Sandra McLean, writer at York University’s yFile, reported on how a graduate student there defended a thesis in the language of the Mi’kmaq of eastern Canada.
While researching the historical rights of his First Nation’s community of Listuguj in the Gespe’gewa’gig district of the Mi’gmaw on the southwest shore of the Gaspé peninsula for his doctoral thesis, York PhD candidate Alfred Metallic came to believe there was something missing in what he was doing – an integral piece of a larger picture.
Not much had been written about that part of the Gaspé Peninsula and northern New Brunswick, the seventh district of the Mi’gmaw Grand Council, until Metallic turned his eye to it, but that didn’t explain the feeling he had.
It wasn’t until after he had written his comprehensive exams and was back in his community that he realized what was missing was the Mi’gmaw language – its connection to the spirit of the people, their ways of life and the land – and the way stories are presented back to the people, his people. Metallic’s dissertation was his story, and he needed to tell it using the oral traditions of his people in the Mi’gmaw language of his community and district, to share the knowledge and learning he’d accumulated, but also to help preserve his native language, which is at risk of disappearing.
“Our language, it’s how we maintain our relations and how we understand where we come from. It gives you access to your place in the world,” says Metallic. In the Mi’gmaw language, the action comes first, then the person. It’s the opposite with the English language.
York environmental studies Professor Anders Sandberg, Metallic’s PhD supervisor, helped put the process in place with the support of Professor Barbara Rahder, dean of the Faculty of Environmental Studies (FES) and FES Professors Robin Cavanagh, Mora Campbell, Stefan Kipfer and Peter Cole, among others. York became the first Canadian postsecondary institution to officially sanction the use of a language other than English or French in graduate work, and Metallic the first PhD candidate at York to defend his thesis in an Aboriginal language – it was written and spoken in the Mi’gmaw language.
More at the link.