XpoNorth panel to shine a light on Gaelic perspectives across the Atlantic

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A pan-Atlantic session exploring Gaelic’s economic opportunities in Nova Scotia and Scotland’s Highlands and Islands will headline XpoNorth’s conference from June 15-16.

The Gaelic session, Shared Perspectives: Driving Culture Through Place, will feature businesses from Scotland and Nova Scotia discussing how the culture and place are indelibly intertwined, how this shared heritage has developed and changed over the years, and how businesses view this culture now.

This linked heritage began more than 250 years ago, when one of the earliest groups of Highland settlers emigrated from Loch Broom aboard The Hector, and helped to create Nova Scotia, New Scotland.

The ongoing flow of emigrants from the Highlands and Islands to this rural area of Canada ensured that Highland and Gaelic culture became an integral part of their new home. Even that early ship the Hector has been an inspiration for music, literature and art.

XpoNorth, the specialist support mechanism for Highlands and Islands Enterprise to the creative industries, works with businesses, social enterprises and community organisations that can demonstrate economic and social value from using Gaelic, and are passionate about the role that Gaelic identity and culture plays in creating sustainable economic growth.

Literature is represented on the panel by Emily McEwen-Fujita, former assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Pittsburgh and Loyola, and the Gaelic author Iain Fionnlagh MacLeòid of the Gaelic college on Skye, Sabhal Mòr Ostaig.

Storytelling on screen is represented by Ealasaid MacDonald, director of strategy and external affairs at MG Alba, which delivers programming for the Gaelic channel, BBC Alba. Also taking part is a familiar figure in BBC Alba’s outdoor programmes, Coinneach MacFhraing, who delivers outdoor sports and activities to young people through the medium of Gaelic for Spòrs Gàidhlig.

The panel will also feature a representative of the Gaelic College in St Ann’s, Nova Scotia, which in addition to running a museum, have a long tradition of helping people to engage more with the Highland heritage of the province.

Like any minority language, Gaelic faces challenges, but is still an important part of many communities.

A survey carried out by Young Scot in 2021 reported that around two thirds of respondents (66.8 per cent) stated that they think Gaelic culture and heritage is very valuable, and around two thirds of respondents (65.9 per cent) stated that they think the Gaelic language is very valuable.

Iain Hamilton, head of creative industries at Highlands and Islands Enterprise and co-founder of XpoNorth, said: ‘Increasingly there is a global demand for authenticity and real provenance, stories behind products and services that allow people to engage more and to have a greater understanding of place and where something comes from.

‘The session is very much focussed on what makes these two areas (Nova Scotia and the Highlands and Islands) special, the unique sound, colours and taste. This is an area where small businesses can truly compete with much larger companies – a unique offering and relationship with customers. Gaelic is a unique and powerful opportunity for Scotland and we realise the value both economically and socially.’

The Gaelic media sector alone, according to figures from 2021, is responsible for 340 jobs, £10.4 million of salaries with a GVA of £17.2 million.

There are also direct economic benefits to businesses of using Gaelic include enhancing their own uniqueness and perception of authenticity, as well as increasing appeal to their target audiences.

It can also help to raise the profile of products and services in specific areas, as well as being a key differentiator that helps to attract new customers in existing markets.