‘Language of reconciliation’: Culture podcast series sheds light on Métis culture and Michif language

Canadian Geographic and Métis Nation-Saskatchewan produce “Paykiiwikay,” a first of its kind podcast exploring the rich Métis culture and Michif language

Métis artist, mentor and author Leah Dorion makes her podcasting debut with “Paykiiwikay." Photo courtesy of Leah Dorion

Canadian Geographic and Métis Nation-Saskatchewan (MN-S) have joined forces on a first of its kind podcast that hopes to breathe life into the endangered Michif language through a lens that is authentically Métis.

Hosted by Métis artist, mentor and author Leah Dorion, the first 10 episodes of ‘Paykiiwikay’ give listeners an intimate glimpse of the cultural driving force behind Métis communities in Saskatchewan.

“Paykiiwikay is the Métis word for ‘come and visit.’ And that’s what it is. Coming to the table and visiting, even though it was virtually recorded,” Dorion said.

Dorion traces her roots back to Cumberland House and has lived in Prince Albert most of her life. She said hosting the podcast is helping her learn the Michif language and connect with her own heritage.

“I’ve made such a commitment to start to practice some of the phrases. It is on the endangered languages list. So I’ve been promoting it and talking with people about the language, picking up some of the vocab and working on it myself,” Dorion said.

The podcast features Métis music, history and cuisine. It touches on difficult topics such as racism, historical injustice and assimilation all while showcasing the Michif language.

Dorion said the series will help the community “really understand the role of the Métis people in founding Saskatchewan and are still contributing to Saskatchewan in a good way.”

MN-S Minister of Language, Culture and Heritage, Sherry McLennan said that ‘Paykiiwikay’, will address the very real need to preserve heritage, tradition and Métis identity.

“Everything Métis people do is tied to our value systems, beliefs, and respect,” McLennan said. “This podcast series will help teach others about the rich Métis history that is an integral part of the makeup of this province.”

The series is produced by veteran broadcast journalist and foreign correspondent David McGuffin.

“I am proud of my Métis roots, which date back to the fur trade. Like too many Canadians, my understanding of the story of the Métis people faded out at the Battle of Batoche and the defeat of Louis Riel,” McGuffin said.

“Working on ‘Paykiiwikay’ has been one of the highlights of my broadcast career.”

The first episode features Michif language, history and cultural educator Russell Fayant.

Talking about Michif, Dorion quotes Fayant who says ‘I believe it is the language of reconciliation because it incorporates diverse worldviews of settler society as well as the Indigenous community in equal parts.’

Future guests include Métis musician and actress Andrea Menard, and Elder Norman Fleury. Dorion said the partnership between Canadian Geographic and MN-S is an act of coming together in itself.

“I’ve never seen a partnership like this. It’s a cool model that shows reconciliation and partnership can work… It can promote culture and allow the community members a voice, an authentic voice,” Dorion said. 

“I think there’s a lot to be learned and lots of opportunity to really get our minds wrapped around reconciliation and what it can look like.”

Canadian Geographic publisher Gilles Gagnier said the podcasts are bringing important stories about Métis history, language and culture to the forefront and expressed gratitude for being invited to participate.

“Canadian Geographic is proud to be a partner of MN-S, and honoured to have been chosen to collaborate on this exciting project,” Gagnier said. 

Dorion said podcasting is “a first” for her and the platform has opened her eyes to new ways of engaging with an audience, especially amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I’ve always been invited to tell Métis stories, and I use whatever medium I can but this is a first for me” Dorion said. 

“We did what we did, in a good way, and we managed to get some great interviews with all the technology that we have today at our fingertips”

For the first episodes the team focused on bringing in diverse voices from Métis communities around Saskatchewan and especially those of Elders.

“The priority was to get some of the older generation… to get their voices in there,” Dorion said.

She said interest in the series has been good and the audience is growing by the day.

“Listeners are already tuning in from around the province. We’ve had people listening and tuning in all over the province. So, it’s nice the northern communities are getting to be aware of it — central and southern communities, too. Wherever there’s Métis people,” Dorion said.

“The general public is also encouraged to listen. It’s like having tea and listening to Métis people who carry specific cultural knowledge and just having a visit with them. You get insight into what they do, why they do what they do, and the different cultural gifts that they have, and talents ”

Episodes can be streamed on Apple Music, Google Play, Amazon Music, Spotify or SoundCloud and are uploaded weekly to Canadian Geographic’s website.

“Every week a new guest will pop up. So people can follow us for the 10 weeks and listen to every episode each week. That’s the challenge,” Dorion said.

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Michael Bramadat-Willcock covers Saskatchewan's north with a focus on natural resources, climate change, mental health, reconciliation and equitable access to health care, education and other services. His work primarily appears in the Northern Advocate. He can be contacted at mbwillcock@paherald.sk.ca. His position was made possible by funding through the Local Journalism Initiative. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada. L’Initiative de journalisme local est financé par le gouvernement du Canada