Revitalizing First Nations languages: Plains Cree
By Justin Wong
The Cree language is one of the most prevalent Indigenous languages in Canada, yet according to Statistics Canada, only about 80,000 people report Cree as their mother tongue.
Cree is one of the latest First Nations languages to be offered in SFU’s Department of Linguistics, which has offered courses in 28 First Nations languages to date. Students taking the three-credit introductory course in Plains Cree (FNLG 133) learn skills in basic conversation, greetings, introductions, household vocabulary and are also introduced to Plains Cree orthography.
Joelle Majeau, a second-year First Nations Studies student, took the course last fall and says meeting other students who were passionate about learning Cree left her feeling inspired to overcome the challenges of learning a new language.
“Having the option to take this class at the university level meant the world to me,” says Majeau, who is Cree-Métis.
“I don’t have any living family members who speak Cree anymore. I wanted to learn at least one First Nations language so that I could be more involved with elderly First Nations or Métis people who don't speak a lot of, or any, English.”
In 2016, SFU’s First Nations Languages Centre and the Department of Linguistics partnered with Kwi Awt Stelmexw, a non-profit organization from the Squamish Nation community, to introduce a full-time, adult immersion program in the Squamish language, which is almost extinct. The goal: to produce 15 fluent Squamish language speakers each year, growing the number of speakers to 157 by 2027.
The first cohort of students, who completed the program in spring 2017, produced 14 intermediate-level speakers. Many of the students plan to use the program as a springboard to further post-secondary education.
The next intake of students for the Squamish language program is set for fall 2018. For information visit http://at.sfu.ca/aELsZv.
Interested in Cree? Visit http://at.sfu.ca/MVzflg.