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Voices ᐋ ᐄᔮᔨᐧᒫᓂᐧᐃᒡ

Talk about…

BY Will Nicholls Apr 16, 2024

March was Cree language month. Various people did different things to acknowledge it such as the local Mistissini Cree Language Conference. Cree language has been taught in our schools for many moons now. This is both in the written and spoken forms in Southern and Northern dialects. 

The Nation was a part of that in several ways. We published legends and stories with Cree on one side and English on the other. Some schools used them to show translations as well as the writing. At one time, we had an essay contest for students with some of their writing published in the magazine including Cree language submissions in syllabics. 

In fact, when the Nation first started, the only Cree font available looked like Courier. No style to it at all. Brian Webb, our Iiyuu editor, designed some impressive fonts. It was important to us as we also did design work and though the initial costs were high it eventually paid for itself. Webb taught himself font design to make this happen.

These days things are better as some technologies have made Cree more accessible in everyday life. Cree Regional Radio is mostly in Cree. Plus, many local Cree radio stations have a high percentage of Cree language programming. JBBCS also has online material like John Bosum teaching Cree colours and how to say them. 

Currently, there is a Cree television project in the works. It should be interesting to see how that turns out. Perhaps all those people who were making mini-movies and posting them will now have a chance to do more and get paid for it.

There are even Cree language books out there and not only for kids. Most Cree organizations have information for the public in three languages: Cree, English and French. You can go online and find internet sites that help you learn to speak or translate Cree. There are Cree government departments that are involved in preserving and promoting the Cree language.

All of this is incredibly important as Indigenous languages are endangered, but Cree is one of the ones that may survive. Consider that it is predicted that by 2100 almost half the languages spoken in the world today will be gone or next to it.

Though Canada has supported Indigenous languages, funding is set to expire this year and nobody in Ottawa’s hallowed halls is talking about continuing it.

Saving the Cree language may end up becoming more of a grassroots movement in the future. But for now, the future looks rosy for Cree, and we all hope it stays that way. But let’s keep talking about it. And, above all, speaking it.

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Will Nicholls is a Cree from Mistissini. He started his career off in radio and is still one of the youngest radio DJ’s in Canadian history, having a regular show on CFS Moosonee at the age of 12. Will was one of the founding members of the Nation, and has been its only Editor-in-Chief.