CBC North Cree unit wins prestigious Gracie award

The Gracie awards have been presented annually for 47 years by the Alliance for Women in Media Foundation. They recognize exceptional programming created by, for and about women in radio, television, cable and interactive media. 

All-woman, Cree-language radio team wins award recognizing female broadcasters

Marjorie Kitty, left, Dorothy Stewart, centre, and Betsy Longchap are the women broadcasters that make up the CBC North Cree Radio team. They have won a Gracie Award from the Alliance for Women in Media Foundation. (Jaime Little/CBC)

The women of CBC North's Montreal-based Cree-language radio team have won a Gracie, a prestigious award presented by the Alliance for Women in Media Foundation. The Gracies recognize exceptional programming created by, for and about women in radio, television, cable and interactive media. 

Betsy Longchap, Dorothy Stewart and Marjorie Kitty won in the local radio category for their many years of work on Winschgaoug and Eyou Dipajimoon, East Cree-language radio shows broadcast daily Monday to Friday. 

Previous Gracie winners, in other categories, include Oprah Winfrey, Michelle Obama and Catherine O'Hara, to name a few.

The following story presents the three broadcasters in their own words.

Betsy Longchap 

I used to listen to Cree-language radio broadcasts while growing up in Mistissini, a Cree community in northern Quebec, located about 800 kilometres north of Montreal. It was very nice to hear Cree on the radio.

I started working with the CBC North Cree radio unit about 20 years ago.

It is a huge honour to be recognized with a Gracie for our all-woman team. I think it is important for women to be recognized in the work we do, which can sometimes be difficult in broadcasting. 

My grandparents taught me so much about Cree culture, Cree traditions, and the most important, the Cree language. I remember spending a lot of time out on the land with my grandparents hunting and fishing. I feel so fortunate knowing that they taught me many skills and the values of the Cree culture. 

Betsy Longchap has worked for more than 20 years with CBC North's Cree radio team. (Jaime Little/CBC)

I think it is important to tell our people's stories in Cree, because there is a wealth of knowledge and history in their stories. When I think about the times I did radio interviews in Cree with many different people from Eeyou/Eenou Istchee, which is the traditional name for our territory, I feel blessed to have that opportunity over the years. 

To be heard in the Cree language and in the homes of Eeyou/Eenou Istchee is a great way to maintain and strengthen the language. I am very humble and proud to be able to use my language today and to still be improving my Cree language.

On top of their regular radio shows, the women of the CBC North Cree unit are also involved in bringing special events to their audience. In February of 2022, they made history, along with other Indigenous-language broadcasters, covering the opening and closing ceremonies of the Beijing Winter Olympics in East Cree, as well as some Canadian men and women's hockey games. In 2019, they also launched a Cree-language podcast, called Wiih'teh

Dorothy Stewart

I feel very honoured to be recognized and receive this award by the Alliance for Women in Media. The work women do isn't always recognized and this award means a lot to me because we do our work using our Cree language. 

I am a residential school survivor. I remember when I first went to residential school, I had to take a plane alone from Paint Hills (present day Wemindji) to Moose Factory, Ont., having missed the flight that took most of the students already. 

Dorothy Stewart, left, and Betsy Longchap, right, were part of the CBC's Olympic coverage in February of 2022. They broadcast the opening and closing ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics, as well as some Canadian men and women's hockey games. (CBC Sports)

Although exciting, it was scary because I was alone on my travel there. I was the only person as a passenger. I was six years old and going to a place I knew nothing about.

When I arrived at the school, I was taken to the showers to get cleaned up, even though before leaving my community, my mother bathed me and put me in brand new clothes — a green dress, new stockings and shoes. 

The shower at the school was very hot and they vigorously scrubbed my long hair. The smell of chlorine is a memory that still resonates with me today. While showering, the school staff took all of my new clothes and did not return them to me until the end of the school year. Unfortunately, they were too small by then and they no longer fit me.

This has been my lifelong journey to protect and promote the Cree language.- Dorothy Stewart, Winschgaoug host 

While at residential school I was often caught talking, but I was merely translating for my peers who did not understand English. I was punished for using my Cree language.

This has been my lifelong journey to protect and promote the Cree language, because although I was often punished for using my language at residential school, they could not beat it out of me.

Marjorie Kitty

Marjorie Kitty is the host of Eyou Dipajimoon for CBC North's Cree unit. (Jaime Little/ CBC )

I would like to recognize our Cree women of Eeyou Istchee. These past decades our women have brought change to the society.

Today we have our own first Cree doctor, Darlene Kitty, and our first woman Grand Chief, Mandy Gull-Masty. 

I came to Montreal for a year about five years ago, to be with my brother Stanley Kitty who was getting medical treatment in the city. He died before a year passed, but I stayed in Montreal because I applied for a job at CBC North and got hired.

I want to also acknowledge my cousin, Gloria Kitty, who worked for CBC North in the 1970's. I remember me and my friends would play with a tape recorder and pretend to be hosts and record in the Cree language. We would grab anything from school that we could announce. We did our own little stories too.

Little did I know I would one day be a host and working for CBC North Cree radio. Using the Cree language on the air is very unique and strong. It's very important because it symbolises who we are.

Before my work at CBC North, I was a Cree language teacher. I always took my classes out on field trips showing them the traditional teachings out on the land, because that's where our language is. 

The 47th Gracie Awards will take place in-person this year, after going virtual for two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The ceremony takes place at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Los Angeles on May 24.