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Posts Tagged ‘Cree’

Photo: Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo.
Stop signs in Cree and Dénesųłiné installed in Fort Chipewyan, Alberta, Canada.

Language and culture are important in so many ways, including helping individuals define for themselves and others exactly who they are. I am reminded of the made-up languages my friends and I used in childhood, especially Goose Latin. We were the only ones who understood it, and we liked being special that way.

In Canada, where residential schools once tried to strip indigenous children from their own special language, an effort is being made to give it back.

Chico Harlan and Amanda Coletta wrote about restitution of the Cree language at the Washington Post in July. I got the story via MSN.

“Lucy Johnson never spoke the Cree language when she was growing up. Her father wouldn’t allow it. He called it ‘jungle talk.’ He didn’t elaborate much until he was weeks away from dying of alcoholism. Then he told his children that he associated the language with his experience at Ermineskin residential school. …

“ ‘The more he spoke, the more punishment he received,’ Johnson said.

“It’s a legacy of Ermineskin that Johnson, now 55 and a paralegal, can’t speak the language of her people. Nor can her six siblings. Across Canada, the often brutal residential school system, designed to assimilate Indigenous people into White, European culture, succeeded in breaking the tradition of passing on languages from generation to generation — and put the survival of some in jeopardy.

“But now, 25 years after the last residential school was shuttered, some Indigenous communities [are] reviving and relearning their native languages. It’s a movement fueled by a desire to recover what has been lost, and by a sense that progress is possible. The youngest Cree didn’t attend residential schools. Unlike their parents or grandparents, they didn’t internalize the idea that speaking their language might be wrong.

“Isaiah Swampy Omeasoo, 20, studied and made himself fluent in Cree. His wife is expecting a child in February, he said, and he’ll speak to his son or daughter in the language. …

“In Maskwacîs — an area with four First Nations reserves on the Alberta prairie between Edmonton and Calgary — Cree, the most widely spoken Indigenous language in Canada, can be found written on stop signs, municipal buildings and emergency vehicles. A local radio station has Cree-speaking DJs. The school district says its mission is about ’embedding’ Cree culture and language into education — a direct response to the damage wrought by residential schools.

“But restoring a language isn’t easy. Steve Wood, the vice principal at the high school, said only six of 54 staff members can speak Cree fluently. Many in the community aren’t conversational. Robert Ward Jr., the radio station manager, says he sometimes runs into ideas on air that he can’t express because he lacks the vocabulary. He’ll admit as much on live radio, he says, with the hope that an elder will call in and help him.

“ ‘This is a language that’s been taken from us,’ he said. …

“The United States also ran what were called Indian boarding schools through much of the 19th and 20th centuries. The Interior Department is now investigating abuses in that system. …

“In 2018, the four First Nations in Maskwacîs signed an agreement with the federal government that gave them far greater control over education, allowing them to offer and design a curriculum infused with the Cree language, culture and traditions.

“Brian Wildcat, the superintendent of the Maskwacîs Education Schools Commission, said educators are planning to pilot a new curriculum in the fall with a heavy focus on the Cree language, identity and way of life. He hopes it eventually will replace the district’s current curriculum, which was written by the province. …

“Wood, the vice principal, called restoring the language a ‘monumental effort’ — and one that requires immersion. So he tries to use Cree as much as he can: when ordering a sandwich at the local Subway or filling his car up at the gas station. ‘The language has to be heard for people to pick it up,’ he said.

“It’s with the young people, he said, where he sees progress.

“ ‘We have kids that come home from our kindergarten schools who know more Cree than their parents,’ Wood said. ‘It’s a product of what transpired.’ ”

More at MSN, here.

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