Cree Teachers See Increasing Growth in Spite of Declining Stats

By KRISTY AUGER

Stats Canada says indigenous languages are declining, but the experience of Cree language instructors tells a different story.

The 2011 census says that 17 percent of those who identified as Aboriginal could speak their languages fluently, down from 21.5 percent in 2006. Although census results have been criticized, due to low participation of Aboriginal people, the results are still alarming.

But according to some Cree language instructors, an opposite trend is emerging and interest appears to be rising.

Students holding a sign written in CreeRobert Cote is a teacher at Ochapowace First Nation who started teaching Cree four years ago at Kakisiwew School. “I have a couple of students that are really doing well in Cree,” he says. “You’re starting to see more of it in our school.

Cote says it was a proud moment when their grade one students sang O Canada in Cree for a presentation.

“The ability to know your language and your culture that’s what makes us Cree and Saulteaux,” says Cote, who attended Origins of Cree Syllabic’s Conference on June 4-5 in Edmonton with a group from Ochapowace. Angel Scott was one of the students who attended. “It was very interesting,” she says.

Taking students to language conferences is just one thing Cote is doing to build interest in learning their language. He also took them to the First Nations University to experience a class with Cree instructor Bill Cook.  “The students did a Tansi song, puppet show and played Cree charades,” says Cote.

Cook has been teaching Cree for 7 years. “It is our Identity,” says Cook.  “A lot of our words come from our culture and come from the environment.”

He agrees with Cote’s assessment that interest is actually growing.  “I do see a lot of people enjoying it and I think that’s the key. It is our identity. Without it, we’re not ourselves.”

“It is our identity. Without it, we’re not ourselves really.”

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