Indigenous languages institute launched
By Priscilla Settee
From July 14-22, 15 Cree speakers attended a Cree Summer Institute at Onion Lake Reserve, three hours northwest of Saskatoon.
Students came from different communities including the reserve communities of Onion Lake, La Ronge, Montreal Lake, Pelican Narrows, Thunderchild, Beardys, Ministikwan, Whitefish, and Stanley Mission.
The summer institute was a total immersion language course offered for university credit as a special topics Native Studies course.
The Indigenous Peoples Program in the University of Saskatchewans Extension Division partnered with University of Albertas Native Studies Dept. and the College of Education, as well as the Cree Languages Retention Committee, the Saskatoon Tribal Council and the Onion Lake Education Authority.
The idea for a languages institute was developed by a group of educators who saw the need to work to preserve Canadas indigenous languages. The committee calls itself the Canadian Indigenous Languages and Literacy Institute (CILLDI) and was inspired by the work of Dr. Freda Ahenakew. Dr. Ahenakew was awarded the Order of Canada, an honorary doctorate degree from the U of S in 1996 and holds many other distinguished awards.
Committee members include Priscilla Settee, Director, Indigenous Peoples Program U of S, Donna Paskemin, Professor of Native Studies, Dr. Heather Blair, Dept. of Elementary Education, both from the U of A. Brenda Ahenakew, Director of Education, Saskatoon Tribal Council and Delores Sand, Principal of Kihew school in the town of Marcelin.
Course instructors were Donna Paskemin and Marjorie Memnook. Both women teach Cree language at the U of As Native Studies Dept.
The Institute received financial support from the U of S Office of Administration, U of A Elementary Education and the Dept. of Native Studies.
Next year the Institute will be offered by the U of A and in addition to Cree will include one Dene-language course and one other new course in the dramatic arts.
Some of this years students had this to say:
"Continuing to speak the Cree language was most useful to me listening to elders speaking in Cree was just as important. The cultural component was very beneficial for me".
"Everything was great, I especially liked the cultural component. I have never experienced this kind of instruction, it is very interesting and keeps you focused."
It is the plan of those involved with CILLDI to make it the first Canadian Indigenous Languages Institute.