Popular Christmas classic gets a Cree makeover from teachers at Enoch Cree Nation

·3 min read

It's not necessarily all she wants for Christmas, but connecting Cree kids with their Indigenous language would be high up on Tammy Rae Lamouche's wish list.

With help from a transplanted Los Angeles rapper and a Cree elder, Lamouche is starting to make that dream come true with Cree versions of popular music — including a just-released version of Mariah Carey's holiday hit, All I Want for Christmas Is You.

"We're trying to find new fun and creative ways to teach the language," Lamouche, a teacher at Enoch Cree Nation's Kataskinaw School, told CBC Radio's Edmonton AM on Friday.

"We've found a really cool outlet to try and encourage not only our students but … all Cree people who want to learn using popular songs. Everybody knows the words to Stand By Me or All I Want for Christmas Is You. So it just becomes a little easier to try to link what that Cree word could mean for the English."

Creating a Cree version of the holiday classic was a group effort.

The translation was done by Sylvia Weenie, an elder and Cree consultant at the school.

YouTube
YouTube

Henry Andrade, better known as hip-hop performer MC RedCloud, said he helped Lamouche "stretch those vowels" while emulating some of Carey's vocal acrobatics.

"If anybody could do it, it's Tammy Rae Lamouche because she can hit the same notes and she's so talented," said RedCloud, an art teacher at the school since moving to Enoch Cree Nation with his wife, actor Crystle Lightning.

"It's really exciting — how to shave down a song and how to shorten up a sentence for the sake of rhyme and reason. It was a wonderful mission to accomplish."

This is the second popular song on which the three have collaborated, the first being a Cree translation of the Ben E. King classic Stand By Me. When that song was performed by children at the school, it became the collaborator's first proof of the power of popular music to teach language.

"We actually did that song with the Grade Fours and they did an incredible job," Lamouche said. "Within a couple weeks they were able to perform it for the elders and they were able to sing it fluently. Some needed lyrics but the lyrics were printed in Cree. So it was just pretty amazing."

Lamouche grew up in a Cree-speaking family but said the songs are improving her fluency.

RedCloud, who has Mexican roots, said the addition of a young son to his family has ignited his desire to learn the language, with song helping him get there.

"When you really put it in song format, you get to memorize Cree," he said. "The kids would learn entire sentences just because it's part of the lyrics in Cree.

"Their Cree went just through the roof. My Cree was going through the roof. And it was so amazing, the way we were using music to keep the language and the culture alive."