The Beatles' Blackbird, sung in the Mi'kmaq language
May 2, 2019 10:20 AM   Subscribe

In recognition of the International Year of Indigenous Languages, Eskasoni First Nation high schooler Emma Stevens sings a lovely cover of the Beatles' Blackbird in Mi'kmaq. Teacher Katani Julian and her father Albert "Golydada" Julian did the translation. There was plenty there to sink her teeth into, she said, noting that lyrics like "Take these broken wings and learn to fly" really resonate with Indigenous experiences in Canada. "The song is just like the type of gentle advice that we get from our elders when we feel defeated and when we feel down," she said.
Stevens admits she’s only one of a few students in her school who is able to speak Mi’kmaq. By singing in her mother’s native tongue, she hopes to inspire other young people to take up the language.
Julian, who grew up in Eskasoni, says when she was young, “maybe one per cent of the students spoke English.” When she started teaching high school in 2001, about half of her Mi’kmaq language class was able to speak the language. “My last year of teaching, (which was last year), there were probably two in a class of 25....Once we lose it here in the Maritimes, it’s gone. It’s the last place that the Mi’kmaq language exists,” she said.
2019, the UN's International Year of Indigenous Languages

Mi'kmaq Online Talking Dictionary

the history of the Eskasoni people

the history of the Mi'kmaq people
posted by hurdy gurdy girl (11 comments total) 39 users marked this as a favorite
This is a beautiful project. I saw it yesterday on the CBC and thought about posting it, but didn't feel up to providing context, so I'm glad someone else did.
posted by jacquilynne at 10:31 AM on May 2, 2019 [3 favorites]

Well that was beautiful. Thanks for posting!
posted by Abehammerb Lincoln at 10:37 AM on May 2, 2019 [1 favorite]

posted by k8bot at 10:45 AM on May 2, 2019

I can't speak for the rest of the article but in the first section of the Canadian Encyclopedia article it says that one of the names for Mi'kmaq is "Acadian" and just, no.
posted by Space Coyote at 12:42 PM on May 2, 2019 [1 favorite]

Well, -acadie is a common word found in local place names like Shubenacadie, so just, maybe.
posted by GhostintheMachine at 3:18 PM on May 2, 2019

A lovely version of the song.

I can't speak for the rest of the article but in the first section of the Canadian Encyclopedia article it says that one of the names for Mi'kmaq is "Acadian" and just, no.

They do say in that article that:
Alternative names for the Mi’kmaq appear in some historical sources and include Gaspesians, Souriquois, Acadians and Tarrantines.
It goes without saying that names of the First Nations & Inuit groups were not always rendered correctly or consistently in historical documents written by colonisers. I'm certainly not an expert on whatever historical sources they might be using but as a descendent of both Gaspesians & Acadians I've never heard or read either term used to describe the Mi'kmaq but that usage may exist somewhere in historical accounts. Likely from a time when there wasn't widespread colonisation of their territory. Tarrantines I thought were a specific group of Mi'kmaq in Maine but Wiki says that's what British called them (though in the Maine context that sort of makes sense). Souriquois is the name used by the French Jesuits in their Relations. As for Acadie, there's some debate about the term Acadia which Wiki outlines briefly.
posted by Ashwagandha at 3:56 PM on May 2, 2019

This is my favourite Beatles song.

My people hail from (nearly) the other side of the continent and I count myself among those who who grew up with no language, no history and little or no connection to those who came before me. So not my nation, not my language but absolutely my jam.

Oh and so beautifully executed. And the YT comments aren't terrible. I too would like to know more about the accompanist.
posted by mce at 4:58 PM on May 2, 2019 [2 favorites]

I love translation projects like this and I always want to know how did they wind up translating it. Like she talks about how the concepts didn't map 1:1, so what do the words mean? What do native speakers hear when they hear it?
posted by bleep at 5:32 PM on May 2, 2019

Gorgeous. I love the way the singer is doing her best to keep a straight face and give a very professional presentation to the performance, but a little smile sneaks out at 1:52 and betrays exactly how much fun she is having. Thank you for posting. I'd also love to hear a little more about the details of the translation, if anyone finds anything further.
posted by Rock Steady at 8:51 AM on May 3, 2019

In the CBC audio interview in the first link (at “Listen” and “Transcript”), there’s a little bit more about the translation, and one example:

CO: About the translation. So how did you go about translating “Blackbird” into Mi’kmaq?

KJ: Translating songs that are in mainstream culture like a song like by the Beatles can be difficult because there's some concepts that we don't have in our language. Like, for example, it would say like take these sunken eyes/ and learn to see. We don't have that concept of translating it. It just sounds really odd. The concept of sunken eyes would be you do not see properly. Your vision is impaired. So I just took that concept, and I explained it to my dad. It was a little hard. I had to be back and forth with my dad about certain topics.

CO: What's the Mi’kmaq word for Blackbird?

KJ: Pu’tliskiej.

posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 10:21 AM on May 3, 2019

Delightful, thanks so much for posting this! A wonderful end to a long week...
posted by HuronBob at 7:06 PM on May 3, 2019 [1 favorite]

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