100 Days of Cree

100 DAYS OF CREE COVER-BIG WEB

Once you have learned ten Cree words a day over a hundred day time period, you’ll know how to say “double-double coffee” (nîswâw, nîswâw pihkahtêwâpoy) and how to order at Tim Horton’s (cim-ôtan).

The coffee franchise is one of the 100 chapter themes in the newly-released book, 100 Days of Cree, written by Neal McLeod and Arok Wolvengrey, and published by the University of Regina Press (U of R Press). The book was transpired from a 100-day series of the author’s Facebook posts.

Describing himself as a latecomer to social media, McLeod started posting words in Cree, and he was amazed with the amount of feedback he received from people who were eager to learn more about the Indigenous language.

“By the end of the day, you have people adding dialectal variations,” he says. “It’s a great way to learn, and it’s a great way to inspire those who are trying to learn.”

Using social media as a tool to get the language out there, McLeod believes it allows people to share the language and to learn from each other. He describes people showing excitement to see the Cree language on the internet, and he watched how they communicated amongst each other in Cree.

Mixed with a contemporary and modern twist, McLeod coined words that are often hard to translate. When he couldn’t find the translations for some words and themes, he would ask people for their assistance.

“Sometimes I would ask people, how you would say these words or describe them in Cree. I would gather words and post it on Facebook, and people would respond. At times, I would ask people to ask their parents on my behalf. Then they would send them to me.”

McLeod continues to work hard on his fluency. Coming from a Swedish and Cree background, he lived in Sweden for a couple of years with his grandmother when he was younger. Later, he was raised in James Smith Cree Nation by his late father, Jermiah McLeod. He grew up listening to those around him speaking Cree fluently. Some of his greatest teachers were people like his late uncle Burton Vandall from Sandy Lake First Nation (yêkawiskâwikamâhk).

“Back in the late 80s or early 90s, I would record him with an old cassette player for hours and he’d tell me how to make sentence patterns so I could learn. I had my own language tapes for myself.”

McLeod sees his book as a great resource in revitalizing the Cree language, noting that, at the current rates on many reserves, there won’t be many speakers left.

“In terms of revitalization, we can’t just write essays and dissertations about why Cree is important, and we can’t just write about why the language became weaker. It’s important to know, but the bottom line for me, in the future, is what legacy will we leave to those coming behind us. We have to start using [the language], and I think this book gets the conversation going.”

Books published on Indigenous languages are great resources to help revitalize the languages; McLeod believes there is a fundamental thing that needs to occur in order for the Cree language to survive.

“People have to stop making fun of people for making mistakes because that is the easiest way to turn someone off from wanting to learn. People have to stop making fun of people who are trying to learn who may have English accents,” said McLeod who admits to making errors when he translates words from English to Cree. “You have to be willing to make mistakes and put it out there but be humble and open enough to learn. We need to encourage each other and have fun with it.”

McLeod acknowledges those who contributed to the book, and sadly, many of those people passed on; Freda Ahenakew (author of Our Grandmothers’ Lives: As Told in Their Own Words published by the U of R Press), his father Jermiah McLeod, Arsene Tootoosis and McLeod’s uncle Burton Vandall.

The book ends with a chapter titled “Until Next Time” (iskwayikohk pitamâ) and a Guide to Cree Pronunciation by Arok Wolvengrey, a linguist from the First Nations University of Canada who thoroughly edited McLeod’s work.

The U of R Press Remembers Dr. Jo-Ann Episkenew

JEThe passing of Dr. Jo-Ann Episkenew sent a shock wave to those who knew and loved her. A woman of many accomplishments, victories, she was known for her dedication to the community.
In addition to her position as the Director of the Indigenous Peoples’ Health Research Centre (IPHRC), Jo-Ann served on many boards, including the University of Regina Press Publications Board.
The U of R Press remembers Jo-Ann for her role and contributions to the press:

“Jo-Ann asked the toughest questions. “Ok, I’ll say it,” she would pronounce during board meetings when it became clear to her that no one else would. Although one of the more junior scholars around the table, she was in many ways the most formidable.
Then she would move forward, lift slightly out of her chair, and in the most generous of ways, address the white elephant in the room. Her courage opened the door to frank discussions. Her kindness set a tone of respect. It happened time and again and made us a sharper, smarter press. When news that she had died made its way to our office, we cried.
Although her loss is profound, she continues to inform our work, so it remains part of her legacy.”
-Bruce Walsh, U of R Press Director and Publisher

