Cree language camp at Wanuskewin Heritage Park teaches culture too

A Cree language camp is taking place at Wanuskewin Heritage Park.

Program in its 10th year

Participants in a Cree language camp at Wanuskewin Heritage Park. (CBC)

About 15 adults stand in a circle, hands joined, studiously repeating Cree words and phrases.

They're inside the building at Wanuskewin Heritage Park, in the circular glassed-in meeting area overlooking the forested grounds of the museum.

This is where a Cree language camp is taking place.

All this week, participants have been learning not only the words and grammatical structure of the Cree language, but also the world view of the people who speak this Indigenous language.

"I wanted to capture that essence of what does it mean to speak from a Cree world view, a nehiyaw world view," camp co-founder Belinda Daniels said. "Like, what does that mean because I was still outside the glass house."

Cree is Daniels' second language. Once she began to learn it, it inspired her to help others learn it, too. So 10 years ago, she helped launch it and became its director.

A few years ago, she switched from holding it in her home community of Sturgeon Lake, to the Saskatoon area.

Cree connections

Some of the participants, like Nahanni Olson, have roots in the Cree community, but have lost touch with the language.

Although she lives in Saskatoon, her family is from Onion Lake Cree Nation.

"I've been trying to learn how to speak Cree for about four years, and my mother is a fluent speaker, but she was never able to teach us," Olson said. "So now as an adult, I just found that it's been a piece of my life that's been missing."

Now that she has children of her own, she wants to be able to pass on her ancestral language to them.

Other participants do not have family roots in the Cree community, but they have other connections.

Randy Gudmundson is a licensing officer with the Indigenous gaming regulators.

"Because I am actually out in the communities with the First Nations people I wanted to learn not only a little bit of the language but also more of the culture," Gudmundson said.

He will certainly get that at this Cree language camp.

Plenty of traditional activities are woven into the program, like cooking over a fire, fishing and picking sweetgrass.

For Daniels, this is about more than simply keeping the Cree language alive.

"If we as Indigenous people ever want to move ahead and be a sovereign nation, we have to know our mother tongue," she said.

In other words, she added, revitalizing the language is essential to rebuilding the Cree nation.