Idle No More: some ideas for Cree language revitalisation (resource focus)

Though it hasn’t been much apparent in the past year, this blog started as a Cree language blog, and I’m going to take us back into that today to discuss Cree language revitalisation.

First, if you haven’t checked it out yet, I have compiled many resources to help people access Cree language materials.  There are what I call “Language and Culture Links” specific to Plains Cree. There are curricular resources for Plains Cree as well. I started a page listing links to other Cree dialect resources, and I didn’t forget Michif!  I put up links to resources in other indigenous languages, and listed some publishers who focus on indigenous literature. There is quite a bit out there, and I haven’t updated these resources in a while so there is likely even more now!

Part of a start-up project I worked on with UK based illustrator Brett Dorrans.

Part of a start-up project I worked on with UK based illustrator Brett Dorrans.

However, when it comes to teaching my own children Cree, there are still not enough resources for me to access.  I have had some ideas for a long time about what I’d like to see, and I’ve even at times tried (and failed) to get some sort of funding to get these projects going. This is no time to hang onto things, however. This is a time to share ideas and collaborate and get things happening NOW.  With this in mind, I wanted to share some of my ideas and dreams in the hopes that there will be people out there with the kinds of skills I’m lacking to help these projects become real, ASAP. My eldest daughter is already 10, and I wanted her to be fluent by now. Time is ticking away, and if I’m going to help my children become Cree speakers, I’ve got to do absolutely all I can right now.  I am sure that many of you out there feel the same pressure.

You have to hear the language to learn it

Many of us live far from our home territories, in cities, or even provinces away from where we can actually hear our languages spoken. It is not enough to have a few books written in Cree, unless you yourself are fluent in the language and can model the pronunciation. Having resources which include audio are absolutely vital, in my opinion.

I had a lot of different ideas about how to do this. Most of these ideas have become obsolete and so now I turn my thoughts to the app craze.  Although there are issues with access to the technology needed to run apps, whether you’re doing it on a computer, an iPad or an android device, it is nonetheless a heck of a lot cheaper to develop an app than it is to full on publish other kinds of materials. After the base technology cost, these materials are also much cheaper for the purchaser.

I want to create a series of leveled reader books with embedded audio that would be available in app format, and also easily translatable to other indigenous languages. I also want print materials available at low cost to teachers and parents, in case they don’t have access to the apps, or if they wish to foster literacy via high interest print books at low cost.  Personally, I have a strong fondness for print books and even if I had the awesomest apps in the world, I’d want the books too.

I came up with a visual way to represent Cree syllabics in a way more easily accessible to my children.

I came up with a visual way to represent Cree syllabics in a way more easily accessible to my children.

Thus the idea is to have resources available in print form, and in downloadable app form. To get a sense of how this would work, take a gander at the Reading A-Z site. This site offers high interest leveled readers for a moderate yearly fee. The books are short, have great graphics, and are appropriately leveled depending on the reader’s abilities. Multilevel books also allow you to use these materials with readers who are at different levels from one another. For classrooms, the books are made available in projector format. What I like best about these books, is that each of them comes with various activities linked to the reading, including comprehension quizzes. As a teacher, these comprehension quizzes are an awesome way of tracking progress in specific areas, and identifying skills that students are stronger or weaker in.

Essentially what you do, is print the books off and then staple them into a booklet. Many people use coloured duct tape to code the books according to level and keep the staples from catching on little hands. In this way, a tonne of great resources are made available at an affordable price, and easily reusable in your classroom or home later.

An associated site, Raz Kids, has most of these books online with audio, so that is possible as well. Of course, Raz Kids provides these as apps too.

These kinds of materials could be put together fairly quickly and easily, and I’d like to start doing exactly that. What I am lacking, however, are artists and photographers. I’m putting the call out now, with this post, because I think this is something we can’t keep dreaming about. It needs to start happening, well…yesterday.