“I’ve known Jo-Ann for nearly two years. I worked under her wing at the Indigenous Peoples’ Health Research Centre (IPHRC) as a Research Assistant specializing in communications. When I first started at IPHRC, Jo-Ann made me feel very welcomed, much like being a part of a family. She was very passionate about the work she did; she led a great team of researchers. When I told her I successfully got the U of R Press intern position, she was happy yet sad that my time with IPHRC came to an end. She continued to encourage me to set the bar higher. With her inspiration and faith in me, I will be starting the Journalism Master’s Program in the Fall which I’m sure she would be proud of. I will miss her very much but I will savour the memories of her, the amazing legacy she left behind, and the teachings she passed onto me. Although she is gone, she is definitely not forgotten.”
– Jeanelle Mandes, U of R Press intern

“I first met Jo-Ann in grad school. We were both “mature” students, juggling school and family. I loved her writing “voice” – it was so genuine, down-to-earth, smart. I had the privilege of sitting in on her defence of her master’s thesis – she generously, and courageously, allowed two of us, her fellow students, to attend just to see what the process might look like for us. In the intervening years, we have connected in various ways, both on- and off-campus. Whatever the context, I was always grateful for Jo-Ann’s presence, because she never failed to bring incredible honesty, humour, passion, and wisdom to the table. Jo-Ann truly made a difference in this world. I am just one of the many, many people who will miss her dearly.”
– Donna Grant, Managing Editorial & Production

“I met Jo-Ann in the initial weeks of starting at the Press at a Publications Board meeting. I had just arrived and I was nervous. Jo-Ann sat down right next to me, introduced herself, and told me she would help me in whatever way she could. By the day’s end, I had an email from her: she was already recommending potential scholars to me. This is who Jo-Ann was immediately to me: someone who wanted to be helpful and supportive. And the more I’ve heard about her from others, the more I’m certain that this was absolutely who she was: a person who lifted others, empowered them, and who did so with a frank and intelligent — but always kind and even loving — manner.”
– Karen Clark, Acquisitions Editor

Aboriginal Storytelling Month

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February is not only known for Valentine’s Day and Groundhog Day, but also, this month is significant for Black History Month and Aboriginal Storytelling Month.

In some Indigenous cultures, it is known that the winter months are long, so some Indigenous tribes would use this time to practice certain ceremonies and tell stories. Certain legendary stories such as the trickster stories (known as Wīsahkēcāhk in Cree) were only to be told after the first snowfall. The purpose of this tradition was to help pass the time of the long months of winter.

Now the tradition is still on-going as Saskatchewan celebrates Aboriginal storytelling throughout the month of February. Several events across the province allow people to take part in Aboriginal Storytelling Month, and some are incorporating storytelling in a variety of forms such as the art of puppetry, song and dance, and voices of elders and knowledge keepers.

If you are unable to attend any events nearby, then you can always pick up a copy from our First Nations Language Readers series; these include the Lillooet, Woods Cree, Cree, Blackfoot and Saulteaux books. These small, easy-to-read books are filled with different stories written in the Indigenous languages with English translations and syllabics. Some of these stories tell the origins of tales that were passed down from generation to generation. You will be doing your part in celebrating Aboriginal Storytelling Month by reading these books and others.

 

Thoughts Following the La Loche Tragedy

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Photo Credit: Leni Tuchsen

Friday afternoon was just another day in the office…or so I thought. I was not prepared to hear the devastating news that sent shockwaves across the nation. As I was leaving work at the end of the day, I turned my cell phone on and discovered numerous messages from my friend from La Loche.

It was then that he broke the news to me about the school shooting. I was in complete shock, especially after he told me how he was personally affected by the tragedy. Afterwards we kept in touch daily because he said he needed a friend to mourn with despite the miles between us. He confessed he was struggling to refrain from consuming alcohol as a way to numb the overwhelming pain. Instead, he has been playing in hockey tournaments along with other community members to raise money for the victims’ families.

He has been very open with me about the many emotions he is feeling. I think that is a good thing, because reaching out to others is the first step in the healing process.

Caroline Tait, an Indigenous health expert from the University of Saskatchewan, said in a recent CBC article that the healing must come from within and that “it is vital that people from La Loche, Sask. help drive the community’s healing process.” She expressed confidence in the strength of the community “to get through this tragedy, if they’re given proper resources.”

Charlie Angus, author of Children of the Broken Treaty, spoke about the need to attain those proper resources in the House of Commons on Monday, saying that “condolences are not enough. . . Parliament must take action.” Angus said the federal government often ignores mental health needs in isolated northern communities.

Which begs the question: could this tragedy have been prevented if the proper resources were in place? Action is definitely needed to ensure the community can heal from such a heartbreaking ordeal.

