Cree language challenge

The inhabitants of the Norway House Cree Nation (Kinosao Sipi), a small community in northern Manitoba in Canada, have been challenged by their chief, Marcel Balfour, to become proficient in Cree (kinose’wi si’pi’hk) by the year 2020, according to an article I found the other day.

The band’s council have decided to make Cree the official language of the community, and will encourage residents to speak it as often as possible. At the moment about three quarters of the people there can understand Cree, some 50% or 60% can speak it, at least to some extent, and its mainly the elder generation who are most comfortable with the language. Balfour himself is not fluent but is determined to become so.

The article doesn’t mention how much community support the initiative has – without such support, it is unlikely to succeed.

7 thoughts on “Cree language challenge

  1. At least the chief is being gung-ho about it. I think the greatest barrier to any language learning is lack of excitement and motivation, and if he can spread that to his people I think they can reach their goal.

  2. I agree. Even if everyone doesn’t become proficient in the time-frame, interest will be generated, and many of the population will learn Cree. It will give a chance for the elders to pass on their knowledge of the language, and raise awareness. Regardless of how successful it is, a good idea.

  3. I find a lot of people, even if they claim not to be fluent in Cree, have a pretty good basic grasp, an idea of the grammar, a smattering of vocabulary, stuff they heard from their parents and grandparents.

    For younger people, in their forties and fifties, even in their sixties now, they basically had the language beaten and abused out of them by residential school, or there was a lot of shame and feelings of backwardness attached to it. It’s cool that First Nations people are realizing how important language is to maintaining culture and community. There’s a movement in lots of Cree-speaking communities to get back the language.

    I’ve been trying to learn Cree at a language circle here in Regina, where speakers, most of them in their sixties and seventies, work with learners in an informal way, no books, no note taking allowed, just one-on-one, slow as can be teaching, conversation, etc.

  4. I would love to attempt to learn Native American languages — especially Cherokee! I live in the “heartland (or what once was)” of the Cherokee: western North Carolina.

    Back on topic, though, I think that it will be truly amazing if this plan works. I agree with Dylan that the way the language has been taught, and is likely to still be taught, will probably create felling of shame and the like. Somewhat like speaking Russian in former Soviet countries. Terrible analogy, but the best I can come up with.

  5. Just a pointer: kinosewi sîpîhk simply means ‘at’ (-hk) ‘fish’ (kinosew) ‘river’ (sîpî). Cree is simply nehiyawewin/nehinawewin/nehithawewin/nehilawewin etc., depending on the dialect and how they pronounce the original /l/ phoneme. There may also be names like iliniw âyamôwin (people’s language), which shows up in the east in Quebec as innu aimun.

  6. I applaud Chief Balfour for issuing a challenge for community members to learn cree and to preserve the language. I am from an Ojibway community and we have retained our traditions and culture through our language.

    The time is now to preserve the languages. Time is precious.

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