Why Canadians have been buzzing about this rendition of Blackbird?
A Canadian student from Eskasoni, Nova Scotia sang Blackbird by the Beetles completely in Mi’kmaq. Mi’kmaq is an indigenous language spoken in Eastern Canada by the Mi’kmaq people (also known as the L’Nu).
Canada has a really diverse indigenous population. Each indigenous nation in Canada is unique with its own history, language, culture, and traditions. Despite the fact that there are many indigenous languages in Canada, almost all of them are endangered – like Mi’kmaq ; and many of them have gone extinct.
Even though the culture and the people who belong to a cultural group may still be alive, a language can become extinct when the language isn’t passed on to younger generations and the last speakers of the language die.
Canada has over 60 distinct indigenous languages1 spoken from the east coast to the west coast and north in the Arctic. These languages can be further categorized into 12 language families (just like how French, English, Greek, and Hindi belong to the massive Indo-European Language family).
The region where Algonquian languages are spoken. Retrieved from https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/11/Algic_langs.png
Mi’kmaq belongs to the Eastern Algonquian language family, and it is one of a couple of languages which are still living Eastern Algonquian languages. The others (about 10) are dead languages. Indigenous language death is primarily the result of Canada’s and the United States’ historic policies to eliminate indigenous languages and destroy indigenous cultures, through assimilation.
The Mi’kmaq language has about 9000 speakers in Canada2. The majority of these speakers, however are part of older generations3. These two factors together indicate that Mi’kmaq is an endangered language.
In the past decade or two, there has been a movement in Mi’kma’ki (the traditional territory of the Mi’kmaq, located in eastern Canada) to revitalize the language and teach it to younger generations4.
This song, sung by Stevens, is so incredible because its evidence that the language is being passed on to younger generations, which implies that revitalization efforts in Mi’kma’ki are working. Also, it is not very common that cultural products (from European, euro-Canadian, or American culture), like music or books, are translated into indigenous languages. It’s even more uncommon for it to be talked about in the media. This is a small win for those who have been pushing for the revitalization of Mi’kmaq in Canada, and I congratulate them for their efforts!
On top of that, Stevens is incredibly talented! Share in the comments what you think of the song!