Language needs to be used in all areas

When putting together materials for my own classroom, with zero budget for text books, I stumbled upon an absolutely fantastic mathematics program available free of cost.  It is called the Mathematics Enhancement Programme and was put together by the Centre for Innovation in Mathematics Teaching(CIMT) in the UK.

I mainly use the materials available for years 10 and 11, though sometimes I go higher and sometimes I go lower, depending on my student’s grade level.  So in year 10, there are 19 chapters or units, with an optional unit on statistics. Since both pupil text books, exercise books AND teacher resources (lesson plans, teaching notes, overheads and so on) are provided, it is easy enough to see whether a particular unit matches your local curriculum.

The program itself is excellent. It is clear, well laid out, and has been a smashing success in my classroom. I am able to teach at up to five different grade levels at the same time by grouping units thematically, and providing appropriate materials according to skill level. I can do both remediation and extension when needed.

Now, I bring all this up because I noticed they had translated some of the primary materials into Spanish for use in Chile, as well as translating them into two South African languages, Sesotho and Setswana. “Hey, why not have these materials in Cree?” I asked myself, and then contacted the CIMT and asked if this would be possible.

Short version is that yes, it would be absolutely possible to work on translating these materials, on the condition that they remain free of charge. Music to my ears!

I think that sometimes, when we develop materials in indigenous languages, we often give our linguists and speakers the herculean task of creating the language materials themselves, and also great resources in other subjects, in that language. So we have experts in language, being asked to create materials for math, social studies, and so on.

Now this math program may need some tweaking in places to ensure it reflects indigenous worldviews, but on the whole, it is a very well put together program, for free, that can be translated RIGHT NOW into our language and used with our kids in the classroom or at home.

This is a project I wish to begin ASAP as well, and I would love to collaborate with others on it so that the work goes more quickly. The nice thing here is that we would not have to worry about the technical aspects of inputting the translated text and so forth, so on the whole, this is the easier project than the one that requires us to create leveled readers.

Wow! Sounds cool! Can’t wait until you get it done!

My kids love it, but it's amateurish.

My kids love it, but it’s amateurish.

I would love to devote all of my waking hours to these projects, but I just can’t do it alone. If I could, it would all be done by now. I tried writing a kid’s book years ago, but I am not a graphic artist and so the results are cute, but not great. Plus, I did this before I decided I was going to stick with the standardised RSO, and I’m unhappy with the capital letters and apostrophes and so on.

Point being, if this is ever going to happen, I’m going to need help from people who can add their talents and skills into the pot so we can bust out the best and tastiest Cree language revitalisation stew EVAH!

We need, at a minimum:

  • graphic artists
  • photographers
  • linguists
  • fluent speakers
  • language learners
  • app designers
  • website developers

My hope is that by spreading some of the work around, we can avoid burning out once we get the traditional ‘count to 10’ and ‘name the body parts’ materials done.  I really want to take this further than is often the case when people try to create materials.  I also want to make these materials as accessible and low cost as possible. To me, this is not about making money, this is about resurgence.

So please, share your thoughts, assess your own talents, think about your needs and wants, and ask yourself and others if these kinds of things are something they want to get involved in.

Many thanks.



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Categories: Cree, Cree vocabulary, Decolonisation, First Nations, Fluency

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23 Responses to Idle No More: some ideas for Cree language revitalisation (resource focus)

  1. Arden Ogg says:

    Beautiful, Chelsea. Your initiative and energy are so inspiring. I’m excited to be meeting with a group of Cree speakers (and maybe some others too) to talk about books in Edmonton on Saturday February 16th to see what we can do collectively. I’ll also be attending the Blue Quills language conference on the 14th and 15th at Saddle Lake. I created my “Cree Literacy Network” blog to be used as a platform for projects just like this, and would love to figure out how I can contribute more. As a môniyâw, I can only be a supporter, but I want to do all I can.

