Free Cree Classes in Grande Prairie

Every Wednesday at noon at Northwestern Polytechnic you will hear for some familiar phrases; for others, it may be brand new.

“Tan’si maga kiya anoch” - hello, how are you - is the first thing taught in Cree with Kokum, served up with an infectious smile and lots of laughs at Elder in Residence Theresa Gladue’s class.

Bannock and tea are ready as the room fills with students attending the free lunch-hour class.

Gladue believes the class is becoming a hit on campus due to reconciliation efforts and because Cree speakers no longer feel ashamed to speak it.

“When we were little through residential schools, it (Cree language) was taken away from us that was the biggest thing that they took away,” she said.

“They took it away on purpose, and so now we're bringing it back with a purpose.

“I think it's very important for everybody to speak their language (and) learn their language.”

The focus at Cree with Kokum is on conversational Cree; basic greetings are taught, a song is used to learn a few phrases, and then a game of bingo breaks out. It gives the group a chance to learn a multitude of words.

“It's better to learn when you're having fun,” said Gladue.

Early in the class, she uses a wolf puppet, conversing in Cree with newly learned phrases.

After the class, students speak about what they have learned; some have been coming regularly and have picked up a new word or phrase while for others, it's their first time.

Warren Nekurak, City of Grande Prairie’s Indigenous Relations advisor, has attended the class for a few months.

“This is just a wonderful opportunity to connect with knowledge keepers and elders,” he said.

He said he has learned a lot here, noting the different dialects in Cree across Canada.

Gladue notes that there are five Cree dialects used across the country.

“There's a lot of Cree speakers throughout Canada because the Cree are nomadic; they're from the East Coast to the West Coast, and you can find Cree all throughout Canada and even some in the States,” she said.

“I didn't speak Cree for a long time because I had nobody to speak (it) with and very few elders that spoke Cree,” she explained to the class.

Gladue also teaches Cree at the Grande Prairie Friendship Centre, resulting in the language flourishing in the region.

She noted the Friendship Centre class has also attracted Cree speakers from around the region.

“They come there just to talk Cree to somebody again … because there's not many fluent Cree speakers around.”

She noted Cree speakers from Sturgeon Lake and Horse Lake first nations gather and speak their language and even play Bingo in Cree.

Gladue is available to teach Cree at the Friendship Centre every Friday at noon; everyone is welcome to the free class.

Gladue has been working at NWP for about 17 months; before that, she was in Dawson Creek teaching at Northern Lights College. She also holds a linguistics certificate from the University of Alberta.

Jesse Boily, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Town & Country News