I remember being in University and my husband (boyfriend at the time) and I were talking about how we wanted to learn our Cree language. About how cool it would be if we could speak fluent in in. At the time we had felt like our language was dying. I was scared that it would be lost and that it was important for us to know it if we want our children to learn it it. Thus began our (long) journey to becoming Cree speaking people.
It’s easy to say “I want to speak *insert language*!” So easy. The hard part is actually doing it (which goes for many things in life, funnily enough). Because we weren’t near any fluent speakers while in University, we needed to get creative with how we were going to force ourselves to learn it. One word a day. That was our goal, learning one new word a day and using the new word. Easy enough. We used our resources. I would call or text my mom (a fluent Cree speaker), and we would search up words on creedictionary.com. Because we were going from English to Cree, it was difficult to get pronunciation right from just reading from the website, which is where my mom would come in and pronounce for us. This system went really well and were we’re happily saying simple things to each other like tanispe” (“when”), awîna (“who”), kîkwây (“what”). Suddenly it was midterm season, we were busy studying and our learning Cree project got put on the back burner. It was so easy to make an excuse like “life happened.”
Fast forward five years, neither of us is much better at Cree speaking. We let the whole “life happens” excuse really happen. Despite my parents being fluent, and my husband’s dad being fluent, we still barely know the basics. I’ve asked my mom, “why didn’t you teach us Cree,” as kindly as possibly. I could see the sadness in her eyes. She explained to me that she had a lot of trouble in school because English wasn’t her first language and that she didn’t want that for her children. “Oh,” was pretty much all that I could say to her, which felt really inadequate. It was a cold reminder of how we are people of two worlds.
I have been given a new opportunity to become a better Cree speaker at my new job. Maybe it’s because it’s spring and the new season is inspiring me, maybe I’m just taking advantage of all the Cree speakers in my workplace, either way I am feeling motivated to get back on the road to learning Cree.
Recently I have been given, by a few of my co-workers, a Cree word or phrase nearly daily and I write it in my notebook or onto a sticky note so I can have it in front of me. Often when I’m not prepared, they will approach me and say something to me and Cree, forcing me to practice from memory, forcing me to learn. It is daunting, terrifying, humbling, fun, and an honour. These people have become my mentors, my anchor to learning my language. For that I am so grateful.
I remember when I first started at this job I was scared to speak any Cree and ashamed of my pronunciations (and lack of Cree knowledge). Now I am bit more explorative in practicing Cree and I am challenging others when I see them (including my husband) to speak Cree with me. Sometimes I think I am too old to learn, but then I remind myself that it’s never too late to learn my language.
– claudine bull