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Lorraine Coutu-Lavallee, June Bruce, and Agathe Chartrand

 three elders standing with Dr. Annette Trimbee receiving HD award

Lorraine Coutu-Lavallee
Honorary Doctor of Letters

June Bruce
Honorary Doctor of Letters

Agathe Chartrand
Honorary Doctor of Letters

(Pictured left to right: Lorraine Coutu-Lavallee, Dr. Annette Trimbee, June Bruce, and Agathe Chartrand)

Lorraine Coutu-Lavallee, June Bruce, and Agathe Chartrand are Elders, Grandmothers, and Knowledge Keepers, known to many as the “Dictionary Ladies” of St. Laurent, an historic Métis community on the eastern shore of Lake Manitoba.

Along with Doris Mikolayenko-Leclerc and Patricia Miller-Chartrand – who have since passed away – they took it upon themselves to protect, promote, and preserve their ancestral language and culture.

With no funding and a lot of dedication, these remarkable women created the first Michif French dictionary as it is spoken in St. Laurent, meeting weekly to capture the unique Michif language; the endangered orally-based language of the Métis people 

The dictionary includes both an alphabetical and thematic organization of words, as well as a few chosen recipes and prayers. It is an ideal dictionary for beginner and intermediate learners who want to explore Michif French. It was self-published in 2016 through McNally Robinson booksellers.

St. Laurent is an historic Métis community on the eastern shore of Lake Manitoba. It is matrilineal, with mothers and grandmothers taking a leadership role in passing down its customs. 

The Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian featured the community of St. Laurent at its grand opening in 2004, and the exhibit was so popular, it remained one of the most visited for the next decade. Yet the Michif French language – like many Indigenous languages worldwide – is in jeopardy as those who know how to speak it are aging.

Thanks to the continued work of June Bruce, Agathe Chartrand, and Lorraine Coutu-Lavallee, the language will not be lost.

Each Elder brings a different strength to their shared work. Lorraine Coutu-Lavallee is described as careful and thorough, and a skilled editor. Agathe Chartrand has a deep knowledge of ancestral customs. June Bruce is a great moderator and listener, with a contagious laugh and sense of humour.

All three are wonderful storytellers with a wealth of knowledge of Métis ways; from beading and embroidery, to mitt and moccasin making.

In addition to their dictionary, they created a curriculum to teach Michif language and culture in St. Laurent schools. They also teach Michif to younger children, through games and activities in the pre-school Head Start program.

They keep their culture alive for a wider audience as well. As cultural advisors, translators and coaches, they’ve played an important role in the new, dramatic musical Riel: Heart of the North, by Métis poet Suzanne Steele-Gaudry and composer Neil Weisensel.

For their perseverance and generosity of spirit in keeping Michif language and culture alive and thriving, The University of Winnipeg is proud to bestow upon June Bruce, Agathe Chartrand and Lorraine Coutu each an Honorary Doctor of Letters.