Preserving Language at L’nui’sultimkeweyo’kuom
Despite its unassuming presence on the edge of the CBU campus, Kiji-Keptin Alexander Denny L’nui’sultimkeweyo’kuom (literally-place to speak Mi’kmaq) serves an enormously urgent research purpose. L’nui’sultimkeweyo’kuom, or the language lab, has become a kind of nexus point for the gathering together and coalescing of the Mi’kmaq language. A repository of language resources, collection place of spoken language recordings and meeting place for students and faculty, L’nui’sultimkeweyo’kuom buzzes with the sounds of language preservation and dissemination.
Behind much of the essential archival and transcription work happening at L’nui’sultimkeweyo’kuom is recent CBU graduate Yvette Sylliboy. Yvette grew up, and currently lives, in Eskasoni and has been working in L’nui’sultimkeweyo’kuom since May of 2015. Although Yvette’s degree is in sociology, she found herself drawn to the social aspect of Mi’kmaq language and the importance of preserving it. In May 2015, Yvette started working with Mi’kmaw Kina’matnewey with its online database. During that time, Yvette worked in the lab with Jenna Bernard and Caroline Sylvester collecting the data there. Taking classes with Dr. Stephanie Inglis of Unama’ki College, and working alongside her at L’nui’sultimkeweyo’kuom, allowed Yvette to contextualize her education in her community. Yvette explains, “I wanted to be in that field that includes counselling because I want to help make a positive difference. I feel like I am doing the same thing. I’m making a positive difference by helping with my own language that is barely used today by people.”
Setting out academically to equip herself for work in counselling, it is unsurprising that Yvette found a home among the people at CBU who are not only trying to preserve a culture but to unearth lost parts of cultural history. “When I am doing something that involves my language and culture I feel like I am part of the people that are trying to save the language in hopes to bring it back. Bringing our language back will help people reconnect with our culture, elders, and other people that know or want to know Mi’kmaq,”
For Yvette, the value of language extends beyond the capacity for communication. Studying the language and spreading among those from whom it has been lost is a way of rediscovering culture among individuals. “Our language today is words that were used before when everyone was fluent. Our language was used to describe our culture, lifestyle, legends and beliefs. By learning more about our language, we are learning more about our culture. This gives hope for people to learn about our culture and possibly do the actions of what our people have done before,”