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Native Languages of the Americas: Michif (Mitchif, Metis Creole, French Cree)

Language:: About 500 Metis people in North Dakota and scattered locations in Canada still speak Michif, a unique French-Cree creole using French nouns, Cree verbs, and some local vocabulary borrowed from Indian languages like Ojibway or Dene. Unlike most creoles, Michif shows little if any grammatical simplification--the polysynthetic verb phrases of Cree are preserved in their full complexity. It's likely that Michif originated, not as a pidgin between Crees and Frenchmen trying to communicate with each other, but as a badge of identity and occasionally-necessary secret code among Metis raised in both languages (similar to Yiddish in Europe). Most Michif speakers today are fluent in neither Cree nor French. Children are no longer learning Michif, leading linguists to class the language as "moribund" (headed for extinction), but there have been efforts to revive its use as a cultural language in some Metis communities.

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People: The word "Metis" has two different meanings in Canada: any mixed-blood Indian ("Métis" just means "mixed" in French,) who have their own Aboriginal status in Canada; or a member of a particular cultural group of mixed ancestry, the descendants primarily of French traders and Cree Indians. Only the latter group speaks the Michif language.

History: The Metis people live in every province in Canada; not all of them even have the same ancestry, much less the same historical background, so summarizing their history as a group is difficult. One event stands out in Canada's history as particularly important to the Metis, and that is the Northwest Rebellion of 1885. Upset with the Canadian goverment's violation of their land rights and withholding of food and supplies to coerce compliance, the Metis of Saskatchewan sent for Louis Riel, the Metis hero who had established Manitoba as a province and for his efforts been exiled to the United States. Riel, the Metis, and the local Cree rose up in armed revolt against the government and Canadian land abuses. The rebellion was short-lived and still controversial, but certainly it brought attention to the plight of native peoples in Canada. Riel, with eight other Indians, was executed for his role in the rebellion, and remains an icon of Metis pride and self-determinism to this day.

Michif Language Resources
Michif language samples, articles, and indexed links.

Metis Culture and History Directory
Related links about the Metis people past and present.

Cree Culture and History Directory
Related links about the Cree people past and present.

Michif Legends
Introduction to Michif/Metis folklore.

Michif Language Resources

Our Online Language Materials

Michif Vocabulary:
    List of vocabulary words in the Michif language, with comparison to words in other Algonquian languages.
Michif Animal Words:
    Illustrated glossary of animal words in Michif.

Michif Language Lessons and Linguistic Descriptions

Michif Language Lessons:
    Online Michif lessons from the Metis Resource Centre.
Learn Michif by Listening:
    Michif language lessons with accompanying follow-along audio files.
Michif (Mitchif, Metif, Metchif) * Michif Phonology * Michif Syntax and Morphology:
    Three excerpts from a linguistic description of Michif grammar.
C'est La Vie: Michif:
    Radio interview with Peter Bakker (the preeminent linguist of Michif) and several Michif speakers.
Michif Audio Samples * Kids' Stop: Mitchif:
    Audio samples of the spoken Michif language.
Michif Words and Phrases:
    Audio clips of the Michif language, organized by theme.
    Sample Mitchif dialogue.

Michif Language Preservation and Usage

The Beautiful Language of My Childhood:
    Remembrance of the Michif language by a Metis man who spoke it as a child.
Michif Language Gets a Boost Alberta Michif Programs * Promoting the Michif Language in Ontario:
    Michif language loss and preservation efforts in Canada.
Michif Languages Program:
    Aboriginal language retention initiative of the Manitoba Métis Federation.
Michif Prayers:
    Michif translations of the Lord's Prayer and other Christian prayers.
    Demographic information about Michif from the Ethnologue of Languages.
Michif Language Tree:
    Theories about Michif's language relationships compiled by Linguist List.
Michif Language Structures:
    Michif linguistic profile and academic bibliography.
Are You a Michif Speaker?:
    Contribute to an online database of existing Michif speakers.

Michif Dictionaries and Language Books for Sale
Our organization earns a commission from any book bought through these links

Métis Videos:
    Metis videos for sale, including a Michif language video.
A Language of Our Own:
    A book by Peter Bakker about the genesis of Michif.
Native American-English Dictionaries:
    Michif and other native language dictionaries and language materials for sale.

Michif Proper Names

Metis Terms:
    List of names historically used for the Metis (French, English, and Native American).
Metis Surname Database:
    List of Metis surnames with links to related genealogical information.
Indian Horse Names:
    Our new fundraiser offering names for horses and other animals in Native American languages (including Michif).

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Additional Resources, Links, and References

  Michif Language:
  Michif links.
  Langue Métchif * Le Métchif:
  Information about the Michif language in French.
  Criollo Métis Francés:
  Michif language information in Spanish.

Learn more about the Metis people
Go back to the list of North American Indian tribes
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