October 18, found me in a classroom with multi-cultural students of French at Macalester College in St. Paul MN. We were listening to Professor of French and French in America scholar Professor Virgil Benoit of the University of North Dakota speak on the Michif culture of the Chippewa Reservation at Turtle Mountain ND. Dr. Benoit is a passionate defender of the French language, one of the major world languages, and one of the most studied languages in the world.
Dr. Benoit’s video guests (from a 2005 video interview) were Turtle Mountain Michifs Dorothy and Mike Page (Mike is pictured with the fiddle above). Mr. and Mrs. Page conversed about various aspects of their culture, including use of their native Michif language, a language infrequently used at this point in their history. “Michif” is a culture and a language, usually a combination of French-Canadian and Canadian Cree ethnicity and language and customs. (A number of links related to Michif, including a fascinating conversation spoken solely in Michif, can be found here.)
A few days later, October 21, we attended a most interesting talk presented at a Minneapolis Church by Jacqueline Regis about her experience growing up in the southern peninsula of Haiti (near Les Cayes). Haiti, the second free Republic in North America (independence in 1804) was born from a revolt of African slaves against their French masters. It was viewed as a threat by slave-holding and infant United States with consequences to the Haitians lasting to this day (click on Haiti history timeline link here NOTE. the reference to 1919 should be 1915). The loss of Haiti was a major defeat for the French, however, and a direct consequence of that defeat was the co-incident sale of the huge Louisiana Purchase to the United States in 1803.
Ms Regis, long in the United States, is fluent in English but grew up speaking Kreyol and learning French, now both official national languages of Haiti, though French is the language of government and commerce.
[UPDATE: see note at the end of this post] Here is a Haitian recipe for Haitian Pumpkin Soup, served at the gathering: Haitian Recipe001. Food, along with Fun and Family, are very important parts of all cultures.
As I was listening to the Page’s and Dr. Benoit on Tuesday I began to think of a regional stew often featured at large group gatherings in this area. It is called “Booyah“, sometimes “Booya”, and when I looked it up I found it is likely actually derived from a French word, and possibly was first used as a reference to the stew in Wisconsin.
Booyah, like Americans generally these days, consists of many common elements, but no Booyah is exactly the same.
So also is American culture: very diverse. And the diversity was reflected both in the classroom and the church sanctuary in the Twin Cities this week.
Dr. Benoit, the Page’s, Jacqueline Regis, and everyone who make up the American booyah have good reason to be proud of their heritages, as reflected in the rich tapestry that is the American culture.