Russell Murdock knew right away he wanted his son Kingston enrolled in a Cree bilingual class when it first became available in Winnipeg last fall.

"I think it's extremely crucial that the children learn their language," Murdock said. "We're losing the language."

"It's a part of who we are. I think it's vital to us, just for the fact it's an identity thing," he said.

​His five-year-old son Kingston is one of 18 students enrolled in the Cree and Ojibwa bilingual language program at Isaac Brock School, in the Winnipeg School Division.

The program's first students began kindergarten in September 2016, with a curriculum called 13 Moons on a Turtle's Back.

turtle

The curriculum guide for the Cree and Ojibwa bilingual program is called 13 Moons on a Turtle's Back. (Margaux Watt/CBC)

Teacher Colleen Omand says culture and language go hand in hand.

"When those things come together in a classroom you see wonderful things happening," Omand said.

Even though the program is just a few months old, she said the kids can say simple phrases to their parents when they go home.

And this first year of the program holds special, personal meaning for Omand. She's dedicating her work to her father, who is a residential school survivor.

"As a student, he wasn't able to speak and learn about his culture in the school," Omand said.

Omand said her father was happy when she told him she would be teaching in his honour and that it pleased him knowing there are students learning the language at a very young age.

Murdock said he was overwhelmed when the program was announced. "It gives me hope that the children will carry on part of their culture, with the language, in the future," he said.

Interested parents can learn more about Isaac Brock School's Cree and Ojibwa bilingual program at an open house at the school March 1.

There's also an Indigenous bilingual program at Riverbend Community School in the Seven Oaks School Division.