Until resources are implemented in the community, lending a shoulder and an ear to my friend is the one thing I can do for him as he starts his healing journey. Prayers to the La Loche community.

Holiday Reading: Afterthoughts

education of augie merasty coverBIG WEBBefore I left for the holidays, I chose “The Education of Augie Merasty” as my holiday reading pick.
I finally had the chance to finish the book, and I was amazed.
Dave Carpenter wrote an introduction about working with Augie off and on throughout the years. It was saddening to read about the cycle of alcohol addiction that plays on a person and how Augie was struggling to keep his head above water. But what amazed me was how Dave did not give up on Augie and his book.
Recently, I read an article in The Leader Post where Augie’s daughter, Arlene Merasty, was interviewed and said “People weren’t talking about (residential schools) at all. It wasn’t out in the open and that’s kind of when he started writing the book….I didn’t even know he went to residential school. He never really talked about it.”
I felt a personal connection to her statement.
I grew up with both of my parents struggling with alcohol addictions which tore my family a part. My siblings and I were separated and put into different family foster homes when we were young. At that age, I never knew or understood why we were all separated until I learned years ago when the talks of residential schools came out in the open.
Noted in the article, Dave was quoted, “I thought this was just one man’s story.” Back then, I thought my family was the only one facing this situation until I heard similar stories afterwards and it brought a sense of relief that we weren’t alone.
My parents never spoke to us about their experiences at the residential schools but it was enough to understand that their consumption of alcohol was used to conceal wounds that have not healed.
The article states that Arlene has forgiven her father as she said, “In my own sense, I had to heal. For myself I had to forgive him.”
About 10 years ago, that’s exactly what I did. I forgave my parents so I could heal and grow.
The effects of residential schools still linger within Indigenous communities nationwide but like Augie’s memoir; talking about it is a step in moving forward.

Jeanelle’s Holiday Reading Pick

 

education of augie merasty coverBIG WEB The holidays are just around the corner and it’s a time to be around loved ones and for some, a break from work or school.

Sometimes it’s nice to unwind, turn off the television or cell phone, cozy up with a warm blanket, and read a good book.

In case you are stumped on what to read during the holidays, my reading pick is The Education of Augie Merasty by Joseph Auguste Merasty and David Carpenter.

I chose this book to coincide with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) full report which was released earlier this week; a lot of discussions have been stirring about the residential school era.

I started reading the first two chapters and I was already captivated with the story that many are familiar with. So I will be taking time from my holiday to finish reading this residential school memoir. I have a profound respect for those including Augie Merasty who have the courage and strength to open up and share their stories about their experiences at residential schools.

To find out more about what this book is about, pick up a copy for yourself or for that book lover on your holiday shopping list!

From my family to yours, have a happy and safe holiday. Happy reading!

First Nations Language Keepers Conference

“I felt proud to be a part of the University of Regina Press team because we are doing our part by publishing books on Indigenous languages, which include the First Nations Language Readers Series.”

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The last week in November, my coworker Nickita Longman and I had the opportunity to attend the First Nations Language Keepers (FNLK) conference held in Saskatoon. We were a part of the tradeshow selling the U of R Press books, promoting the First Nations Language Readers series, and also representing the University of Regina.

The first day, we arrived bright and early to set up our booth, but there was no sign of our packages. We waited almost two hours until the hotel staff recovered them. As we were setting up, people quickly gathered around our booth with money in their hands, waiting to buy books.

I was amazed by the high interest people showed in the books we publish. The Indigenous language books were a hot seller along with our three national bestsellers: Clearing the Plains, The Education of Augie Merasty, and Children of the Broken Treaty.

The FNLK conference was hosted by Saskatchewan Indian Cultural Centre (SICC) and I had the wonderful opportunity to speak with the SICC president, Dorothy Myo, who said that this year was their biggest turnout throughout the past ten years that they’ve hosted the event. Guest speakers and delegates travelled from as far as Yellowknife, Ontario, and North and South Dakota.

After the first day, I attended the round dance that was hosted by SICC and held at the White Buffalo youth lodge. The guest speakers talked about the importance of revitalizing Indigenous languages and how crucial it is to reach out to the young people about learning their languages by incorporating modern technology.

Although I attended the conference to sell books and represent the press and the university, I took away knowledge from the conference’s mandate on how everyone has a role to preserve Indigenous languages.

I felt proud to be a part of the U of R Press team because we are doing our part by publishing books on Indigenous languages, which include the First Nations Language Readers Series.

It was an amazing experience!

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