Someone gave me a free (swag) water bottle the other day–looking at the picture on the box, I could see that the design was one that seems to be pretty popular these days. With a somewhat subdued design that wasn’t dominated by a corporate logo splashed everywhere (hidden here), it seemed like a keeper. Before throwing out the box, however, I thought it would be a good idea to check if I was going to be able to wash my water bottle in the dishwasher.
That’s when it happened– I picked up the box and….found myself looking at the French version of the description and instructions. The language learning mind games had begun.
As someone who likes to speak French sometimes (still a rusty B2), I was essentially faced with a question: read the French, or take the easy route and flip over to the English?
I just watched Muffins for Granny, an extremely powerful documentary film consisting of interviews with seven elders who were survivors of residential schools in Canada. (available at Edmonton Public Library). Every time I learn more about this part of Canadian history, I feel an ever-deepening sense of sadness and disbelief that our government deliberately set out in this direction for so long.
“Residential schools also known as industrial or boarding schools refer to a variety of institutions which have existed in Canada. The schools were established to assimilate Aboriginal children into white society. Aboriginal children were discouraged from speaking their own language and practicing their native traditions or else suffer punishment. Beyond the emotional abuse of being taken from their families, many children experienced physical and/or sexual abuse. Estimates show that 24 to 42 per cent of children in some schools died of tuberculosis infection. By learning English and adopting Christianity and Canadian customs, the government hoped that the children would pass their adopted lifestyle on to the next generation and native traditions would be abolished in a few generations. “(original link is now broken, there is another reference here and here— or you can spend an afternoon exploring titles at the Edmonton Public Library)
A few days ago, I noticed an article in my local paper [edit–Edmonton Journal story is no longer online] saying that a place not too far from me is going to have a new name; as of today, the area I grew up calling ‘Hobbema’ will now be known as Maskwacis, AB. This week, the story is being featured in news across the country (CBC TV, Globe and Mail, National Post, etc.)
The ‘new’ name comes from the Cree word for “Bear Hills”–according to the article, “at one time, the area was covered in blueberry bushes that attracted a large bear population.” Evidently, the old name “Hobbema” came from…….the name of a Dutch painter?? who knew…
How do you write Maskwacis in Cree?
The language geek in me just had to ask this question, so I googled a cree syllabics converter in order to make the flashcard below. Evidently, ᒪᐢᑲᐧᒋᐢ can also be written as ‘maskwachis‘— I wonder if someone, somewhere had an opinion about whether the new name should end in ‘cis’ or ‘chis’? Alas, I know very little about Cree, so I can’t really comment. It’s a really a pity– I live in the middle of treaty six territory…. I wish I knew more about the language…perhaps it can be a future learning project.
This story reminded me of the renaming of Haida Gwaii a few years ago–there are probably so many stories like this across Canada.
[edit: check out this great essay by Christi Belcourt, entitled “Reclaiming ourselves one name at a time”]—-“One by one, I am trying to learn the original names of places around me and speak their names out into words. Awakening into sounds and songs my respect for the places of my ancestors and the sacred ground I walk on.”