Keeping Cree Alive

Andre Cramblit andrekar at NCIDC.ORG
Tue Jun 14 04:00:33 UTC 2005

Keeping Cree alive: A lesson in healing
Program replaces French with Native language

REGINA -- With traditional songs, hand puppets and an enthusiasm that's
infectious, Sonia Kinequon is fighting to preserve her culture through
the minds -- and mouths -- of young people.

Kinequon is a Cree language teacher at Albert elementary school in
inner-city Regina.

It's a place where, starting last fall, administrators and parents
decided to replace French class with the study of the indigenous
language as part of a pilot program.

The aim is to give the aboriginal students a better connection to their

"Without the language and without the children learning it, it is going
to evaporate," Kinequon says. "And if we don't have a setting where
children can learn their language, they are eventually going to lose

The classes focus on traditional teaching methods. There are songs and
students do actions as they chant Cree words. Kinequon uses puppets to
interact with the kids and she gets her students to make crafts.


The kids seem to be responding well to the program.

"It's cool," says Gordon Kequahtooway, a Grade 6 student. "It's our

Young people learning their native language is not something new. It's
taught on reserves and there are immersion programs in different parts
of the country. But replacing French with Cree in an urban school for
both Native and non-Native kids is not common.

History is not lost on those who support the program. In the past, when
the federal government ran residential schools for First Nations
children, students were forbidden from speaking their native language.

Calvin Racette, a First Nations and Metis programming consultant with
the Regina Board of Education, says the Albert school program is as
much about healing as it is anything else.

"It's become the means to a healing process -- creating a positive
identity through self-esteem and trying to create an equal place in
society for First Nations people."

The school has also set up a Cree program for adults as well. For two
hours, one night a week, parents learn Cree with their children.

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