An organization in charge of education in Nova Scotia First Nation communities will be responsible for managing federal funds to revive and preserve the Mi’kmaw language in the province.
Mi’kmaw Kina’matnewey will be in charge of administering more than $500,000 in funds for various programs and projects under the federal Indigenous Language Cultures Program.
The funding announcement was made during a news conference in Membertou First Nation on July 12 by Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller.
Minister Miller also announced that the Membertou First Nation has received $1.5-million in COVID-19 pandemic relief through the federal government’s Indigenous Community Business Fund.
“This has enabled you to adapt to make your businesses safe while finding new ways to generate revenue,” Minister Miller said at the news conference.
“We have to have a collective approach” – Blaire Gould
Blaire Gould, executive director of Mi’kmaw Kina’matnewey, or MK, said the biggest priority is to bring the Mi’kmaq language to low-speaking populations in Nova Scotia.
“In Annapolis Valley, for example, there were two language speakers left in the community and one, unfortunately, just passed (away) this past winter,” Gould said following the news conference.
“We’ve experienced significant loss to the Mi’kmaq language in terms of mentors and excellent folks,” she added.
According to Gould, the federal funds will go towards supporting multiple projects with First Nation schools, communities and organizations in Nova Scotia. Some of those projects include multimedia initiatives and mentorship opportunities.
“We have to have a collective approach and it has to be Mi’kmaq helping Mi’kmaq and Mi’kmaq leading Mi’kmaq,” Gould said.
MK received a quarter of the money requested
Gould explained the applications her organization received from communities, organizations and schools earlier in the year for language projects totalled $2.1-million. However, the amount MK received from the federal government was less than 25 per cent of what was initially requested.
“It’s a priority for us to close that (funding) gap through not just federal support but provincial support and our supports as well to align and make use of the funding here,” she said.
The smaller amount of federal funding granted to MK was something Minister Miller also acknowledged during the announcement on Monday.
“I think it should be more,” Minister Miller said during the middle of his remarks. “I’ll have to talk to the Minister of Heritage,” he added while the people who attended the announcement chuckled.
Following the announcement, Minister Miller explained that it was important for the federal government to provide financial support but not control how the money was spent.
“These are people today, as you see, who have been fighting against governments to reclaim their language, their culture and their identity,” Minister Miller said.
“And what Canada needs is to support them financially and then to get out of the way,” he added.
Membertou First Nation hit hard by COVID-19 pandemic shutdown
Membertou First Nation Chief Terrance Paul said his community was forced to shut down its 12 business operations, including the Membertou Trade and Convention Centre, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and lay off more than half of the staff.
He said the lack of revenue from those band-owned businesses meant the First Nation couldn’t supplement its social assistance programs to help band members with housing repairs, school expenses and rental expenses.
Paul said the money from the Indigenous Community Business Fund paid for upgrading Membertou’s business facilities to meet strict COVID-19 protocols as well as IT upgrades so employees could work from home.
“The fund gave us an opportunity to pivot in a time when doing so was the only way for us to operate,” Chief Paul said.
Minister Miller said more than $117-million dollars from the fund remains available for any Indigenous-owned businesses such as crafters and artists that have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.