Mi’kmaq speaker uses social media to share tradition

Mi’kmaq speaker uses social media to share tradition
Evangeline Husky, left, and Heather Bishop flank motivational speaker Savvy Simon at her presentation in Fort Smith Nov. 19. Using social media and word of mouth, Simon is empowering indigenous people from every nation to embrace their culture and preserve their traditional languages.Photo: Dali Carmichael.

Students in the South Slave got a whole new perspective on languages and love last week as Mi’kmaq motivational speaker Savvy Simon made her way from Hay River to Lutsel K’e, stopping at schools and community centres to share her wisdom and experiences.

It was early last year that Simon decided to add online language-keeper to the list of her pursuits, which includes motivational speaking, youth mentoring, modeling, dancing and acting. Since that time, she has placed herself at the head of a movement to promote traditional languages and cultures through social media.

“I was teaching Mi’kmaq in Nova Scotia and some of my students said, ‘Why don’t you make videos?’ I already made inspirational videos on my youtube channels,” she said at an evening presentation in Fort Smith Nov. 19.

“All of my social media was on lockdown, just for my friends. I kept it very safe and very comfortable and then I decided, O.K., I’m going to step out of my comfort zone and I’m going to start to share language videos.”

The messages are short, sweet and to the point, and can be found using the #SpeakMikmaq hashtag. They often feature her students, friends and family saying a quick word or phrase in Mi’kmaq, followed by her catchphrase, “L’nuisi, it’s that easy! Speak Mi’kmaq!” The videos are fast enough that they can be shared on the Vine app, where savvy video editors post clips no longer than seven seconds. From there, they can be shared on a plethora of platforms, including Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

Initiating these videos was no easy feat for Simon, who said she faced a lot of online “haters” and negative feedback when she first started up.

“To be honest, within my tribe we have different dialects meaning that different people from New Brunswick speak different Mi’kmaq from Nova Scotia who speak different Mi’kmaq from Quebec,” she said. “With those different dialects comes a lot of bullying and comes a lot of lateral violence and a lot of division, and so I was kind of nervous to start this language movement. For my nation there was a lot of bullying around this language and that’s one of the reasons it’s getting lost.”

But it has all been worth it, she said. In the short period of time that she has been making the videos, she has seen the use of her language grow. She’s also seen an emergence of “language warriors,” individuals from Aboriginal groups in Canada and the U.S. who now create their own videos in the same manner, but in their own spoken languages.

Averaging about three to four presentations a day, Simon made her way from Hay River to Fort Resolution, Fort Smith, Lutsel K’e and back last week. Along the way, she hopes she inspired some future NWT language warriors, as do local educational leaders.

“We really want to integrate social media into our language programming so we thought, why not bring up the queen of social media?” said Brent Kaulback, assistant superintendent for the South Slave Divisional Education Council (SSDEC), an avid supporter of Aboriginal language education.

While Simon’s main focus might be speaking about the preservation of Aboriginal languages and culture, she believes in the importance of helping kids learn about self acceptance and self preservation. She spent her time with high school students in the South Slave discussing the importance of developing healthy relationships with both friends and romantic interests.

“What are toxic signs in relationships and friendships?” she asked. “It’s important to value yourself and to have self respect and to have self love to make sure that you respect yourself first. I grew up and I didn’t have that kind of teaching, so I’m giving people what I always wanted. I wish more schools would talk about dating, relationships, boyfriend-girlfriend stuff – all of that I had to learn the hard way.”

While the job can be filled with gruelling tours, Simon said the positive feedback keeps her going.

“I’m doing this for the children; I’m doing this for the future generations; I’m doing this for the Indian residential school survivors who can’t speak their language anymore,” Simon said. “These are the people that motivate me; these are the people that inbox me and they come up to me at pow wows and they give me a hug and they cry in my arms and they tell me how much this movement means to them when they hear their language.”

To follow Simon on Twitter or Instagram, look for @msnativewarror, #SpeakMikmaq or on Facebook under Savvy Simon.

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