Derrick McClure is a Scots academic and writer. Rab Wilson is away

WHILE our frein Rab Wilson enjyes his wee vacance in the States, I’m takin a backlins scance at a grann collogue in Vancouver three ouks syne. Thare nae dout, an it’s no ower suin, at scolars in ither kintras is takin mair tent nou nor ever afore o the leids, the letter-huird an the history o Scotland: I hae braw mynins o collogues on Rabbie Burns in Prague, on Sir Walter Scott in Laramie, on the screivins an the politics o Stewart times in Strasbourg an o our ain time in Warsaw; forbye a fair bourach in touns aa throu Europe an ayont whaur thochts an questions anent Scottish bardrie or the Scots leid wes setten furth an argied ower alangside speils o fremmit airts.

As faur hyne as Japan thare mair nor a hantle o scolars dargin in the field o Scottish letters: I am acquent mysell wi a core at pit furth, no lang syne, a new owersettin o Burns’s sangs wi a lang inleitin anent his life an the Scotland he bade in; an did ye ken at the ainly haill-out owersettin o A Drunk Man Looks at the Thistle is intae Japanese?

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But thare no mony kintras mair fittin for a collogue on Scotland in the warld nor Canada, tae the upbiggin o whilk sae mony skeilie an eident Scots hae gien their darg an their ingyne. In the skyrie toun o Vancouver lest month, a curnie scolars frae Scotland, England, Canada, America, Europe, China – aye, an Japan forbye! – gied us thair thochts an thair finnins anent Scottish (Gaelic inhauden) bards an Scottish makars; an mairatower, anent the Scots at hae gaen throu mony yearhunners tae Canada, America, the Caribbean an ither airts, an the affcomes o their middlin an mellin wi the indwallers.

An siccar, in Vancouver, in the hertlann o yin o the fouthiest, maist kenspeckle an maist dividual o natif cultuirs, thare wes nae want o attention tae the trokins an traffeckins atweesh the Scots an the fowk at the Canadians caa the First Nations, an at mony o’s no lang syne war still content tae think o as “Indians”. The first forenicht o the Collogue wes gien ower tae a concert o muisic an musardrie frae Natif American screivars; an the first day’s confeirin begoud wi a roun-the-table lagamachie anent the foregetherins o incoming Scots an the fowk o the lann, frae the airest reingins o white incomers athort the Canadian lanskip. Muckle thare is tae speir out, an muckle tae exaimin. In the eichteent an nineteent yearhunners, thousans o Heilanders wan awa tae Canada, an the Gaelic-speakin tounships an commonities thay staiblissit bade on life for generautions: thare still a curnie fowk in Cape Breton Island at speaks the Gaelic o their forebeirs. In mony a steid the Gaels an the Indians bade nearhaun: the Cherokees an Creeks o south-aist America tuik tae weirin tartan an bunnets wi plumes! In the natif leids o Canada an America thare tae finn a wheen words borraed frae English, French an Spanish: eithlie coud thare be Gaelic words forbye, tho naebody hes duin the seekin tae finn out.

Yae cheil thare wes at wes suir o’t. Robert MacDougall frae Perthshire in 1841 screivit, in Gaelic, a tentie, cannie an preceise scrift anent the lann an the fowk o the Lakes Peninsula for the wittins o Heilanders ettlin tae win ower an mak their hame thare (in tounships staiblissit, in the bygaun, by the Ayrshire screivar John Galt, whase novelle Bogle Corbet tells o the anters o a bourach o Scottish sattlers in Canada). He likit an respeckit the Ojibway o the kintra, giein a braw ruise tae thair mense an thair manheid an makin compare atweesh thair hants an his ain fowk’s; but hed the unco queer norie at their leid wes sib tae Gaelic, guessin at their word for “white man”, whilk he gies as saganash, is the sel an same as Sasunnach! (The truith is at it is zhaagnaash an comes frae les anglais.) Droller still is his whigmaleerie at moccasin, tomahawk an papoose – words at he didna hear frae his Ojibway freins at aa, sen thay come frae leids o whit is nou New England – is frae mu chasan “roun the feet”, tuagh bheag “wee aix” an patha bus “drouthy mou”! But siccar, MacDougall’s havers disna pruive at thare canna be, in Ojibway or ither natif leids, wirds frae the Gaelic waitin tae be airtit out by some skeily leid-scolar.

At the collogue forbye we hard about the first white man ever tae kep wi the Indians o the Canadian norlans, the Islesman Alexander Mackenzie frae Stornoway. Thare a fair glamourie in the journal o his vaigins frae the Muckle Lochs ower tae the Pacific. Fouthie an tentie are the accounts he gies o the different Indian tribes, wi listins o words tae mak compare atweesh their leids (an he hes nae glaikit freits about words comin frae Gaelic). But he wes faur-sichtit eneuch tae cognize at the traffeckins wi trokers an missionaries wes areddie daein skaith tae the independence an hailness o the lifes an cultuirs o some o the tribes; an whan we read his speils anent the fowk at hedna yet kent the pousionous affcome o mellin wi the incomers, we canna but be waesome tae think thay wad faa tae’t or lang. Robert MacDougall hed the samen fear forbye.

But aa the auncient leids an cultuirs o the First Nations arena deid. Amang the braw photies I hae frae my ouk in Vancouver is raws o totem poles in twa o the ceity’s parks, kerven by leivin wrichts. An yae uissfu affcome o the collogue wes the staiblissin o whit’s tae be caa’d an “Indigenous/Scottish Research Cluster”: a comatee for the study o the mellins o Scots an natif Canadians.

For guid an ill our kintrafowk hae bade alangside the Indians for yearhunners: aiblins we micht hae a pairt tae play in helpin tae haud thaim on life for a while yet.