Cowessess Cree camp just the beginning for language growth
- Kaitlynn Nordal | July 09, 2019
Language is a big part of who people are as a culture and as an initiative under the current Chief and Council Cowessess First Nation bringing back their Cree language.
Starting in November of 2017, Sandy Pinay-Schindler, Education Director on Cowessess First Nation, applied for grants for an Aboriginal language’s initiative through the Saskatchewan Indigenous Cultural College.
Upon receiving approval, they were awarded a grant for a two-year language program. Angie Tanner, Health Director on Cowessess First Nation, had been budgeting for a language class in the community as well so that money was put into the program as well.
“Language is a part of who you are. It determines your home base. It gives you that identity. So, learning the language is the start of bringing back who we are to the community,” said Tanner.
After sorting out how the program, which was entitled Re-awakening Our Language, would run 11 language keepers participated in the class on Thursday nights taught by Darren Okemaysim starting in October 2018 in the Education and Employment Centre.
“I think it's important for us to preserve and re-awaken our languages. It was a mandate Chief and Council identified but I think it's also equally important for us to do our best to learn the language,” said Pinay-Schindler.
Once classes started and participants took a fluency test to see what their knowledge level was, Okemaysim then planned and taught the class accordingly.
As part of the grant, participants also filled out language assessment form at the end as well and most knowledge keepers were two levels above where they started. Some were as many as four or five levels above when they started.
Since the community had been considering doing a Cree camp in February, Tanner and Pinay-Schindler talked with the knowledge keepers and Okemaysim about what they wanted and how things should go for the camp.
The knowledge keepers finished up their classes at the end of June and to showcase what they had learned taught a Cree Camp July 3 and 4 to roughly 125 participants.
Each knowledge keeper picked what they wanted to teach and there was everything from how to snare rabbits, fry saskatoon berries, make bannock, how to get ready to play hockey, numbers, and colours among others. Everything at the camp had a label with what that item is in Cree to help participants learn.
The participants were split into three groups and then rotated from one thing to the next.
Cowessess is not only the first community to have a camp like this but is also the only community to receive a two-year grant when it comes to language education.
Although Cree is already taught in the school as a high school credit, with this new funding Pinay-Schindler and Tanner hope to expand this into the daycare for people to start learning the language younger. They also hope start teaching Cree once a week to the community in the evenings and have it led by the knowledge keepers and other contracted language instructors.
They are also working on having a full Cree immersion camp at some point.