Cree stories translated into English, fairy tales into Cree

People enjoy legends, fables and fairy tales because they take us to different worlds, make us think about who we are, our values, and tell us something about the human condition.

Translated folklore from English and Cree could help bridge generation gap

1912 illustration of Goldilocks, originally from 'The Book of Knowledge.' (Creative Commons/The Book of Knowledge)

People enjoy legends, fables and fairy tales because they take us to different worlds, make us think about who we are, our values, and tell us something about the human condition.  

Many elders in Eeyou Istchee in Quebec grew up hearing old legends shared among family and friends. But the younger generation is more familiar with modern fairy tales from Europe, or Walt Disney films.  

Kevin Brousseau, a Cree Language Coordinator for the Cree Nation Government, is very aware of that generation and culture gap in storytelling. 

Author Kevin Brousseau. (Submitted)
He thought it could be useful to translate Cree legends into English and modern fairy tales into Cree. Not only to bridge the generation gap between younger and older Crees, but also to make these stories more accessible to all people, regardless of their language skills.

Growing up, Brousseau said he didn't speak much Cree. His elders, including his grandmother, often only spoke Cree. He later studied linguistics. When he started his story translation project, translating Hansel and Gretel into Cree, he read it out loud to his grandmother to gauge her reaction. 

"She was laughing about it," he said. "She thought it was really funny. She asked me where this story was from. She had actually thought it was a Cree story."

He has since translated dozens of stories, from English to Cree and back. He wrote down Cree legends shared by elder storytellers. Brousseau explored European folkore and fairy tales to translate them into Cree. 

Some elements and nuances are lost in translation, especially from English to Cree. Certain animals and objects don't have Cree words to describe them, so Brousseau said he had to get creative.

In the Three Little Pigs, "they talk about one of the pigs going to the fair, and he's carrying a butter churn. I've never heard a word for 'butter churn' in Cree. Neither for a fair. So I ended up translating that as a 'mikushaan' [feast], and the little pig is carrying a pot." 

Brousseau has translated 16 European fairy tales and fables into Cree, including Goldilocks, The Gingerbread Boy, The Lion and the Hare, and Little Red Riding Hood.

He's written down and translated five Cree legends into English. 


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