Cree language teachings give kids in Pinehouse the gift of communication with elders

A recently implemented Cree language program is making a big difference at the Pinehouse elementary school.

The Northern Lights School Division recently implemented a Cree language pilot program in Pinehouse

A new pilot program has brought Cree language teaching to the elementary school in Pinehouse. As a result, children between kindergarten and the sixth grade are learning to communicate with their elders according to school principal Rosalena Smith. (Submitted by Charlene Halkett)

Cree language in school is making a difference for children in Pinehouse, Sask, a community about 375 kilometres north of Saskatoon.

Rosalena Smith, the principal of the Minahik Waskahigan Elementary School, said the Northern Lights School Division gave the school an opportunity to implement a Cree language program. 

"Every day, all students from kindergarten to Grade 6 are in the Cree program for 25 to 35 minutes," Smith told CBC Saskatchewan's Blue Sky.

Smith said the school's attendance rates have soared to over 90 per cent and she's noticed parents becoming more involved in their children's studies.

She said teachers also have to be involved in the program in an effort to inspire the children to speak Cree.

Smith said students were surveyed and the results showed 95 per cent of them were still speaking English at home. The next step according to Smith is to encourage parents to speak Cree at home.

Smith says she's encouraging parents to start speaking Cree with their children in an effort to grow their abilities. (Submitted by Charlene Halkett)

She said she was recently asked why it's important for the youths to be learning Cree.

"It's honouring the Truth and Reconciliation recommendations and respecting the parents in the community we're serving," Smith said. "It's teaching children to speak Cree and giving them the gift of being able to communicate with elders."

Elders taking notice

Smith said she recently received a phone call from an elder who told her they were proud of what the school was doing.

"One of our children called [the elder] on the phone and they were able to have a conversation with her in the Cree language," Smith said. "The parents are really, extremely proud."

At a recent public meeting, Smith said she showed people in Pinehouse recordings of interactions between students and teachers in Cree.

"I said, 'look how fast your children are learning, if we work together, we can do a lot more if we continue to have it in the home and in the community,'" she said.

"It's honouring the Truth and Reconciliation recommendations and respecting the parents in the community we're serving," Smith said. (Submitted by Charlene Halkett)

CBC Radio's Blue Sky is doing a monthly segment about good news happening in small communities around Saskatchewan. Have an idea for our next segment? Email us.

About the Author

Bryan Eneas

Web Writer

Bryan Eneas is a journalist from the Penticton Indian Band currently based in Regina, Saskatchewan. Before joining CBC, he worked in Prince Albert reporting in central and northern Saskatchewan. You can contact him at Bryan.Eneas@cbc.ca.

With files from CBC Saskatchewan's Blue Sky