Michif is considered an endangered language. Many levels of Métis government have supported initiatives to reestablish the use of the language. Métis families are trying to restore our intergenerational transmission of Michif and stop the disruptive factors that have limited fluency.
Several Michif dictionaries have been developed in recent years. The first was the Turtle Mountain Michif dictionary. According to Elder Fleury, it was one of the first written Michif dictionaries available. Thankfully, more dictionaries have since been created by Métis organizations such as the Heritage Michif Dictionary produced by the Gabriel Dumont Institute in partnership with Elder Fleury.
Because of the regional diversity in spoken Michif, the Gabriel Dumont Institute created another Michif Dictionary with Métis Knowledge Keeper Vince Ahenakew from Île-à-la-Crosse, Saskatchewan. Both the Heritage Michif dictionary and Vince’s Northern Michif dictionary are in print, online and in the app store for cellphones. The Michif app helps modern Métis learn either language by accessing vocabulary and expressions immediately and conveniently. It is also a way for our youth to engage and learn Michif in a modern format.
In partnership with Canadian Heritage, the Gabriel Dumont Institute has made Michif language resources available through their online Métis Museum platform. These free Michif resources promote learning and retention of Michif. Additional resources can be found through other Métis organizations such as the Louis Riel Institute (LRI) based in Manitoba, the Rupertsland Institute based in Edmonton, Alberta and here on the Métis Gathering site by Métis Nation–Saskatchewan. We are always striving to partner, highlight and develop Michif resources, making them available through our website and those of our partners.
Métis Elder Norman Fleury
“Our Michif language is a gift from the Creator; it is a God-given language, gifted to the Métis Nation.”