MLA Pushes for Maliseet Program Funding-Daily Gleaner

David Coon, leader of the Green Party of New Brunswick and MLA for Fredericton South, is urging the province to fund mandatory Maliseet immersion programs into school curriculum.
Today, about 300 out of 7,000 Maliseet people in New Brunswick can speak the language – and that number could dwindle over time if people aren’t taking action, a problem many First Nations communities are currently facing across Canada. This has been an issue met with silence for a number of years by the provincial government.
Coon said the programs should target students, particularly starting out in pre-school.
“There needs to be rapid intervention, particularly with young people who … have the easiest time of acquiring a language,” he said.“It is an emergency situation, their language is being threatened.”
Coon has been advocating for Maliseet immersion for children in the public school system since 2010. To do this, Coon said the provincial government needs to pressure the federal government for funding education and training for educators. He said the province has been exemplary in protecting the French language and Acadian culture, and now it’s time to do the same for the Maliseet language.
“Language in many ways is the gateway to one’s culture and it’s pretty difficult to be fully connected to one’s culture when you don’t have the language,” he said.
The department of Education and Early Childhood Development has launched an introductory Maliseet (Wolastoqey) course at Grade 11 that is available to students both online and to support face to face instruction. The department’s goal is to develop intermediate and advanced language curricula as well.
“This will offer learners a range of opportunities to learn Maliseet. This has been done to increase the availability of Maliseet language instruction in the provincial system, to encourage the digital preservation of the language and to augment resources for classroom teachers,” said Véronique Lacasse, spokesperson for the department of Education and Early Childhood Development.“Both introductory courses were launched in September 2015 in the Anglophone Sector and are currently undergoing revision. Intermediate and Advanced level courses are under development at this time.”
Andrea Bear Nicholas is the founder of the St. Mary’s Immersion Program, which recently received a grant of $91,420 from the Department of Canadian Heritage, to attract more Maliseet people to learn the language and become more fluent.
“Language is who we are … this province brags about bilingualism, well it’s only bilingualism for francophones and anglophones,” said Bear Nicholas, in a previous interview with the Daily Gleaner.
The program, which is in its sixth year, is a partnership between St. Mary’s First Nation and St. Thomas University and aims to revive Maliseet-language f luency for adults at the local reserve. Students have to go through an application and interview process to become eligible for the program.
Over time, Bear Nicholas hopes to create f luent speakers who can become pre-school and elementary teachers in Maliseet. Nicholas has advocated for Indigenous immersion languages for years and believes the province could benefit from revitalizing languages.
She said fluency will best be reached if it starts at the pre-school level, when it’s easiest for children to pick up a language. But for now, her attention is on producing more fluent adults to make a pre-school and elementary immersion program possible down the road.
“It’s the kind of thing that makes a community excited when they hear little children speak their language [Maliseet],” she said.

Fredericton-South MLA David Coon, also the leader of the Green Party of New Brunswick. PHOTO: THE DAILY GLEANER