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MDDE 610 Assignment 2 Learning Michif

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By Emory Haché June 4, 2023 - 2:51am
MDDE 610 Assignment 2  Learning Michif


 Tan'si  Or Hello!  I have embedded a few videos next to words throughout the blog to help you with pronouncing the words.   For my assignment, I chose to teach myself Michif which is the language of the Métis people.  

Hello My name is EmoryHello, my name is Emory! 


In 2008 the government of Canada, in response to one of the largest class action lawsuits in the country's history, commissioned the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to study and review the impacts of the residential school systems imposed upon indigenous communities.  The commission was to study the devastating impacts of these government policies and colonialism on the traditional land stewards.  With the Honorable Murray Sinclair at the helm as chief commissioner, the group interviewed and connected with First Nations, Métis, Inuit, and non-indigenous people from one end to the other of Canada.  He spoke on this with the Ottawa Citizen

Please be aware that there were many instances of abuse, and the subject may be disturbing. 

In 2015 they presented the government with ninety-four recommendations or "calls to action".  This list addressed issues important to the indigenous population including concerns for health, education, justice, acknowledgement of culture and language.  Since that time, many post-secondary institutions have worked towards their own reconciliation and language revitalization.

For information about the TRC, check out the University of Manitoba's website. Actions 13-17 specifically discuss language revitalization and culture.

Language revitalization is an important task in the reconciliation efforts. Dr Lera Boroditsky, a cognitive scientist who studies language and cognition, points out that language can shape a person's perspective in her TED talk. For the indigenous people, language revitalization represents an opportunity to reclaim their identity.  

For my project, I will be reviewing the Heritage Michif To Go app funded by the Gabriel Dumont Institute that attempts to teach learners how to speak Michif. After providing an overview of the language and the app, I will review my approach, my personal reflections, and offer some recommendations for anyone who wants to try and learn this or any other "foreign" language.

Michif - The Language

Michif is the language of the Métis people. It represents a blending of French, Cree, Nakota and Ojibway languages.  European explorers engaged with the local first nations people for trade routes in their work for the Hudson's Bay Company and then the North West Company operating in Manitoba and beyond. They would have relationships with the first nations people and their children would often be fluent in both French and their mother's tongue.  The languages began to mix, as their children did, and the language was born.

It is important to note that despite the french influence, Michif was traditionally an oral language, and it was not until later that there was a roman syllabic conversion applied.  As a result, the spelling can be different from speaker to speaker. 

One excellent example of this is "Tan'si" or how you would say Hello.   It can be spelt, Taanshi, Tan'si, Tansisi or Tân’si as it is a Cree word meaning "How"

Tan'si Video

 Michif on the Go

Despite boasting a large population, the Gabriel Dumont Institute reports that only about 5-10% of the Metis speak Michif.

Gabriel Dumont Institute of Native Studies and Applied Research - Virtual Museum of Metis History and Culture.

 UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) lists Michif as being Critically Endangered, meaning that most fluent speakers are elderly.  To combat this, they funded 3 separate apps that learners can use to retain or learn the language.  The Northern Michif Dictionary,  the Heritage Michif Dictionary and the Heritage Michif Lessons. This is partially due to the fact that Michif has some differences in dialect based on the geographical origins of the speakers and their proximity to other indigenous groups. 

Here is a map of the general area overlapping with many first nations regions.


The apps are available on Android or Apple with a connection to the Gabriel Dumont Institute to be used in browser.   Heritage Michif To Go offers users some categorization between the dictionary and some common practice phrases.  The app will allow users to pin favorite phrases and track their history.

  Screen Shot of Michif on the Go App breakdown from my cell phone.

Each phrase or word has the roman syllabic conversion and an audio clip of a fluent speaker reading it.  Users can manipulate the volume of the audio within the app.  Another nice feature of the app is that users can share their words or phrases with someone else by sending a link and using the share function.

Phrases ViewScreen shot of a phrase layout. Michif on the Go.

Personal Reflections and Lesson Plans

The personal relevance for me is the ancestral connection.  My father's family were scripted (allotted land in the Red River Settlement by government) and then moved up to Pine Bluff near The Pas Manitoba.  Sadly, that land is now underwater due to a dam that was built at Grand Rapids.

You can read about this from the Metis Museum pg. four specifically speak about this settlement.

