The Cree Nation Government appointed its first-ever Cree Language Commissioner, a result of the Cree Language Act of Eeyou Istchee, passed in September 2019. Jamie Moses of Eastmain was appointed to the five-year position and begins his new job in January.
The Cree Language Act mandates the establishment of a Cree language commission, sets out a plan to measure the health of the language across Eeyou Istchee and implement revitalization measures.
The Act followed an Eeyou Istchee Language Engagement Session in March 2018 that brought together language specialists and knowledge holders from across the territory to discuss ways to preserve and strengthen the use of Cree.
Moses says he was unaware of the position when he was first contacted in early 2020 by an Elder who was familiar with his work with youth. “She suggested that I submit my name and encouraged me. She said a young person was needed in there to carry the task for the next generation,” he explained.
At first, Moses was hesitant about applying, having unsuccessfully tried for a language-focused job years earlier, but his wife and family encouraged him.
When Moses was offered the position in November, he was very surprised. “I didn’t have any expectations seeing that I don’t have a big educational background, so I amazed. At the same time, somewhere deep down I felt that I could be a good candidate if given the opportunity.”
Moses says he reached out to thank the Elder after he was accepted, and she was incredibly happy that he got the job.
With a lifetime of work supporting and promoting Cree culture and language, Moses says his main strength has always been engaging in cultural activities especially with the youth, including snowshoe walks, canoe trips, hunting excursions and other land-based adventures which offer him a chance to teach language specific to those activities.
“A lot of the language used in the community is not the same as out on the land, where it’s about the weather, landscape or directions, so it’s a totally different language than the one used at home,” he explained.
Moses says he anticipates the job will come with a number of challenges.
“We’re in a crucial time where many of our knowledge keepers are slowly disappearing, the ones who lived off the land their entire lives are slowly declining. The next generation of Elders will be ones who went through residential schools and it was forced on them,” Moses said.
Many youth today don’t learn the language and have the additional threat of new technology – from cellphones to YouTube – overwhelming them, Moses stated.
“We all know how technology has evolved very fast – older generations like to listen to the radio so that’s a good way to reach them. But the younger generation isn’t into radio, so we need creative ways to reach them through iPhones and tablets, because they are the ones who need to be educated about the importance of language.”
Moses says there’s already some good work being done by the Cree School Board and radio stations, that have been recording Elders passing on the language and their knowledge.
With the position, Moses says he wants to highlight the efforts being done by educators, teachers and language specialists. “A lot of work has been done, now it’s a matter of working together, collaboratively, with people who are active on the land, with educators who spend day-to-day with our young ones, to find creative ways to heal our language.”
Moses is passionate about land-based learning, especially for young people. “The best way to learn is to be out active on the land. It’s part of who we are and our ways of being,” he explained. “For me, being around leaders all the time, I was always reminded that we need to do our best to learn and practice our culture and transmit it to the next generation.”
Moses was relieved to find out he would be able to work from Eastmain and not have to move. “A lot of my energy and strength comes from being active on the land. When I’m home, I’m very happy because my camp is less than an hour away. I also have a young family and it’s a challenge to be away from them.”