In 1993, Diane Mitchell got the idea for the Mi’gmaq-Mi’kmaq Online Talking Dictionary when her daughter was only two years old. They were living in Southern Ontario at the time, and Mitchell realized that her daughter would not have access to their language. With the help of her tech-savvy husband, Sean Haberlin, website developer, Dave Ziegler, and database specialist, Watson Williams, she successfully recorded seven Mi’gmaq words. Roughly five years later, Mitchell returned to Listuguj and got together with Eunice Metallic and Joe Wilmot to find out that the idea of a similar project had been brought up in the Education department prior, but no concrete work was done. In the beginning, the project was meant to be recorded on CDs, but as time went on, using the Internet for their platform seemed like the best route. To help kick off their project, they were given funding to purchase recording equipment. This is when the seven words that Mitchell had initially recorded, turned into something much more.
Mitchell said, “Initially I was just going to do it for domestic consumption – even though it was a large project, but I also recognized it would be really useful, simply because we have less and less speakers as the time goes on.” Mitchell, Metallic and Wilmot all grew up in a home where Mi’gmaq was their primary language. They felt as though their knowledge and other Mi’gmaq speakers’ knowledge of the language could be used to benefit the community to keep the language alive for future generations.
The team was determined to include more and more words, which meant doing work on evenings, and weekends. “This is what we wanted to do. Not because we were paid, not because somebody was telling us what to do. It was all just us doing the work,” said Metallic.
Eventually, the community recognized the project and temporarily employed the team to make the project even bigger. The team received various funding over the years as well. Even after the employment came to an end, and the funding was gone, they continued.
The dictionary received positive feedback and praise from the community. It is still being used frequently – whether it be by teachers, education staff, young generations of learners, or people wanting to become familiar with the language in general. The dictionary was also praised by the previous Chief and Council administration in the community. “Our Chiefs in the last 30 years have changed. All the Chiefs have supported us. They support the language program because it’s for the community.” said Metallic.
As of today, the Mi’gmaq-Mi’kmaq Online Talking Dictionary has 6500 words. The words are in alphabetical order, defined, used in sentences, and are primarily voiced by Mitchell, Metallic, and Wilmot. The website also offers various traditional Mi’gmaq songs and stories that are voiced by people in the community, such as Roseann Martin, Simon Dedam, Roger Metallic, Theresa Mitchell, and even Mitchell’s eight-year-old daughter at the time. Mitchell has also created a Twitter account called “Pemaptoq” with over 1000 followers – where she tweets a Mi’gmaq Word of the Day. These words of the day can also be found on the billboard in front of the Listuguj Education Training and Employment office and can be heard on the radio station, CHRQ.
Mitchell has taken on a bit of a side project, that is still related to the dictionary. Over the years she has been collecting and studying work from Père Pacifique – a Priest from the late 1800s, who published numerous Mi’gmaq manuscripts and prayer books. Included in his manuscripts is a handwritten Mi’gmaq dictionary that was never published. The primary entries are done in Mi’gmaq, but the explanations and definitions are mainly done in French. Mitchell has been working with various Mi’gmaq women in the community to extract words from these manuscripts. She is teaching them how to transliterate his work. The words that have been extracted from the dictionary, will be presented to some speakers in the community. Once these words have been approved and tested, eventually she would like to add some of these words to the dictionary. Wilmot said, “There are other projects that are going to be pulled into it. It will enhance the use of the dictionary, and hopefully, it results in people taking something from it, and learning from it.”
Even though the dictionary has come a long way, the team says you can never finish a dictionary. New words are often resurfacing and being discovered. Metallic said, “I hope somebody will be able to take over it when we’re gone.”
The Mi’gmaq-Mi’kmaq Online Talking Dictionary has gone on to be a staple in Listuguj. The team could not stress enough that they are grateful for the help and support received from individuals who made the project possible and from the community in general. The time and effort that were put into this project are highly respected and recognized and will continue to be used as a major source for the language.
By Ann Marie Jacques