The Cree Classroom is a go!

On Sunday, January 12th, the Cree classroom began its first semester-long session. We are fully registered, with people on a waiting list for a new session, and enough interest for an online version that all it’s going to take is setting it up! All of this with 8 days still to go in our fundraiser!

There were some oohs and aahs when the SMARTboard got fired up, as we were able to access digital content like the Algonquian Linguistic Atlas and an interactive northern Plains/Woods Cree syllabic chart. Three hours flew by much too quickly, but the main points covered were:

  • Learning Plains Cree opens up communication possibilities in 8 other Cree dialects, as well as with other Algonquian languages, particularly Anishinaabemowin. When we acknowledge that these languages are related, and we approach our learning with flexible minds, we widen our opportunities for language learning. Not being afraid to access materials outside our specific dialect is incredibly important when there are so few of those materials available.
  • Many of the materials we use will be written in standardized written Cree, the Roman Syllabic Orthography (RSO), but non-standard spellings outnumber the standardized materials so being dogmatic shrinks the pool of resources we can access.
  • Learning the sounds of Cree is a vital first step, including the sounds of consonants, short vowels, long vowels, and combination sounds. Cree has less exceptions than English in terms of possible sounds and spellings. Learning these sounds and the rules about patterns of stress allows students to pronounce new Cree words properly.

We ended the class with some basic dialogue practice as well as covering some common kinship terms for use at home. Students were in high spirits, much tea was consumed, and there weren’t any heartfelt groans when homework was assigned.

In class work is supported on this website through the Courses portal. A dedicated course has been set up for students to access content from each lesson, including copies of all the materials provided in class, links to supplementary resources mentioned in class, and extra work in print, digital, audio and even video form. Lessons can come with quizzes as well, to assess understanding of concepts covered in class. “Courses” on this site are not self-contained, but are intended to be companions to the physical or online classroom.

People not enrolled in the Cree course still have access to a variety of tools through this website, such as Groups. You can register on the site and access the nêhiyawêwin group, which as it states is “an open group for people to share resources, tips, stories on learning and using nêhiyawêwin”. Attached to this group is a forum where group members can post their own topics, and guide the conversation. The first topic in this forum is a round-up of some Cree resources you might want to take a look at getting if you are interested in supplementing your Cree learning!

Other groups are possible, and I started one focused on language revitalization. That group and its forum, is not confined to Plains Cree, but rather is open to discussions about language revitalization of any languages that are in decline. It is incredibly useful to find out what other language groups are doing, and share tips and strategies of what works, and what doesn’t work so well.  If this is an area of interest for you, I urge you to join and get the conversation going!

It is my hope that we will be able to begin a new Cree session soon, and I am currently working on adapting course materials to an online format so that people not in the immediate area can still start learning their language. All in all, it’s been a fantastic start!

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