Cree Classroom Indiegogo Campaign

This blog really started as a Cree language blog over two years ago. Back then, all I wanted to do was celebrate and explore nêhiyawêwin. It was a way for me to keep using my language even though I had moved to Montreal and was far from my home territory.

I have spoken often of the importance of Indigenous languages, and my last blog post delved into expansive detail about the need to revitalize, not merely preserve, those languages and what their continued use offers beyond communication. I’ve also talked about the many roadblocks in the path of Indigenous language development. It is a sad fact that Indigenous people have the opportunity to learn almost any language in the world except their own.

There is a serious and immediate need for language resources, and I have been planning to create a Cree classroom pretty much since I arrived in Montreal, but life was busy, as life usually is, and it didn’t quite happen the way I hoped it would. I guess I was also hoping someone else would do the work.


In 2001, Statistics Canada said that of the 60+ Indigenous languages in Canada, only three were not severely endangered: Cree, Ojibwe and Inuktitut. Yet even these languages are in serious decline, with very few opportunities for learn them, especially in urban environments. Click on the graphic to get a larger view.


I did try to start a language nest, but I soon discovered that reclaiming your Indigenous language as an adult comes with a lot of baggage, and though children seem to soak up language like sponges, the adults who are needed to guide an immersive setting must first overcome serious impediments for there to be success.

With that in mind, I took the plunge. I sat down and designed a course that will help adult Cree learner address those impediments head on, and I put the info out there and signed people up. This first class begins in January, it’s real now!

If I am going to do this however, I am also going to think long term. There are a surprising number of us living in Montreal whose traditional language is Plains Cree, and I had more people wanting to take this course than I could accommodate. I want to offer another session once this first one gets going. I want to offer intermediate and advanced classes after that. I want to expand, and create a space for Cree and Métis expats and our Oji-Cree and Anishinaabe cousins, if they’re interested! After all, our languages are very closely related.


Language Nests include multiple generations in an immersion setting and have had astounding success among Indigenous learners.

Once we get a few confident, dedicated Cree learners on their way to serious fluency, I want to set up an immersive language nest where we can include our children in and begin integrating traditional Indigenous pedagogy.

This is how Indigenous schools begin. My dream has always been to create, on our own terms and beholden to no Canadian agency, an Indigenous school founded on Cree principles and pedagogies. I want to create and share resources, and I don’t want to have the threat of withdrawn funding forcing us to accept compromises that prevent us from taking control of our own education. We don’t need a million dollar facility (though it sure would be nice!) before we can design and implement Indigenous learning. We just need the time, the energy, and enough resources to keep us from starving to death…figuratively and literally.

With all this in mind, I have launched a campaign through Indiegogo to raise $5000 for our Cree classroom. The goal is actually to raise $6000, but if you don’t meet your funding goal, Indiegogo takes 9% of the total rather than 4% and I was a bit nervous about that.


This is the SMARTBoard I fundraised for previously, and had installed in the Ulluriaq classroom. It will eventually follow the Ulluriaq unit to a new facility in Nunavik. It is amazing resource!

There is no ready-made, comprehensive course out there. We need to pull together available print and digital resources as well as create new ones to fill in the gaps. We need a tool that can allow us to do all of this, and after experiencing amazing success with the SMARTBoard that I fundraised to put into the Ulluriaq classroom, I believe that an interactive whiteboard is the best choice, pedagogically and economically.

If we can raise $6000 we will purchase:

  • A SMARTBoard
  • A webcam and microphone attachment for the SMARTBoard
  • speakers for the SMARTBoard
  • folding tables and chairs
  • a printer

If we raise any funds beyond $6000, we will purchase more materials for the classroom with a focus on resources/materials that will be the most useful in setting up a language nest. After this, the classroom will basically have to be self-sustaining, so trying to get good quality resources that will serve us for the next 5 years and hopefully longer, is an important first step.


These are the Kanada Moccasins that someone will win at the end of the campaign! Contribute $5 or more and your name goes into the draw for these, or a pair of mukluks!

The SMARTBoard in particular accommodates all kinds of learners, visual, auditory and kinaesthetic, allowing up to four people to manipulate digital objects on the interactive whiteboard at once. With a small video camera and microphone attached to the board and the Elluminate web-CT software, we can include learners who are unable to physically be in Montreal. They will be able to see and hear the classroom and manipulate objects on the board as well as seeing what is on the board, all from their home computer. This set up will also allow us to link up with fluent Cree speakers in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba via video-conferencing for enrichment opportunities. Seriously, how amazing is technology?

