Cree musicians collaborate for album designed to revitalize language

The NWT Cree Language Program and NWT Metis Nation have produced a 14-track album featuring songs in Cree.

Some songs written at Cree music workshops in Fort Smith and Hay River

Kyle Napier, who manages the NWT Cree Language Program, says the album is important in revitalizing the language: 'This moment right now is when we need to come together with our elders and our youth, and create these intergenerational projects'

Musicians from Fort Smith, N.W.T. were joined by both national and international artists to create an album entirely in the Cree language — just in time for National Aboriginal Day.

​The 14-track album is called: Cree Songs: Howls from Gratitude — in Cree, it's titled: Nehiyaw Nikamonak: Oyoyowin ohci Nanaskomowin.

The 14-track album was produced by the NWT Cree Language Program and NWT Metis Nation, who hope the album will help those interested in Cree to learn the langauge.

"It's groundbreaking," says musician Veronica Johnny, who is featured on the album. "Many different people across Canada and the United States are releasing songs in our indigenous languages. And it's just part of this resurgence that is going to get people of all nations closer to the Earth... closer to connecting with each other."

Local talent

Though the album includes contributions from established musicians like electronic group A Tribe Called Red, it also has a significant amount of Northern content.

As part of the album's production, the NWT Cree Language Program held two Cree music workshops in Fort Smith and Hay River. Following the workshops, A group of youth, musicians and elders brainstormed together and wrote four songs, which were recorded over three days.

The album also includes a translated lyric book.

Preserving the language

Kyle Napier is a member of the NWT Metis Nation and manages the NWT Cree Language Program.

"There is music from every genre. There's powwow-step, there's classic rock, there's folk, there's country, there's hard rock, there's hip-hop, there's traditional drumming," he says.

He calls the album an important way to preserve the language. 

"Twenty years ago, there had been 75,000 reported Cree language speakers, but these days the number is around 50,000. And I am afraid that number is on a steep decline unless we take action," he says. 

"We live at the crux of indigenous language revitalization. This moment right now. Is when we need to come together with our elders and our youth and create these intergenerational projects."

'My heart swells with pride' 

Johnny, who doesn't speak Cree fluently, says that recording the album meant a pressure to learn the language.

"Through this project, actually, I have made the most progress I ever have in learning Cree," she says.

Johnny says she's happy with the final mix, and that she "loves the sound of it."

"I find the best ways to learn a language is through music," says Johnny. "We start that in school right from the ABC's. We do it through song. I think that using several ways to remember something is the really the key.

"The tracks that I have already heard have made me so proud. Have made my heart swell with so much pride."

Three songs from the album are already available on the project's website, where the entire album will be made available for free on June 21: National Aboriginal Day.


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.