Additionally, as I was part of a military family as a child, we never lived close to the area or to our family members actively engaged in their culture.  It was not until many years later that an institutional "nookhoom" or "kookhoom" (Grandmother) at the local post-secondary institution began sharing the culture with me. She helped me with my "sayncheur flayshii" (sane sure flesh ee) or Metis sash.

 Grandmother in MichifGrandmother in Michif

Personal Goal

A few weeks is not enough time to be fluent in any language, however, the goal is to begin the process of learning a few conversational pieces and acclimatize my ears and brain to thinking about the sounds.  While I do speak French, which I had hoped would give me a bit of a leg up, it sometimes hindered my ability to pronounce the Nehiyawewin or Cree. 

For example, to say good afternoon in French you would say Bonne Apres Midi. In Michif you would say Baan aprey miji.

Good Afternoon in Michif Good afternoon!

Learning Plan and Outcome

Language by immersion is the ideal way to learn any language. One of the main difficulties with this project was that there were no native speakers in my area that I was able to connect with.  To support my learning, I had to engage with others to help develop connections.  I outlined the following plan to practice, educate and engage. 

1. Practice - This involved imagining and prepping for a general conversation that I might have.  I might begin with a simple, "Hello! My name is Emory." and I would look it up on the app.  I might practice several times in front of a mirror to ensure I was hearing the syllables. I might practice this phrase several times during the day and return to it even after I had gone to a new phrase.

2. Educate - As previously mentioned, Michif is a critically endangered language.  To help me maintain motivation, I took the time to educate my children.  As many Canadian children will learn French as part of their traditional education, we chose to use the following familiar phrase to explore and learn.  Comment dit-on__(insert word or phrase here) en Michif. This created a bit of a game for my family where we were able to explore and apply. 

How do you say that in Michif? How do you say that in Michif?

3. Engage - The Cree wording was difficult for me and as a result, I engaged a colleague who is more fluent in that language.  This allowed me to practice and discuss the differences and to receive some feedback on my pronunciation. Additionally, they would offer some help for words that might not have the same meaning from Cree to English.  Interestingly, there is no word for "goodbye" in Cree or Michif. You would say, "to see someone again".  This created a bit of a student presence for me.

Coffee dates - MichifA coworker who is supporting me learning Michif.

While I did not become a fluent or confident speaker, this allowed me to build a community of practice and make plans to continue this work outside the MDDE 610 assignment. It is our hope that we can engage others at the institution to join us and learn.

Myself and Friend for Louis Riel Day My self and my coworker at a Metis heritage exhibit at Lethbridge College (2018)


App Review

The use of the application was exceedingly simple, which was both helpful and frustrating.  The categories were well placed with an exceptionally large dictionary to allow me to navigate to phrases I wanted to see and to play around with other combinations that I might want to try out.   The audio could be played repeatedly to help me notice some of the more complex phrases.  This 15000-word dictionary is quite impressive.

The opportunities for this app might be the lack of practice exercises and a deeper dive into the sentence structure.  The inclination of most learners would be to connect the language with what they already know in terms of the sentence structure.  However, the Cree word in the Michif phrase does not easily translate back to English or French. Where a learner might try to identify the sentence structure by recognizing familiar words, it would become exceedingly difficult when you say "Waashayshwun" to indicate that the sky is clear.

  The Sky is Clear - MichifThe sky is clear.

Without context around the Cree words, it was difficult to connect, and I had to check other YouTube videos to verify or understand what it meant.

Accessibility support was limited with this app.  As there is no formal instruction on how to pronounce the words, users who suffer from hearing loss or reading comprehension issues might not be able to follow along as easily.   For example, many words are several syllables long but are strung together quite quickly. This is sometimes the case with two separate words. 

Nice to meet you - Michif Nice to meet you is a bit of a mouth full.

The use of computer assisted instruction for this app offered a great deal of flexibility for me. It was portable and quick, and I was able to adapt it to my needs.  However, despite the narration, it lacked inherently, in student and teacher presence and many other resources were necessary to build context. 


The app overall provided an easy-to-use resource for anyone wishing to reconnect or to learn an indigenous language and potentially with some additions, it could be adapted to help learners build context with the Cree components.  Students wishing to engage should use this app in addition to other tools and where possible connect with the Métis community to engage and learn more.

Thank you and Good-bye or Maarsi and kawapamitin!  Thank you and Good-bye in Michif



Cree Phrases. (2018, January 18). Cree phrases lesson (nêhiyawêwin) [Video]. YouTube.


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