Michif at Turtle Mountain, North Dakota (John Crawford)
Of the places discussed in this study, it is on the Turtle Mountain Reservation in North Dakota where Michif seems best preserved and with the greatest likelihood of survival. There are several indicators of this and some hints at a possible explanation. The Metis element has been important during the entire history of the reservation. Although it has always been a Chippewa reservation, and there are still speakers of that language on the reservation and nearby, the evidence is strong not only that Michif is spoken by more people than is Ojibwa, but also that it has replaced Ojibwa in many cases. According to data collected in a survey in 1972 (unpublished), several respondents affirmed that they, or their parents or grandparents, had made a switch from speaking Ojibwa (or French) to speaking Michif. No instances of the opposite movements were reported.
Another evidence of the relative strength of Michif is that there has been a fairly-continuous effort to initiate and support programs for the preservation of the language over the past ten years. Programs for cultural values have operated in the primary, secondary and post-secondary levels, and focus on the tribal identity as Chippewa, but the language teaching, whenever it has been formally involved in such programs, has always to my knowledge been Michif. At present the evidence of programmatic interest in the language is best seen in the language being taught by a native speaker in the Turtle Mountain Community College, and also the college's continuing sponsorship of the preparation of a bilingual dictionary in Michif. Of some importance also is the teaching of the language at the University of North Dakota, one hundred and eighty miles from the reservation, the most relevant feature of this being that most of the students taking the course are members of the tribe. Most such students are supportive of efforts to preserve the language and enthusiastic about the prospect of seeing the dictionary in print.
It is not meant to imply that such opinions are held without exception on the reservation. There are those who, because of the mixed origin and nature of Michif usually considering it to be much less structured and more multifaceted than is actually the ease - do not think it worth serious consideration. There are also many who think that no language but English deserves attention in the present situation, and no lack of those who consider it more appropriate to invest time in the preservation of Ojibwa than of Michif. The fact remains, however, that the interest that has brought about the programs in Michif has occurred and has not been matched by corresponding (and appropriate) programs in the local variety of Ojibwa.
Nor should it be deduced from the above that the level of use of the language is high. The fact that members of the tribe take elementary language lessons at the University indicates that college age people do not by and large know the language of their grandparents. The general picture on the reservation is that people over about fifty years of age generally know the language, practically all over sixty-five or seventy learned it as a first language. But the level of use falls off quite rapidly with age, and young persons with familiarity are likely to be those who have spent more time with their grandparents. In a sense, the comparison in this study is between different patterns and rates of Michif being replaced by other languages, mostly by English. Still, in this comparison Belcourt shows more interest in the survival of Michif than the other places.
Factors which make the Turtle Mountain situation different from those in Manitoba seem to be molly connected with differences in the way native populations are treated in the two areas and can be summarized by saying that the Metis are treated more like Indians in the United States than in Canada. The preservation of Michif thus becomes an area of focus for the tribe and part of the overall drive for cultural and political survival.
from SPEAKING MICHIF IN FOUR METIS COMMUNITIES JOHN C. CRAWFORD Department of Linguistics University of North Dakota, Fargo, North Dakota, U.S.A.