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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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: http://igg.me/at/CreeClassroom/x/1145231