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Voices ᐋ ᐄᔮᔨᐧᒫᓂᐧᐃᒡ


BY Maïtée Labrecque-Saganash Feb 15, 2019

I moved up north, over a year ago, for many reasons. Nuhkum was one of them. Because of life circumstances, I grew up away from her. I’ve always been very close to my grandparents on my mom’s side, but nuhkum and I had so much catching up to do.

I remember spending two weeks with her and my late uncle Marcel in Waswanipi. I was 10 years old at that time and we spent those two weeks working around the language barrier that was separating us. At one point she wanted me to give her something, but I couldn’t understand her. She got angry and went back outside. At that time, I thought her anger was directed to me. Now I understand how complex it is and how hard it must be for her to see that some of her grandchildren don’t speak Cree.

I could keep blaming residential schools, colonization, the governments or my dad for not speaking a language my grandmother speaks so beautifully. I did for a certain period of time. But blaming forever won’t get me anywhere and it certainly won’t help me say the things I want to tell my grandmother before she goes on her last journey.

Recently, Ottawa tabled Bill C-91 to revive and protect Indigenous languages in Canada. They also announced the creation of the Office of the Commissioner of Indigenous Languages. However, the lack of concrete measures offered by the bill leaves a lot people skeptical. As Wab Kinew said, “An Indigenous Languages Commissioner isn’t going to help a single young Neechee learn their language. If the feds want to undo some of the damage they’ve done to Indigenous languages, they should be funding community-driven Indigenous immersion schools and after-school programs.”

It got me thinking about what’s actually helping me learn my own language. Spending time with my grandmother helps a lot. I get to practice with her as I feel like she’s less of a bully about it than some of my peers.

We spent time just the two of us together when she was hospitalized last month. I had to gather all my knowledge on Cree to make sure I could support and help her properly. I didn’t want to fail her. We always loved each other beyond language barriers, but I understood how precious it gets when we actually understand each other.

I often think of nuhkum and I always wonder what she thinks of the world that changed around her so quickly. I can’t stop thinking about how much knowledge she carries. I saw a tweet that said: “Retweet this if your retirement plan is basically ‘Civilization will probably crumble before I’m 65 and money will be meaningless anyways.’” Capitalism is kicking my butt sometimes and I thought to myself: “Well, if all else fails I could always live in the bush.”

My cousin Dennis once stated, “As long as I have the forest I’ll never be homeless.” But I’m miles away from being able to fully live that life yet. Sometimes, I wish I was even only half of the woman my grandmother Mary Jane Kitchen is.

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Maïtée Labrecque-Saganash is Cree from Waswanipi, and is the Nation’s newest columnist. She is an activist and writer who also has a regular column in Montreal’s French Metro Newspaper.