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Gaelic in Nova Scotia

Gaelic language and culture have been a part of the province's diversity since at least the late 1700s. Gaelic speakers from the Islands and Highlands of Scotland settled and developed communities in the eastern mainland and on the Island of Cape Breton. In the early stages of settlement, Gaelic was passed on from generation to generation through the institution of the “taigh céilidh” or the “visiting house”. It was here that local news, songs, stories, music and dance were disseminated. Major socio-economic change in the late 19th and throughout the 20th century saw the collapse of this societal structure that organically supported the transmission of language and associated traditions that were on the whole oral in nature. Institutionally, Gaelic language was not reflected in concrete or meaningful ways that resonated with Gaelic speaking communities. Major language shift and cultural decline was the ensuing result.

Since the early 1920s, Gaelic speakers across the province have been advocating government for official recognition and support in an attempt to maintain and develop Gaelic language and culture as part of the province's unique diversity. Many individuals over subsequent generations have been involved in this effort. In 1997, the Department of Education initiated the first ever Gaelic Studies Curriculum for High School grades. In the Spring of 2002, a study titled, Gaelic Nova Scotia: An Economic, Cultural and Social Impact Study was tabled as a curatorial report by the Museum of Nova Scotia. In November - December 2002, 10 community consultation meetings were held across the province. Consultations focused on what community members valued as important to the development and advancement of Gaelic in Nova Scotia. As a result a strategy document, titled, Leasachadh agus Gléidheadh na Gàidhlig ann an Albainn Nuaidh (Developing and Preserving Gaelic in Nova Scotia) was created and adapted as part of the ongoing work plan for Comhairle na Gàidhlig (The Gaelic Council of Nova Scotia).

In 2002, under the auspices of the Department of Tourism, Culture and Heritage, the province signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Comhairle na Gàidhealtachd (The Highland Council of Scotland). In 2004, the position of Gaelic Cultural Officer was established and located in Cape Breton. Also in 2004, the province committed to the GAP (Gaelic Activities Program) fund for Gaelic language based learning initiatives. In February 2006, a Ministry for Gaelic Initiatives was created. In June 2006 a bilingual boundary sign policy was developed and implemented by the Department of Transportation and Public Works for the traditional Gaelic areas of the province. In December 2006 an Office of Gaelic Affairs was formally announced.

It is difficult to determine the total number of Gaelic speakers in the province because no formal census specific to the Gaelic community has ever been done. Estimates from the community indicate that there are approximately 2000 speakers of Gaelic. While the numbers of speakers indicates a perilous position for the language, some 227,000 Nova Scotians claim to be descended from Gaelic speaking settlers and a much larger number of Nova Scotians are involved in cultural activities, such as music, song and dance, which stem from the Gaelic language. The Gaelic Nova Scotia study links a $23 million economy with Gaelic and Gaelic-related events, business and activities in the province.

There are 28 Gaelic-related societies, organizations and institutions in the province. Gaelic language instruction is offered in six schools in the province at varying levels. Gaelic Studies is offered in 15 schools and is expanding. There are nine communities across the province were adult immersion learning programs are active and ongoing.

It is in the context of responding to community initiative and identifying the valuable contributions that Gaelic language and culture make to the life of the province that the Office of Gaelic Affairs was established. The Office will work to assist in building greater awareness and understanding of Gaelic to the benefit of Nova Scotians and visitors, acting as an advocate and supporter so that the Gaelic community will realize its full potential in a diverse, multi-lingually and multi-culturally sensitive society.

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