Indigenous book translates Cree laws to English
'The knowledge is disappearing with the elders and it needed to be talked about,' says author
A Cree language book is preserving the legacy of traditional Indigenous laws by translating them to English.
Because much of Indigenous language and culture was destroyed by colonialism, Nationhood Interrupted: Revitalizing Nêhiyaw Legal Systems is preserving these laws, and making them more accessible to younger generations of Indigenous people.
"I thought, these need to be written down because a lot of the language is disappearing," author Sylvia McAdam told The Morning Edition's Craig Norris on Wednesday. "The knowledge is disappearing with the elders and it [needs] to be talked about."
McAdam said the laws are written down, just not in the way that the colonial structures wrote their laws.
Traditionally, nêhiyaw wiyasowêwina (Cree laws) passed down in such forms as stories, songs, and pictographs, and hold a significance unique to Indigenous culture and tradition.
The pâstâhowin law, for example, loosely translates to the stepping over of a law and breaking it.
"Like if someone is getting beat up, and you stand by and do nothing, that's a pâstâhowin," McAdam said. "Because if that person dies as a result of that violence, what is your responsibility in it?"
McAdam emphasized the fact that Indigenous people had a way of being and doing prior to colonization. And, that "nationhood" also comes with an environmental responsibility.
"We're following our laws to live with the environment, the ecosystem, so that our footprint is not as destructive," said McAdam.
That law is called ohcinêwin and it guides and directs the Cree people on how to move with the environment.
"[That] is how come you see a lot of Indigenous people protecting and defending the environment," she said.
McAdam talked about the book at an event hosted by the University of Waterloo's Aboriginal Education Centre Wednesday.