My roots – a full three-out-of-four-grandparents strong – are Scottish. Highland Scots, who immigrated to Cape Breton beginning in 1802. I spent my summer day camp hours learning Gaelic and playing the highland bagpipes. My university social outings often included step dancing and fiddle music. So I’m optimistic that our province’s creation of a Celtic Awareness Week can help my children’s ability to celebrate this part of their heritage here in New Brunswick.
More than 40% of New Brunswickers can trace their heritage to a Celtic region, be that Scotland, Ireland, Wales, or some of the smaller countries. And while there are three active provincial groups promoting these cultures, how many New Brunswickers truly self-identify with this heritage? Of those that do, what do they actually know of the immigration of Celtic peoples to New Brunswick and their contributions here?
Creating a week that promotes an appreciation for the Celtic influences in our province can only help deepen our collective pride and understanding of our history, as well as celebrate our current cultural assets. It’s a shame the announcement did not come with much more fanfare than a government press release amid the annual Tartan Day observances.
There is a practical, economical aspect to all this as well, which the province should pursue. A slow and steady investment in the Gaelic language and culture of Nova Scotia has boosted the language in that province and created employment opportunities and a culture that has retained and attracted many young Gaelic speakers.
In 2004, long after the first Tartan Day (1987) and first Gaelic Awareness Month (1996) in the province, Nova Scotia made the first significant announcement of Gaelic-related funding in recent memory, promising $100,000 to boost economic growth among cultural initiatives. This came with a strategy and a five-year plan (and a highly-publicized and highly-reported press conference). By 2007, an Office of Gaelic Affairs was operating as a government department.
A 2002 report commissioned by the province came to the conclusion that the Gaelic culture in Nova Scotia generated more than $23 million annually, but without focus and financial help, the language at the heart of this economy was in danger of disappearing – and putting this revenue in jeopardy. At that time, there were roughly 500 Gaelic speakers identifying themselves to the national census, many of them senior citizens. Today, despite the loss of many native speakers and tradition bearers, the number of Gaelic speakers in Nova Scotia tops 2,000, according to the province.
New Brunswick is not poised to embark on a similar language revival. Our focus is broader, embracing several cultures. But maybe some of the additional $8 million pledged to tourism in this year’s budget could be used to follow Nova Scotia’s footsteps and help our existing Celtic events grow in a way that creates economic opportunities for residents. But don’t just offer more dollars; focus that investment on help with marketing and growth strategies, apprenticeships in traditional skills and trades, networking with other cultural associations, and creating interactive educational opportunities within our schools. Perhaps a festival model influenced by Cape Breton’s Celtic Colours should be considered.
I’m not advocating that our cash-strapped province should invest heavily in a systematic review of the economic landscape or jump into festival management, but for this week to actually have impact, it needs some money, and more importantly, some focus. Did you even know it was Celtic Awareness Week? It’s been one of the quietest provincial announcements in a long time. Let’s seize this opportunity to not only celebrate a culture connected to almost half of our citizens, but also create an economic opportunity that benefits every New Brunswicker.
She Said appears Saturdays in the Times & Transcript.