I haven’t been home in two years. It surprises me that this is the longest I have ever been away from home. Even when I was living in Inuvik, I flew down south at least twice a year, sometimes more.
Moving to Quebec has required a lot of transition. During my second semester at McGill, I stopped attending law classes entirely in favour of full time French language studies at the Centre St. Louis. I was still enrolled at McGill, but just showed up to write the finals at the end of the semester. I had decided that gaining some more practical French fluency was more important to my mental health.
When you immigrate to Canada, part of the fees you pay help fund language programs that you can then access for basically just the cost of the materials. All over this country, newcomers to Canada are sitting in classrooms learning English so they can better integrate and function in their new home. So it is too with Quebec, only the language of instruction here is French.
Thus I took advantage of a truly excellent program. Whether you are new to Canada entirely, or are from out-of-province, this program allows you to study French full time for the cost of materials ($50). I found the instructors to be excellent and practical, helping us with the local pronunciations and idioms and providing us with the day to day vocabulary we need in order to carry out the basic tasks of daily living. I spoke a lot of Spanish as well during the breaks as there we many hispanophones at the school. Because I have spent so many years surrounded by latinos, this really made me feel more comfortable in Montreal.
I don’t know when I finally realised it, but at some point I understood that I was truly going through the immigrant experience. I have seen these transitions before so many times…have translated for people who really needed to be understood at offices or in health-care clinics, and there I was going through something very similar. I had been extremely frustrated by the fact that although I had studied 3 years and gotten an LLB, my law credentials didn’t mean much here in a civil law jurisdiction. I haven’t had to start completely over, but McGill only accepted my degree as being equivalent to a year in their degree program. So I would sit in French class with professionals from Mexico, Egypt, England and so on, all of us having to start over in many ways.
Once I started to think of myself as an immigrant, my outlook actually became a lot more positive. I had this expectation as a Canadian that moving to Quebec would just be a linguistic transition, but it isn’t that simple. There really is a different culture here. It is not such an alien culture, no more alien to me than anglo-Canadian culture really. However, the difference is big enough to merit a fair amount of effort on my part to fit in and adjust. No point in getting upset about it, this is just how it is. Although…the utter lack of good fried chicken is something I will never adjust to. NEVER!!!!
I know that living here these past two years has changed me in ways that I can’t really see yet. It is not just the ubiquitous bilingualism that I have become so accustomed to here, or my new passion for poutine and Portuguese BBQ chicken, the queuing that Montréalais do at the buses and trains (Edmontonians sort of rush public transit en masse)…the way I have become used to narrow streets and three-rises and the most excellent bagels known to humankind, my love of the dépanneurs on every corner where I can take my empty beer bottles back for a reduced price on the next microbrewed six pack…it is somehow the sum of all these things and so much more.
I am going home this weekend for a month, and I suspect those changes will become apparent during my visit. I will visit the shores of Lac Ste. Anne again, visiting friends and family during the annual Pilgrimage. I am not a Catholic, but I respect that many of our people are very devout, and there is room for us all. manitow-sâkahikan is the Cree name for our lake, and it is my home, my territory, the place where my roots are strongest.
Going home during the most important annual gathering in our territory is something that I am very much looking forward to. I have a lot of work to do while I am on ‘vacation’…I have been saving up my energy to throw myself into my language projects and being in an area where I can access Plains Cree speakers is vital to that.
When my four weeks are over, I will come back to Montreal. I hope to return refreshed, renewed, and revitalised. I do not think I could last here in Montreal another year without this trip. That is not an indictment of this wonderful city mind you, it is merely a recognition that so much of who I am and what I do is wrapped up in the physical and cultural location of Lac Ste. Anne.
manitow-sâkahikanihk ohci nîya êkwa êkîwêyân.