Cultural Dislocation - Loss of Metis Languages and Culture through Education System and other Forms of Assimilation


Cultural dislocation began during the Treaty and Residential School eras. Metis children attended residential schools, day schools and mainstream schools. Although the churches participating in residential/day schools wanted Metis children to attend, these children didn't qualify as "Indian", occasionally resulting in their rejection and subsequent attendance of classes in mainstream schools. However, mainstream or "white" schools also often rejected Metis children, leaving them in jurisdictional limbo and without an education (as an aside, a number of Metis children were in regions where the government refused to construct schools, later preventing the ability to find gainful employment - please see related entries on Metis education). For those who attended school, one of its results was the alienation of Metis children from their language and culture. Primary source interviews indicate that the public education system at the time privileged the language of the dominant culture - English - and children were instructed to speak this language only.

This privileging derived from usage of the education system as a tool to assimilate Indigenous children into mainstream western culture. In particular, Metis languages (Michif, Cree, French) were perceived as inferior to English. Although Metis history is central to the formation of the prairie geographical landscape, it was not considered “important” or legitimate Canadian history, and thus was rarely mentioned. When it was acknowledged, Indigenous people were portrayed as savages and Metis political actors, such as Louis Riel, were perceived as socially deviant and psychologically unstable criminals. Metis children were also shamed and harassed for their ethnic heritage at school.



A gradual loss of Metis-spoken languages, including French, Cree and Michif is indicated through the process of intergenerational transmission of language.  For example, a number of Metis individuals interviewed had parents who spoke English in addition to their Indigenous languages of French, Cree and Michif.  These parents less often taught their children Cree and Michif because of cultural pressures to assimilate and due to internalized ethnic inferiority.  The individuals interviewed also noted that they often had grandparents who did not speak English, but instead spoke either French, Cree, Michif or a combination of two or three of these languages.  While the creation of a language barrier can prevent transmission of cultural values from parents to children, it is particularly harmful as it relates to the roles of Old People and Elders - individuals who often only speak an Indigenous language and are typically designated as transmitters of a vast reservoir of nation-specific knowledge and wisdom.  Thus, the loss of language not only resulted in the loss of an ability to communicate in Metis-spoken languages, it also resulted in an inability to transmit philosophies inherent to Metis culture. 



See: Attached Resources (Interview Transcipts)