by K.R. Evans


The Indigenous community in Manitoba is part of a much larger community of over 370 million persons. Over the next few issues SAY MAG brings you a snapshot of global Indigenous communities from around the world.

The United Nations estimates that there are 370 million Indigenous people in the world, with their home territories widespread across 90 countries. They are diverse people estimated to be speaking over 6000 languages and having 5000 different cultures. While Indigenous people make up less than 5 per cent of the world’s population, 15{62de5bde3b84fd7379fc2f8072f5b18478a14609f05a190db0183dce83778ef7} of the poorest people are in fact found in Indigenous communities.

In 1990 the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed 1993 as the International Year of the World’s Indigenous People. Subsequently the General Assembly established two decades of the World’s Indigenous People – the first 1995-2004 and the second from 2005-2014 concluding just three years ago. The UN agenda continued plans for ongoing international cooperation and a coherent agenda to improve and enhance the lives and human rights of Indigenous people.

While Manitoba is primarily Treaty 1 Territory and the home of the Cree, Oji- Cree, Obijiway, Dene, Dacotah and the Metis Nation, Manitoba is also the home to those from the Global Indigenous Communities. In this issue we chose to profile Dr. Fouad Daayf, Head of Plant Science, in the Faculty of Agriculture and Food Sciences at the University of Manitoba and more importantly a member of the Moroccan Berber community and a fluent speaker of the Berber language.

Who are the Berbers?

Perhaps you have heard of Berber carpets, but who are the Berber people? Berbers
are the Indigenous people of North Africa. Their homeland is an area stretching from the Atlantic Ocean to the Siwa Oasis in Egypt, and from the Mediterranean Sea to the Niger River and have a population close to 50 million, speaking various dialects of the Berber language. Berbers also live abroad of their traditional lands with over two million Berbers in France and about 3500 Berbers in Canada.

A Manitoba Berber

Dr. Daayf is a Berber from Morocco now living in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

Moroccan Berbers can be classified into three or four groups based essentially on their geographic area, which include the Rif, the middle Atlas, the Souss region and further south in other provinces of the kingdom. Dr. Daayf hails from the Souss and is called a Soussi. Soussis are traditionally business or agrarian people involved in raising both crops and cattle. Interestingly enough he has carried on this tradition in researching and teaching in agriculture at the University of Manitoba.

Berbers have a unique language traditionally written in a script called Tifinagh. In the early 20th century Neo- Tifinagh was introduced as a modern fully alphabetic script developed from earlier forms of Tifinagh, and is written from left- to-right. Like Dr. Daayf, most Berbers who are fluent speakers of Berber have limited knowledge of Tifinagh script. While there are many Berber writers and poets, the majority of them write the Berber language using Latin or Arabic script. However, with the introduction of Neo – Tifinagh in elementary schools in Morocco, Berber (and non-Berber) children are now learning to write their language in their own script.

Berber is very much a living language in Morocco. It is the daily language of commerce and conversation in many areas; all newscasts in Morocco are delivered in Berber, Arabic and French. The names of many public institutions’ signs now also carry three scripts: Berber, Arabic and French. Berber culture continues to flourish in music, art, literature and poetry.

The Berber community maintains a central role in Morocco, both present and past. The current prime minister of Morocco, Saad Eddine El Othmani, is a Soussi Berber. It was Tariq ibn Ziyad, a Berber, who led the conquest of the Iberian Peninsula crossing over what is now known as the straights of Gibraltar. In fact the word Gibraltar is actually taken from the words Jabal Tariq, meaning the mountain of Tariq, the Berber who led the crossing to Spain and subsequent establishment of the Ummayad Caliphate in the Iberian Peninsula.

In conclusion Dr. Daayf reiterated that all Moroccans are one regardless of their regional dialect/language and that both Berber and non-Berber communities live and work together in harmony in Morocco.

Take a few moments to enjoy a vibrant sample of Berber music and dance at