Celtic Awareness Week wraps up this weekend. Sadly, I don’t think many New Brunswickers knew it had begun. Sure, we’ve all been more concerned with pressing provincial matters such as flooding. But a communications plan and a schedule of events, not to mention some actual strategy for the role, was lacking before the rain began – and it’s not the first time.
When the Minister of Celtic Affairs position was created in 2016, the government faced serious criticism. I hoped the naysayers would eventually see what I believe to be the great value in such a position. Two years later, I’m afraid the sneering remarks are proving to be a self-fulfilling prophecy.
In 2017, the province announced Celtic Awareness Week would be celebrated April 2 to 8, encompassing the annual Tartan Day observance on April 6. This year, a press release came on April 27, stating Celtic Awareness Week was April 30 to May 6 and details of events would be shared on a website that didn’t launch until days later.
Next door in Nova Scotia, the province launched a Gaelic licence plate this week to mark the start of its 22nd annual Gaelic Awareness Month. In those two decades, the focus of residents combined with the direction and funding of their Department of Gaelic Affairs has managed to raise not only the profile and awareness of the culture, but also create economic opportunities and grow the everyday use of the language within the province.
Obviously we can’t expect New Brunswick to simply copy Nova Scotia’s efforts. Our Celtic banner is wider than their specific Gaelic focus, and growth takes time. But the first few years in which Nova Scotia’s Gaelic Affairs department existed, several concrete initiatives were accomplished that helped quiet the original cynics who also questioned the value of dedicating dollars and time to something that wasn’t an established industry.
In 2004, the Nova Scotia government invested $100,000 in cultural initiatives that were already promoting the Gaelic culture. There was also a five-year plan and an overall strategy for continued growth of these activities and investment in the core language and culture. That plan saw the province increase its Gaelic speakers from about 500 then to nearly 2,000 today. The province’s Gaelic College is expanding. Preschool programs have been created. There are dedicated curriculum elements that create interest and pride among youth. Festivals focusing on Gaelic language and culture bring millions to the province each year.
The strategy can’t look exactly the same for New Brunswick, but we should be able to feel confident that there is a plan in place to have the role of Celtic Affairs Minister mean more than a fluctuating, last-minute awareness week. Even finding the term Celtic Affairs on the government’s website is confusing. The Minister responsible is Lisa Harris, who is also responsible for Seniors and Long-Term Care and Social Development. The press releases about Celtic Awareness Week are from the department of Tourism, Heritage, and Culture, which falls under Minister John Ames. Wouldn’t a cultural awareness initiative fit best under that department, coordinating with existing programs that support festivals, workshops, and another economic efforts based on our collective New Brunswick heritage?
This isn’t the only occasion this year the government seems to have been underprepared for. Our province’s first Family Day promotions rolled out seemingly only days before the event, with a last-minute dash by the government to ensure community organizations would have something for all those celebrating families to do on a Monday in February. Hopefully we can expect more coordination and communication from the next configuration of ministers and government leaders, showing more respect for the positions they themselves have created.