  2. Aili says:

    This is a fabulous concept, to give more life to Cree and develop the language will help ensure the connection to traditional knowledge and wisdom. Great work!

  3. Michelle S says:

    I would love to participate in this as a language learner as myself and my three young children. My mother’s family from Lac Ste Anne spoke Cree – but the language was lost. We would love to bring it back within our family….Please Please Please we are in!!!

  4. Pingback: Idle No More: some ideas for Cree language revitalisation | Cree Literacy Network

  5. Sharon Jackson says:

    I am a website designer. I am not Cree and do not speak it and I live on Vancouver Island. If you find someone a) Cree and b) closer to you, use that person. I can be a backup.

    Somewhat off topic, but about language: Listening to the CBC and heard about Coast Salish being used by young people both spoken and in texts- they are coming up with their own versions of LOL and wazzup etc. but in their own language.

    Yesterday morning I heard about “Chinook Jargon” which was developed between the First nations and the Chinese, which was a mixture of Chinese, local language, English and French. If you worked in a cannery, you had to be able to speak it. Apparently the phrase “two bits” meaning a quarter and “High Mukky-muck” meaning the big boss, are both derived from Chinook jargon. Who knew??

  6. Kim says:

    Have you seen the “nehiyawasinahikanisa” project website? by Dorothy Thunder’s students at UofA. The First Peoples’ Language and Cultural Foundation in BC have a link to a great short video about Janice Billy’s math class in Shuswap language,, (Part of a series of short videos by Indigenous filmmakers, “Our First Voices”) Also related is FPLCF’s “One Green Tree” series of readers about “counting with colours,”

  7. Caylie says:

    Tân’si Chelsea,

    We’ve hit on precisely the same idea. I started working on writing and illustrating leveled Cree books in mid-2009, but didn’t get around to creating a website to host them until last month. A lot of what you’ve mentioned has already been initiated with the Little Cree Books project, although it’s still in its fledgling stage. Like you indicated, these are available for free.

    I just have two books up so far (one for K and one for G1), and they’re built upon Alberta Ed’s curricular guidelines for teaching nehiyawewin. So far, I’ve got one author, one artist, and one ebook publisher engaged as volunteers (in addition to myself, and a few amazing Edmontoniae who help edit my translations). I’m seeking more volunteers, in much the same way you are. Shall we pool our efforts so we don’t have to reinvent the wheel? The plan with the ebooks is to develop the current books (in PDF format) into fixed-layout ebooks with read-aloud functionality (audio). I’m hoping to get the recordings for Plains Cree done by early March, and go from there. I also have translators lined up to translate the current books into James Bay Cree and anishinaabemowin.

    I’d love it if we could talk more over email. If you’re interested, please email me at

    Take care,


  8. Bill LaCasse says:

    I am desperate for such materials and access. I am Metis’ living in the U.S. and can’t find a program where I can really learn and put together a conversation. I am interested in Michif, but moreso in learning Cree. There is no one anywhere near me who can speak the language. However, I do not want to hold me back. Exposure to the culture of my ancestors is very lacking largely because I cannot speak the language. If you make it available, I will purchase it. Many thanks for your passion.


  9. Bob Thomson says:

    Not a comment on Cree language specifically, but sharing a fantastic insight I got from an Ardoch Algonquin friend a couple of years ago. Most of the words in English are nouns. Most of the words in Anishinabe languages (Ojibwe, Algonquin, Cree?) are verbs. Therefore English speakers tend to have a view of the world based on THINGS while Anishinabe speakers tend to have a view of the world based on ACTION/PROCESS. I’ve since run across other references to language as a limiting or influencing factor in our understanding of the world. For example: Does Your Language Shape How You Think?

    Bob Thomson, Ottawa

  10. Chad Hazzard says:

    I would be very interested in helping as a language learner. (Adult, 42)

  11. Daniel Nikpayuk says:

    Hi Chelsea,

    It is a great idea. I agree with the various comments above that we should all pool our resources, skills, networks, etc.

