When I was a kid, I heard the term “mama loshen,” mother language used for Yiddish with affection and longing for what was lost.
But as a young adult, I lived for a couple of years in an apartment across the hall from a First Nations guy. He was a big guy, tall and broad, a few years younger than I was, which seemed like a lot back then when every man I met was sized up for dating potential. Though we talked just a couple of times, I never forgot him.
He was studying law and hoping to be a lawyer for Native rights, but was struggling with depression. There had been so much loss in his life, his culture, his friends to drugs and suicide, even his language. I thought I could understand the last. YIddish is a lost language I said, spoken now only by the ultra-orthodox as their first language, their kitchen language. He looked at me and said there were only two people left who spoke his language. Two in the whole world.
So it was with glad tears in my eyes that I read the story forwarded to me by A.
York University is the first Canadian university to “officially sanction the use of a language other than English or French in graduate work.” Alfred Metallic in the Faculty of Environmental Studies is “the first PhD candidate at York to defend his thesis in an Aboriginal language – it was written and spoken in the Mi’gmaw language.”
“Our language, it’s how we maintain our relations and how we understand where we come from. It gives you access to your place in the world,” says Metallic. In the Mi’gmaw language, the action comes first, then the person. It’s the opposite with the English language….
“There’s a circle that needed to be expanded a bit by including others for a more holistic circle,” says Metallic…
And so in October, some 1,300 kilometres from Toronto, Metallic orally defended his dissertation in a ceremony that included a sweetgrass smudging, singing, a feast, a give away and the inclusion of the Aboriginal community as well as the academic one.
Read the full story. It’s worth the time.