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News ᑎᐹᒋᒧᐧᐃᓐ

Entities commit to Cree language protection

BY Ben Powless Mar 17, 2023

Cree Language Commissioner Jaime Moses said while there won’t be many activities for this year’s Cree Language Month, there are big plans in place to expand the role and impact of the Commissioner’s office. 

Moses said that his office is asking the various Cree communities and organizations launch their own public initiatives for Cree Language Month focused on promoting the language. 

“We’re planning to do a signing ceremony in terms of the Cree organizations – the Cree School Board, the Cree Health Board, the Board of Compensation and the Cree Nation Government – to support a five-year funding agreement towards the Office of the Language Commissioner,” Moses said.

He said all the entities have agreed in principle and now just need to make the announcement official to demonstrate their commitment to provide funding for the language. While no dates have been set, Moses said they’d like to host the event in March, if possible. 

Additionally, the Commissioner’s office is planning to post job openings in the coming months. “This year we’ll be more than doubling our team,” Moses added. “Once we have more personnel, we can have more impact.” 

Moses said there are many options for Cree entities to advance language protection and promotion goals. He’d like to see a focus on words of the day or week, paying particular attention to “old terminologies” and “pronunciations and meanings of words we don’t hear that often.”

There should also be a focus on acknowledging and promoting language champions in the communities. “There’s different levels of language expertise and language experts – where language is spoken well in Cree, and ones who are more literate in writing and reading Cree,” he explained. 

He added that land-users had an expertise of the spoken language that everyone can learn from. “All that time they spend out there, they’re gaining that knowledge of terminology that they use on the land. The everyday language we use isn’t what we use out on the land,” he said.

“Even for some of our expert translators or expert language keepers, that terminology out on the land may be a challenge for them. They may have more classroom or radio broadcasting expertise, but you have young trappers and hunters out there, who are quietly keeping that vocabulary.”

On canoe and snowshoe trips in the past, Moses would overhear people saying that youth aren’t doing traditional activities anymore. That made him wonder if being away from his family and waking up in minus-40-degree weather to start a fire was worth it. 

However, he said it only made him appreciate more the hardships his ancestors endured, and the lessons passed down through the culture and language. Now, he hopes that those young people taking the time to learn and share that knowledge can be celebrated so they know their efforts have been worth it.

Moses hopes land-based programs can help inspire youth living troubled lives to “rediscover themselves” and set them on the right path. 

“We all have to be guided sometimes towards the right path, towards healthy choices,” he said. “Sometimes we don’t learn overnight, sometimes we have to do it many times to gain that lesson.” 

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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.