Halifax transcriber designs Canada’s first ever Indigenous braille code

By Steve Gow

A Halifax woman is receiving widespread praise for her creation of a braille code specifically designed to help blind Indigenous persons.

Certified braille transcriber Christine Muise earned the Louis Award at this year’s annual meeting of the American Printing House for the Blind in honour of the Mi’kmaw Braille Code she developed earlier this year.

“It’s called the Louis Award, but the technical term for it is creative use of braille,” notes Muise, who was surprised but thrilled by the recognition from the American-based non-profit organization aimed at promoting independent living for the visually impaired.

“When the code got finalized in Canada, I sent them a copy of it (because I know) there is a large Mi’kmaw community in Maine, so just in case it came up, I wanted them to know this was available,” says Muise about how her work got noticed. “The lady that I sent it to is actually the one who nominated me for it. I found out while I was down there and met her.”

Also endorsed by Braille Literacy Canada, the nation’s governing braille authority, Muise’s Mi’kmaw Braille Code ensures that blind readers of Mi’kmaw now have a standardized, consistent braille code available to them — giving the underrepresented visually-impaired group something they never had previously — the ability to read.

“When I started looking into it, I found out there was no braille for any Indigenous language in Canada and there was only one or two in the States,” says Muise, adding she’s a big advocate for the visually impaired.

“I think braille should be available to anyone who wants or needs it,” continues Muise. “The blind are already a pretty underserved population so you can imagine how underserved a Mi’kmaw blind population must be.”

Muise came up with the idea to create an Indigenous braille code in April, shortly after thousands of unmarked graves began to be discovered at various residential schools around the country.

“It just kind of got me thinking about what could someone like me do to make any sort of difference,” recalls the former Chronicle Herald graphic designer who now works with the Atlantic Provinces Special Education Authority (APSEA).

“I figured there would probably be a resurgence of people wanting to regain their language, and I knew from the few times I had come across Mi’kmaw in local textbooks here that there wasn’t anything, (so) I thought that was a way I could make a difference.”

Through her dedication on the development of the Mi’kmaw Braille Code, she has definitely poised to change many lives.

Created in collaboration with native linguist Dr. Bernie Francis (who helped developed a new orthography of the Mi’kmaw language) in consultation with other experts, Muise’s code has been supported and approved by Dr. Francis and long-serving chief of Membertou First Nation, Terry Paul.

“Creating a braille code that represents our language plays an important role in communication and accessibility to Mi’kmaw cultural education for future generations of Indigenous students,” declared Paul in a statement.

Muise notes that with Nova Scotia officially passing the Mi’kmaw Language Act recognizing Mi’kmaw as the official first language of the province, she hopes her braille code will provide an additional way of helping to promote and revitalize the Indigenous language.

“That was the whole goal basically — to have it live somewhere where someone would actually find it,” says Muise, adding that while hasn’t yet tackled any other Indigenous languages yet, she’s not above taking calls.

“I’m not going to just go and tackle them all,” laughs Muise. “(But) I would be open to if anyone wants to contact me about one.”

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