Tools alone do not guarantee success, but I believe Cree learners deserve to have access to at least some of the same resources available to other language learners, and other solutions do not afford the same ability to easily integrate print, digital and collaborative resources at such a low cost.


These are the Kanada Mukluks that will be drawn for at the end of the campaign!

To sweeten the pot, anyone who contributes $5 or more to the Cree Classroom campaign will be entered into a draw at the end of the fundraiser for the chance to win a pair of mukluks or moccasins from our sponsor, Manitobah Mukluks! Two lucky people will be enjoying the warmth of shearling wool, leather and rabbit fur this winter, as well as the sturdy Vibram sole which performs amazingly in even extremely cold weather conditions. The beadwork was designed by one of Manitobah Mukluks’ Storyboot artists, Rosa Scribe and $1 from every pair goes to her mukluk teaching program. I have a pair of their mukluks and I basically live in them during the winter!

So if you can, please help us out, spread the word, and help us build something that is shockingly lacking in Canada…a place where the Cree language can be learned. I feel like we talk a lot about Indigenous resurgence, but in my opinion, this is where it really happens, with the language.

The campaign was launched yesterday, and already amazing people have contributed close to $1000!

You’ll find the campaign here:

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Categories: Cree, Cree vocabulary, Culture, Decolonisation, Fluency, Language learning, Plains Cree, Urban Aboriginal

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10 Responses to Cree Classroom Indiegogo Campaign

  1. Brian Fisher says:

    Fabulous! Another opportunity to contribute to a great cause. There is just a little technical glitch in the video on the IndieGogo site. The audio level for the music is easily twice the volume of your excellent commentary so after after adjusting the volume for the musical intro, your voice comes in way too low.

  2. What a great idea! I live 2 hrs from Montreal but I would love to be part of the virtual classroom.
    Good luck! 😉

  3. Outstanding effort and a worthy one. Once a language is lost the culture and traditions soon follow. Your to be commended for spearheading this effort.

