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Community ᐄᐦᑖᐧᐃᓐ

Cree School Board launches knowledge keepers video series

BY Ben Powless Mar 17, 2023

In 2020, the Cree School Board embarked on a project to document stories, teachings and legends held by traditional knowledge keepers across the nine Cree communities. Finally, after delays brought about by the Covid pandemic, the CSB released 42 videotaped interviews in a series of events held across Eeyou Istchee.

The Traditional Knowledge Keepers project was overseen by the Cree Programs department within the CSB and involved interviewing two to seven Elders per community, producing videos between eight and 44 minutes in length. Starting February 6 in Wemindji, the team held events showcasing the contributions of Elders from each community.

The team managed to visit every community except Nemaska and Whapmagoostui, with events in those communities planned for March 6 and March 30, respectively. So far, each event attracted 150-200 community members, with invites extended to the Elders and their families, chiefs and deputy chiefs, school committees, principals and teachers. 

Cree Programs Coordinator Theresa Kakabat-Georgekish said the project aims to revive the “old vocabulary.” Videos feature snowshoe-making and basket-making skills as well as the uses of different trees: their names, what kinds of medicines or tools can be harvested from them, or what kinds of firewood they provide.

“It’s an effort to maintain and bring in especially the language that’s not being used daily, like the old ways of saying things, what the Elders were used to, using the terms from a long time ago. “The language is very rich when you’re out on the land,” she explained.

“These videos will be part of the schools for a long time,” she added, noting that the videos will be available on the CSB website after March 6. While the videos are in Cree, they include English subtitles.

Kakabat-Georgekish said they created a lesson plan with three different groups in mind – elementary, high school and Cree language and culture teachers. She hopes to repeat the project soon. 

The CSB created a series of posters featuring Elders with bios and quotes from their interviews which were presented to their families as well as teachers. Eventually, the team hopes to publish a book and other material to accompany the videos. 

“It was a humbling experience to see the reactions of the people,” Kakabat-Georgekish said of the community events. “They were so proud that they can have access to something so rich and empowering. They didn’t just give us their knowledge and their teachings, their love came with it, too.” 

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Ben Powless is a Kanien'kehá:ka and Anishnabek writer and photographer, currently living in Ottawa. He has a degree in Human Rights, Indigenous and Environmental Studies from Carleton University.