Shubenacadie, Whycocomagh, Tracadie. These are familiar place names to Nova Scotians and to travellers in the province. Less familiar are the origins of those names – S’pekne’katik, We’koqma’q, Tlaqatik – places of significance identifying aspects of the landscape that are integral to the cultural psyche and spirituality of the Mi’kmaq.
The ancient landscapes of Eastern North America are reflected not just in place names, but in the language and cultural expressions of the Mi’kmaq. The rhythms, sounds and patterns of their language are inextricably bound with the seasonal cycles of the animals, plants, winds, skies, waterways and trade routes. This world view is examined in a new book co-authored by Saint Mary’s University anthropologist Trudy Sable and Mi’kmaw linguist Bernie Francis. The Language of this Land, Mi’kma’ki is published by Cape Breton University Press and making its way into Maritime bookstores this week.
The Language of this Land, Mi’kma’ki is an exploration of Mi’kmaw world view as expressed in language, legends, song and dance – these include not only place names and geologic history, but act as maps of the landscape. In this book, Sable and Francis illustrate the fluid nature of reality inherent in its expression – its embodiment in networks of relationships with the landscape. Language has sustained the Mi’kmaq to the present day, a product of a lineage of Elders who spoke it, who danced the dances and walked this land, Mi’kma’ki, carrying its traditions forward despite centuries of cultural disruption, discrimination and degradation.
Dr. Trudy Sable has been a community researcher and educator working collaboratively for more than twenty years with First Nations and Inuit peoples within Canada and internationally. She is Director of the Office of Aboriginal and Northern Research at the Gorsebrook Research Institute (Saint Mary’s University). Dr. Bernie Francis, is an authority on the Mi’kmaw language who collaborated with linguist Doug Smith to develop the Smith/Francis Orthography, the writing system for the Mi’kmaw language which is recognized as the official orthography in Nova Scotia.
Sable and Francis are currently working on Pjila’si Mi’kma’ki: Mi’kmaw Place Names Digital Atlas and Website, a project initiated by the Mi’kmaq-Nova Scotia-Canada Tripartite Forum, Committee on Culture and Heritage, with funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council.
The Language of this Land, Mi’kma’ki will be formally launched at the Membertou Trade and Convention Centre at 3:30pm on Tuesday, March 27, and in Halifax on Thursday, March 29, 3:30 pm in Loyola Residence boardroom, Saint Mary’s University, 5865 Gorsebrook Avenue. Everyone is welcome.