  4. Frederick Peitzsche says:

    For 40 years Koreans were forbidden to speak,write or practice their culture under pain of death by the Japanese.Their culture ,history and language was taught by traveling teachers masquerading as peddlers.When the Japanese left the Korean culture was there and thriving because no one can take your culture from you
    university affairs
    A Home > Features > The fight to revitalize Canada’s indigenous languages
    November 8, 2010
    The fight to revitalize Canada’s indigenous languages
    “All of them are endangered,” says one academic. “There are no exceptions.”
    by Mark Cardwell
    It was shortly before seven o’clock on a Monday night last March when the participants in a unique experiment in Canadian culture filed into a classroom on the tiny Huron reserve of Wendake in the north end of Quebec City. As they entered, they greeted each other with traditional words of welcome – “koué” or “Ndio” – in their ancestral tongue, Wendat. Once settled, the 16 students (an equal number of men and women between the ages of 15 and 76) spent the next two hours trying to learn and converse in a language that has not been heard or spoken on Earth for more than a century.
    Welcome to the Yawenda project, a federally funded, million-dollar effort that aims to revive the use of the Huron-Wendat language on the Wendake reserve. Launched in August 2007, the five-year project entered a crucial stage this past spring when two once-weekly courses began with about 40 students. A third course started in April. The project also provides for teacher training and the creation of instruction materials to help teach Huron-Wendat to preschoolers and elementary school students.
    “Reviving a dead language is a daunting task,” says Louis-Jacques Dorais, an anthropologist at nearby Université Laval and the lead researcher in the project. “But there is a lot of effort and desire among the Huron to make this project succeed.”
    Similar sentiments are driving several language revitalization projects in aboriginal communities across Canada, and a small but growing number of academics from various fields are playing major roles in many of them. At stake, experts say, is the fate of the 52 distinct indigenous languages that help to make Canada one of the most linguistically diverse countries in the world.
    “All of them are endangered,” says Lorna Williams, a member of the Lil’wat First Nation and holder of the Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Knowledge and Learning at University of Victoria, where she is an assistant professor in the department of education. “No exceptions.”
    According to Dr. Williams, several major studies show the dire straits of Canada’s indigenous languages. The most recent was a survey in Native communities across British Columbia. Carried out by the First Peoples’ Heritage, Language and Culture Council, a provincial agency that provides funding for language and cultural projects (and also advised Quebec’s Yawenda project), the survey found that of the 32 indigenous languages in B.C., three have no known living speakers. It also revealed that a meagre five percent of the 100,000 aboriginal people in B.C. are fluent in an ancestral tongue, and most of them are over 65.
    Those results resemble the findings of a much bigger study carried out a decade ago by Indian and Northern Affairs Canada. Its report in 2002 said that more than a dozen aboriginal languages in Canada were either extinct or were on the verge of becoming so. That prompted the then Liberal government to promise $172 million in spending over 11 years to help save aboriginal languages.
    Part of that money was used to create a task force to delve into the issue. Among other things, it found that even so-called “viable” language groups – notably Cree, Ojibway and Inuktitut, which each have more than 20,000 speakers – “may be flourishing in some regions and be in a critical state in others.” Regardless, all of the languages, the task force concluded, “are losing ground and are endangered.”
    The funds earmarked by the federal government for aboriginal language preservation were cut in 2007. Currently, the Department of Canadian Heritage manages an Aboriginal Languages Initiative which provides about $5 million in annual funding to support community-based language projects.
    “There is an urgent need to act,” says Dr. Williams, who blames Canada’s indigenous language situation on colonization, urbanization and, above all, a hellish residential school system that forcibly uprooted thousands of Native children – her included – and robbed them of their ability to communicate in their mother tongues. “We don’t have much time left to document the knowledge of these languages [and] to hear their beauty.”
    The big question, of course, is how. Like the task force, which made two dozen recommendations on how to strengthen indigenous languages, the B.C. report puts a premium on projects that encourage their use at both the family and community levels. Notably, it recommends a quintupling in the province of preschool language immersion “nests” from the current eight to 42 within three years. These apprentice programs pair young English-speaking Native families with community elders who speak the language with a goal of raising children in bilingual environments – or nests – that will continue on through school and into adulthood.
    “Reconnecting generations is the key,” says Dr. Williams, who founded an ongoing language teaching program in her home community of Mont Currie, near the modern-day Whistler Blackcomb ski resort, in 1972. “You can’t rely on school-only programs.”
    Christine Schreyer agrees. An assistant professor of anthropology at the University of British Columbia, she has been working for several years on collaborative research projects dealing with land claims and language with two different Native communities: the Loon River Cree First Nation, in north-central Alberta, and the Taku River Tlingit First Nation in Northern B.C., close to the Yukon border.
    Both “tend to see language as a natural resource, like land,” says Dr. Schreyer, who has created a Tlingit-language board game and an eight-book series of Cree stories. She is also involved with a Tglingit dance group that she accompanied to the Winter Olympics in Vancouver in February. The dance group “teaches people the language by performing the songs of their ancestors,” says Dr. Schreyer. The performances also teach how to follow cultural protocols and the importance of traditional regalia, she says. “Community members need to be interested and see value in their language in order to use it.”
    Adding to the challenge of protecting and preserving aboriginal languages are the myriad unique realities and challenges that every Native community across Canada faces – from band status (which dictates available resources) and geographic location to educational infrastructure and social cohesion. “It’s a very complicated situation,” says Alana Johns.
    A linguistics professor at the University of Toronto who loves complex words, Dr. Johns says she hit the jackpot when she discovered Inuktitut, a language in which some words can be an entire sentence long. She has spearheaded several research projects on Inuktitut grammar and trained many Inuit to be language teachers.
    Despite being one of the healthiest indigenous languages in Canada –according to the 2006 census, 32,200 Inuit, or two-thirds of their population, declared Inuktitut as their mother tongue – numerous factors pose a long-term danger to the continued everyday use of the language in many communities, says Dr. Johns.
    These include the relentless development of resources in the North, the accompanying migration of non-Inuit people into the region and an increase in Inuit working for non-Inuit companies. “It’s already a problem in some places along the Mackenzie River valley,” she says. “I liken it to little lights going off across the North.”
    Though encouraged by the advent of the Internet, which reduces the need for high-priced travel to and around the North, and the fact that many Inuit are chatting in text messages in Inuktitut, Dr. Johns says more is needed from all levels of government in Canada – and from Canadian universities. She noted, for example, that U of T offers three-year degree programs in Russian and German, but offers only a few courses in three major indigenous languages through its aboriginal studies program.
    “We could be doing more,” she says, but adds, “It’s important that we continue building on what we have and encourage the many motivated individuals who are working hard to protect and preserve their languages.”
    It was precisely those kinds of people who approached Laval’s Dr. Dorais and asked him to support the embryonic language revitalization project that eventually became Yawenda – a Wendat word that means “giving voice.”
    “I was very skeptical about it at first,” says Dr. Dorais, who nevertheless wrote a 50-page letter of intent, which was accepted, to the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council.
    The traditional homeland of the Huron-Wendat nation is in Ontario’s southern Georgian Bay region. Weakened by war and disease, they were overrun and destroyed by their Iroquoian cousins in 1649. Many fled west, eventually ending up on reserves in the United States. Several hundred others who converted to Christianity followed their French allies back to Quebec City, which they have since called home.
    According to Dr. Dorais, the Hurons were highly sociable and integrated readily into the surrounding community. “They were in daily contact with French people and there was a lot of intermarriage,” he says. “Eventually they lost their language.” The last known speakers of the Huron-Wendat language likely died in the 1870s.
    Since the Yawenda project began, however, Dr. Dorais says he has been impressed by the desire of reserve residents to resurrect their language. That has made him a believer in the long-term chances of the project, which will have to become self-sufficient or find alternative funding when federal funds end. “The Wendat people are survivors,” he says. “I wouldn’t bet against them.”
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    Comments on this Article
    First Nations languages will continue only as long as the individuals within that language group/community value the language enough to actively teach it to others. Languages all over the world become extinct every year so if we want them to continue to be viable we have to actively support them. The elders in any First Nations community are usually the resource that needs to be tapped into because they are the individuals who remember the language of their forefathers. A language archive of First Nations languages would be one way of ensuring a language did not become extinct but who would fund it and administer it?
    Posted by Paul Strome, Jan 24, 2013 10:27 AM
    Language requires communities to understand and believe in the value of their own language, connect it to your foundational culture and family. Institutions do not understand what this means. Anyone can provide a language course and teach languages at the schools but…….how will it continue and be spoken in the community. There is still something missing….the connection. Deanna
    Posted by Deanna Daniels, Jan 23, 2012 3:29 PM
    We need absolutely to view indigenous languages as a natural resource and a critical tool to regenerate a healthy communal fabric of meaning and belonging.

