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To create language learning experience opportunities (online and in-person) throughout the year using a variety of language methods for everyone and anyone wanting to learn the Cree Language -nēhiyawewin.
Because the nēhiyawēwin language contains the accrued knowledge of our ancestors, it is important that we examine the rooted ideas in our vocabulary to develop an understanding of ourselves. Ermine (1995) explained that “mamāhtāwisowin” helps the individual “to be and do anything creative” (p. 104). This creativity is for the benefit of the individual, a faith in oneself and in all of creation, also the understanding that the history of ourselves is also locked within the language. Furthermore, “Our languages reveal a very high level of rationality that can only come from an earlier insight into power. Our languages suggest inwardness, where real power lies” (p. 108). This belief is the center of all of our ceremonies pertaining to quietness, solitude, and prayer, all that brings a certain calmness and knowing in a person. It is also important to state that learning about languages from an Indigenous paradigm is not secondary or inferior to Western ways of thinking.
The Plains Cree were my ancestors; I am a part of them as they were a part of this land: “Land is often more taken as more iconic of identity than language and many communities are in fact named after places found within their territory” (Schreyer, 2016, p. 4). The meaning of the word nēhiyawak is a pluralisation of the term nēhiyaw. This is a Plains Cree reference to the identity of a Cree person from the prairie region. In the book of Ahtahkakoop, written by Christensen (2000) and the community of Sandy Lake, Saskatchewan, the authors translated the meaning to “nēhiyawak ōma kiyanaw. We are the nēhiyaw. The nēhiyawak. Exact body. Exact body of people. . . . Many people today know us as prairie Cree. We are part of the great plains Cree nation” (p. 3). The Plains Cree made their home annually where Saskatoon is now, stretching into the far wooded north, east, and west. This is where they lived, loved, and learned since the beginning. “Saskatoon,” the term itself, is a Cree word used similarly to many other places and provinces in Canada. For example, Saskatoon in Cree is spelled sāskwatōn, which refers to the Saskatoon berry (Wolvengrey, 2001, p. 518) that grows here. My relative Joseph Naytowhow once shared with me the phrase sāskwatōn minatohk askiy, which translates to the land of this type of berry that grows here. Like the Saskatoon berry, the Cree were “the exact body of people,” which is one translation of the Cree people who grew here. Our ties are deep and longstanding.
I explore the relationship between language reclamation and Cree identity, as well as the role of land in connection to that relationship. I use the term “identity” to refer to being a nēhiyaw. I also recognize the connections between a strong sense of Cree identity and Indigenous wellness. The journey upon which I have embarked has been lifelong; the reclamation of my language has been one of well-being in reaffirming identity and Nationhood. Speaking my ancestral language has led to connectedness, inner strength, wholeness, and pride.