A Cree word a day puts reconciliation in play

North Battleford, Sask., couple Liz and Les Hurlburt self-published a calendar to teach people a Cree word every day.

North Battleford, Sask., couple publishes calendar of Cree words

Les and Liz Hurlburt of North Battleford have self-published a calendar that teaches people a Cree word each day. (CBC News)

Liz and Les Hurlburt have spent 47 years of their marriage learning and promoting the Cree language and culture together.

Now the North Battleford, Sask., couple is putting words to the story of reconciliation, with a perpetual calendar and a Cree word of the day.

"It would be one way of keeping our language going, and our culture at the same time," Liz explained to CBC Radio's The Morning Edition, about how the couple first decided to make the calendar, which is also known as tipahipîsimwân in Cree.
The Hurlburts' calendar teaches common phrases like hello and thank you, as well as gives pronunciations. (CBC News)

After collecting enough words and phonetic pronunciations two years ago, they self-published the desk calendar of Cree words.  

The Hurlburts haven't circulated many copies beyond their friends and family, but those close to them suggest that they should be doing more to promote the calendar, and to teach other people the Cree language.

"It wasn't really my plan the first time we first started off," Liz said.

But based on the enthusiasm the couple has received for the project, she said that might yet change.

"With all this recognition of all the different cultures in our country ... we should promote it more."

'I always had an interest in Cree'

Liz's parents attended the Beauval Indian Residential School, as did Liz, before she went on to be a teacher there. It was during her teaching career that she met and married fellow teacher Les Hurlburt.

The Hurlburts first met at Beauval Indian Residential School. (CBC News)

While Les was non-Indigenous, he was interested in learning from his wife's family.

"When I met Liz, I tried to learn Cree from Liz's parents, especially her mother," he said. "I always had an interest in Cree, and I got to be fairly good at it."

The basis of understanding is growing, and it's positive and it's moving ahead.- Les Hurlburt

The calendar began like any other ordinary calendar, with Liz filling in family names and birthdays. As the years passed and the family names grew, she was writing up to 30 calendars to keep track of all of the personal information.

"My husband was saying, 'You can't do this any more,'" she recalled of the time-intensive process.

Together, the couple decided to move to doing a perpetual calendar, with each day teaching date-conscious people a new Cree word. At the same time, the calendar was a way to build awareness of the language.

"Being away from home, it just seemed like, 'If you don't use it, you lose it,'" said Liz. "It's kind of one way we figured we would try and get more awareness, and get our nieces and nephews interested in it that way, too."

Reconciliation moving forward

The couple says they feel that understanding of Indigenous history and culture, as part of reconciliation, is growing.

"The basis of understanding is growing, and it's positive and it's moving ahead," said Les.

"I think we're at the beginning because there's still a lot of information that should be given out there," added Liz. "There should be a lot more sharing. It can be both ways — we share."

With files from CBC Radio's The Morning Edition