    Universities also have a role to play. By teaching more indigenous languages, we can raise awareness in the general population around the specificity of indigenous culture.

    All Canadians, not just aboriginal Canadians, will be greatly impoverished if indigenous languages are allowed to perish.
    Posted by Jill Scott, Nov 11, 2010 11:31 AM
    There is a need to preserve culture in it’s truest form, while it is still possible. I am a believer in Heritage and History. We, can, make a difference, a difference, together.
    Posted by Mark Wilson, Nov 10, 2010 12:03 AM
    Mark is right ,it is up to all of us.
    Frederick Peitzsche, Innisfail –Alberta

  5. You probably already know this, but I thought I’d post just in case:

    “Crowdfunding counts as taxable income, Revenue Canada says”

    It’s more than likely fine given the non-business intent, but it might be safe to run it by an accountant so as to “beholden to no Canadian agency”.

    Thank you as always for your inspiration.

  6. deen says:

    Thank you for your insightful post on the loss of language and the importance of it.Please share this with those who have been the victims of this.Many may not be aware this is going on in the courts right now.

  7. Chelsea, I commend you on getting this going. It is important work. I am honored to be able to help with a little contribution, and I wish I could do more.

    I am glad this is happening in Montreal, and I hope someone decides to extend it to the Prairies and other areas, and perhaps to other languages.

    Warmest regards,
    Leigh Solland
    Caroline, Alberta

    • I have high hopes for this classroom! There are various initiatives going on across the country, Language Nests, community conversation classes and so on, so this is not the only game in town. But I am hoping to put together somewhat of a model for a low-cost classroom with high-fluency results, and I do want to share that information and collaborate with other groups doing this work!

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