author: ethan williams | contributor
FNU aiming to increase Cree speakers
Indigenous culture in Canada has become more important than ever, and with attention being placed on preservation of heritage, preservation of language has come into play, as well. That is just one of the focuses surrounding a new project that was undertaken by First Nations University professor Arok Wolvengrey.
Wolvengrey was one of many across Canada who helped translate five different books into various Indigenous languages for children through a national program. He says it began with a partnership with Say It First, a Halifax company whose goal is to bring back dying Indigenous languages.
“They started with Mi’kmaq and Maliseet first and then through a relationship with Prince’s Charities they produced further books for other languages, which the Prince and Princess unveiled on their last trip to Canada up in the Yukon,” stated Wolvengrey.
Prince’s Charities is a charity group that focuses on the Prince of Wales’ core interests, one of them being Indigenous peoples. Wolvengray says that the First Nations University fine arts department had a partnership with Prince’s Charities, and one of the faculties was able to go to The Prince’s School of Traditional Arts in London where the idea was hatched to translate the books. He says that it was after this that he became involved.
Wolvengray points out that preserving traditional Indigenous languages was key to producing the work.
“All First Nations languages are endangered, even when you have some pretty healthy numbers. You’re very hard pressed to find, in any communities or reserves in the province, speakers who aren’t already at least middle age, if not older, so it’s very rare to find young people still learning the language. That’s concerning and we’re trying to revitalize and re-inspire people to be using their language.”
He says that he is hopeful that the books will have an impact on society and Indigenous culture.
“We’ve already seen some results with the teachers that are taking them into the classroom. We’ve gotten positive responses from the students and seen the excitement the kids have of having the books in their language to help them with whatever Cree lessons that they’ve been having in their classes. Right now, there’s a lot of talk about supporting First Nations languages, but when it comes to language programs, there’s not a lot of materials out there, so this is helping with that.”
As of now, Wolvengray says there are five books that will be sent out to schools, with varying themes and lessons.
“They start very basic and then they get a little more advanced. There’s a book about recycling and reusing and treating Mother Earth well. From the very beginning, there’s something there for everyone, so it’s nice to have that range. We’ve now done Plains Cree and Woods Cree translations and we’ve distributed some of the Woods Cree books to schools further north.”
The books have a wide age range, and Wolvengray says that everyone can use them. He says the books were originally intended for younger age groups, but can be used by older age groups as well. Audiobook recordings will also be included when they are sent out to the schools, for those who learn better through listening instead of reading. All of this is intended to help the next generation of Indigenous children learn many new Indigenous languages, and restore the languages to what they once were.