    Are there any updates as to the plans and/or progress of this project? I would like to humbly offer some suggestions:

    It would be good build a clear-cut “roadmap” that carves out specific targets; specific goals; specific roles people can volunteer for; specific schedule timelines. If we could start with this, and put it up online using some visual design tools/techniques to display it all, it would attract more interest and more volunteers. People are more willing to volunteer I find when they can see in a finalized form what is expected of them; what expected amount of time they will have to commit? when finished, what part did they play in it all? etc..

    Furthermore, we could design such a site to allow for frequent updates: If people who did volunteer had their names put up for the whole world to see it would add a level of motivation for them to commit. So long as their particular role was not too demanding I think a lot people wouldn’t have a problem with that. If they have a good experience with contributing to one small role, they might be happy to put in the time to complete another. Also, when certain modules or portions of the project are completed the site could be updated to visually reflect the new information.

    Basically people like feedback.

    In anycase, I am grateful for your continued leadership. You are a wonderful role model for the world. Please keep on.

    As for myself, if you do not yet have an app developer, I would humbly offer to play this role.

    Thank you,


  12. Daniel Nikpayuk says:


    (apologies for two in a row)

    As I’ve archived (as far as copyright would let me) the what-once-was Aboriginal Portal:

    I have quickly run a search in the relatively small “other links” section:

    and by searching for any links with the word “Cree” I have filtered out this—partial—list of possible resources:

    I recommend looking through the links. I recognize not everyone considers themselves tech-savvy but all it takes is your web-browser. I use Firefox, and in the Edit Menu there is a “Find” tool which makes it easy to look through the webpage. Every browser has something similar.

    Thank you.

  13. nmr says:

    I am not Cree, pretty sure I am not Native American in the least (husband gifted me with getting our DNA sequenced, still waiting for results).

    My husband wanted our kids to learn German, and after trying out everything available in our area, nothing worked. Then we bought Rosetta Stone and it is a pretty darned good language program. The kids have to do twenty minutes every day, and they are learning a lot.

    Would it be possible to contact the Rosetta Stone people and ask them to help you with Cree language instruction? While nothing can truly replace hearing the language by native speakers and/or being in an environment where only that language is spoken, the computer program at least gives them the discipline of hearing/speaking/writing that can be done on a daily basis.

    Would it be possible to set up a ‘language camp’ for your children? One week in summer where a bunch of families get together and only speak Cree?

    Best of luck to you.

  14. I would love to participate as a language learner, and I could be a photographer. I travel a ton across the provinces (AB, SK, MB) If that is any help. 😀


  15. Faith says:

    I just came across a website, Math Catcher, that incorporates story and Aboriginal culture with math. It also contains English, Cree and Blackfoot translations. I didn’t know if you’ve already seen it. This looks really cool. It has the video (audio) and it appears that you can also get print books and ideas for related activities. Thanks again for sharing your vision and passion!
    Here’s the link:

  16. The drum syllable illlustration is such a cool idea and really beautifully done.

    I can draw, paint, use Photoshop, and I have a nice-ish camera. I’m not Native or particularly knowledgable on this topic, but I would love to help. Hit me up!

  17. Jamaal Wong says:

    I was a little slow to remember I had my camera February 16, and I missed getting a shot of the whole group over brunch at Edmonton’s Continental Inn to talk about developing and sharing Cree language resources through the Cree Literacy Network. Absent from the photo, but very much present in person (earlier) were: Mary Cardinal Collins, Ray Cardinal, Les Skinner, Caylie Gnyra, Angela Coppola, Dawn Marie Marchand and Naomi McIlwraith. I am humbled at the passion and commitment that each of these individuals brings to their work with Cree, and deeply grateful for their willingness to accept me as a partner in their hopes.

  18. Came accross this post looking for Cree language resources for children. Are you still looking for volunteers and support?

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