In his tightly packed backyard studio, Floyd Metallic greets his listeners in Mi’kmaw as his Friday morning show goes live on air.
He’s at ease behind the microphone, cracking jokes with his two guests as they talk about everything from hockey to childhood stories.
The We Speak Mi’gmaq show draws a loyal audience of more than 1,000 regular listeners, tuning in on the radio and online from across Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. It’s one of the few places speakers and those learning the language can hear it on the radio.
“The Mi’kmaw language is a passion for me,” Metallic said.
“It’s good to be able to just go on the air and talk to people and feel like they’re listening to you.”
Basement to backyard
The station for CJRZ “The Rez” 93.5 FM is a cozy converted shed, tucked behind Metallic’s home in Listuguj First Nation in Quebec.
It’s connected to a transmission tower, which looms over the neighbourhood, broadcasting about a 19-kilometre radius across the Restigouche Rriver and into Campbellton, N.B.
Metallic, 65, spent most of his career as an iron worker but dreamed about working in radio. He learned the basics of operating a sound board while working at CHRQ 106.9 FM, a primarily music and English-language station also located in Listuguj.
About seven years ago, his son Sky suggested they open up their own radio station. They ordered equipment online and set it up in the basement as an unlicensed “pirate” radio station.
Then in 2017, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission helped him apply to get licensed.
The station moved from the basement to the backyard, into a studio Metallic built and decked out himself. It’s complete with branded graphics with the station’s slogan: “Rockin the First Nations.”
‘We’re trying to save it’
Metallic grew up in a home where only Mi’kmaw was spoken. He wanted to bring other speakers together to hear their stories on the radio.
“Ever since we started here, my passion was to get some people in here and start speaking Mi’kmaw,” he said.
“Here in Listuguj, we’re losing it,” he said. “We’re trying to save it, and if we put it on the air over here, we might be able to help bring it back.”
Fewer than 300 people still living in Listuguj speak Mi’kmaw as their first language, according to census estimates.
Most fluent speakers are over the age of 60. But many more are learning through immersion classes for both adults and children.
Students in the adult immersion class often tune in when We Speak Mi’gmaq airs on Friday mornings. They use it as a learning tool, noting and discussing words they hear but don’t understand.
The radio station also plays music in Mi’kmaw. It’s supported with the help of ads from local businesses in the region.
Vernon Metallic, 72, who speaks Mi’kmaw as his first language, is a frequent guest at the station. He said he started learning English at five years old, at a time when children in Listuguj were not allowed to speak their language at school.
“We’d get punished, we’d get slapped in the back of the head. It was crazy.”
About a year ago, Vernon asked if he could make guest radio appearances to help promote the language.
“We’d like to have our language go on,” he said. “It’s our culture, it’s who we are, it’s very important to us.”
During day-to-day life, Vernon said, he rarely crosses a Mi’kmaw speaker he can converse with. The radio show gives him a place to go and contribute to reviving his language, he said.
“It’s a lot of fun actually. We’re always trying to get people in here to join us.”