Òraidiche/Speaker

Though pretty sure they got me mixed up with someone else, on April 10, 2013, I was bestowed the honour of Scot of the Year by the Scottish Studies Foundation http://www.scottishstudies.com/index.htm based in Toronto, Ontario.

The Scottish Studies Foundation is a Canadian charitable organization established to encourage research, both inside and outside universities, in Scottish culture -- history, literature, religion, art, law, and in Scottish migrations to North America; and to publish historical studies and documents relating to Scottish culture and migrations. Its present emphasis is aimed at raising the awareness of the Scottish heritage in Canada through various levels of education including the funding of academic scholarships in Scottish Studies in Canada and Scotland. 

Below are remarks given at the official event of recognition.

Scot of the Year Remarks

April 10, 2013

by Lewis MacKinnon

When we use the terms Scot or Scottish for many of us at least a few things come to mind; a person who claims their origins from Scotland, a political identity, i.e. being a Scottish national, the saltire - the Scottish flag, William Wallace, Robert Bruce, the thistle, the wearing of Scotland’s national dress, the kilt, Robert Burns, speaking with a Scottish brogue, speaking in Scots language, bagpipes, whisky and haggis.

There is also another and arguably original notion of the term Scot.

In 297 AD, Roman historians make reference to a people they encountered in northwestern Britain.  They refer to these people as the Scotti.  We are not completely sure why they called these people this.  In their own language these people called themselves “Gàidheil” or in English Gaels.  The Latin term the Romans used would much later become the basis for the English terms used for the people and the land the Romans were attempting to subdue: Scots and Scotland.

The Scotti or Gaels called Scotland, Alba and by 1100, they spread their language, Gaelic to almost all of the territory that we now call Scotland.

People who visited Scotland during the Middle Ages referred to the fact that the majority of Scots or Gaels, spoke Scottis, meaning Gaelic.

In the early 1100s a Germanic language, early English, was introduced in to the court of the King of Scots and it was during this time that Gaelic eventually became displaced as the language of king and court.

The term Scottish or Scots eventually became the term used for the form of early English language that was being spoken primarily in the very southeastern corner of Scotland and Gaelic ended up being referred to as Erse or Irish.

By the late 1700s, the old Scotti or Gaels now found themselves in the highlands and islands region of Scotland and as a people with a separate language, culture and societal structure from their Scots speaking country people in the southern Lowlands. 

The old Scotti or Gaels were eventually militarily and politically defeated and their society – commonly referred to as the clan system - was broken up and eradicated forever.

It is from these Scotti or Gaels that I am descended.

They are MacKinnons, MacDougalls, Kennedys, MacIsaacs, Gillises and Smiths who came in waves of settlement to Nova Scotia during the late 1700s up to the mid 1800s.

With them they brought their Gaelic language, culture, customs and spirituality - deep faith in the divine and a profound connection to the land and natural world around them - and little else.

They valued freedom from the old chieftain order that had evolved from a position of one that once looked out for and protected the people to one that viewed the people as tenants who were only valued for their economic output.  The right to own their own land without fear of bullying rent collectors and the possibility of eviction is cited as a thing they were most grateful for.

Their language and culture thrived in the early settlement period in Nova Scotia and in other regions in Canada, but by the late 1800s to early 1900s, they almost universally stopped speaking Gaelic to their children. 

Many believe that due to ridicule and punishment in institutions such as public schools and exclusion from many other institutions and to ensure economic advancement for their children, these Scotti or Gaels, left their Gaelic language and culture behind.

At the time of Canadian Confederation an estimated 250,000 Canadians spoke Gaelic and in 1901, 50,000 Nova Scotians cited Gaelic as their mother tongue on the Canada Census.

The 1891, the Canadian Senate attempted to pass legislation recognizing Gaelic as Canada’s third official language.

In Nova Scotia numerous Gaelic revivals have been undertaken in the last 100 years.  In the 1920s the Scottish Catholic Society of Canada was active in advocating for Gaelic language instruction and petitioned government to support Gaelic language teachers in the public schools.  In the 1950s, under premier, Angus L. MacDonald, resources were invested to support Gaelic language and culture in communities.

With little broad scale planning and systemic institutional support, these efforts had no lasting impact.

More recently in the late 1990s and early 2000s, community planning efforts and government’s response have seen the development of an Office of Gaelic Affairs and a community that is actively engaged in Gaelic language and cultural initiatives and learning.

While much of the ethos and identity of the Gael has been lost and Gaelic language in particular is in an extremely delicate and tenuous state, it is an encouraging and optimistic time for Gaelic language and culture in Nova Scotia.

Since 2004, hundreds of adults have been involved in Gaelic immersions at the community level, there are approximately 1200 students receiving some Gaelic language and studies in 13 public schools in the province and a much greater awareness and appreciation of the presence of Gaelic language and culture in our province is palpable.

While I have a hereditary connection to Gaelic through my ancestors who came from the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, Gaelic was not spoken to me until at the age of perhaps 15 or 16, I approached my granduncle, Dougald MacDougall who resided with our family in Antigonish County on the Northeastern mainland of Nova Scotia and asked that he speak to me in Gaelic. 

It is from him and my father, with whom I now only speak Gaelic, my tolerant and forbearing French Acadian mother, my patient wife, my two sons with whom I speak only Gaelic, my extended family members, the many kind and gentle mentors that have encouraged and supported me along the way and the many tireless, dedicated Nova Scotia Gaelic Community members that I am indebted to in my journey to come to fluency in Gaelic and appreciate the culture, the ethos and the soul of the Gael.

My recognition this evening is due to all of these and I humbly accept this designation in their stead and in the spirit of honouring the Gaels from whom I have descended.

My granduncle loved his language and culture and through his loyal dedication to his identity, he gave his love as a gift to me.

It is a miracle that in the face of so much adversity and disillusionment the language and the culture of the old Scotti, the Gaels persists in Nova Scotia. 

Let that miracle be celebrated and shared as an inspiration to us all.

Tapadh leibh!