Pinehouse teacher shares his passion for Cree with students, parents

On Blair Iron's first day of kindergarten in Pinehouse, Sask., the classroom was full of children speaking Cree.

"I grew up here in Pinehouse and lived with my grandmother for most of my childhood, so Cree was spoken in the house I grew up in," said Iron. "In our community, all homes were Cree-speaking families until about my generation."

When Iron, now in his 40s, returned home to Pinehouse after completing his Bachelor's of Education, the classroom had changed: by and large, his students no longer speak fluently in Cree. Within the space of a generation, many local families had lost the language.

Iron decided he would do his part to reverse that trend.

"I've had a passion for my Cree language for a long time," he said. "In our community, language learning has had its ups and downs. And I want to revitalize our culture once again, for it to be used in so many ways with our traditions, with our teaching and with our learning."

His sixth-grade students are eager to learn about their culture, even if it does take a lot of hard work, he said.

"They do have the urge to learn our language, but for them, speaking it is quite difficult. There is a lot to remember.

"But I continue teaching my students about traditions, culture and language in the classroom. I implement that in all my lessons, and we also practise some of our traditions such as making dry meat and bannock."

This month, Iron is starting a new Cree language class and inviting parents and guardians to come and learn alongside their children.

"I want to mix it in, so that both age groups can get that experience," he said.

If parents start learning the language, they can also keep practising it with their children at home, and the whole family will become more fluent.

Iron also hopes the lessons will serve to bridge a generational divide in the community, where many Elders are only fluent in Cree, and many young people don't know the language.

Motivated by his love of language and culture, he will continue to teach Cree in Pinehouse as long as there are people who want to learn, he said.

"My dream is to have our children speaking fluently, in our community, with one another again. And I'm willing to work as hard as I can and go as far as I can to make that happen."

Julia Peterson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The StarPhoenix