If you're a Cree speaker, or you live with one, you may already have known all of this. But for those of us who are rekindling our connection to our ancestral tongue or learning more about indigenous languages, these items may be new to you!
1) Largest Indigenous Language in Canada
Cree has the largest speaker population of all the First Nations languages of Canada with over 75,000 speakers.
2) There is not just one Cree language.
There are five official dialects of Cree:
- R-dialect - are from south-west Quebec. They call their language Atikamekw.
- L-dialect or Moose Cree - from the western shores of James Bay, especially in Moose Factory, Ontario. They call their language Ililîmowin.
- TH- dialect or the Woods Cree are from northern Manitoba and north-east Saskatchewan. They call their language nîhithawîwin
- Y-dialect are the Plains Cree from the Great Plains of Saskatchewan and Alberta. They call their language nêhiyawêwin
- N-dialect are the Swampy Cree. They call their language nêhinawêwin.
The First Salmon Run features Swampy Cree, although there are many similarities across the dialects. For instance, the word for eagle (kihew) is the same in Swampy Cree and Plains Cree.
3) Cree doesn't assign gender to nouns.
Where French assigns gender to things like lemon is masculine, (le citron) or raspberry is feminine (la framboise), Cree does not do this. Instead, Cree categorizes things by whether they are animate (living) or inanimate (not living).
4) Cree is more gender fluid than English.
Whereas in English the categories of male and female are strict, it is not this way in Cree. There is no word for he/him or she/her in Cree. Many native speakers will misgender people or pets because they simply do not have this in the language. This makes the language very friendly for two-spirit (the indigenous word for transgender) peoples.
5) Cree holds traditional environmental knowledge within the words
The Cree language contains environmental knowledge about the world and how it was and how it has changed. There is an ancient Cree language that was the formation for the modern Cree languages that we know today.
Hope you learned something about this beautiful language!
Our beautiful new children's book, The First Salmon Run: The Bear Cubs' Adventure celebrates the Cree language (n-dialect, Swampy Cree). It brings honour and love to the language and helps young minds learn Cree words.
Learn to say 'Hello, eagle' in Cree, 'Tansi, kihew' and learn what lessons eagle teaches in the culture.
The book is created by two Metis women, Rhonda Girard (author) and Erin Stagg (illustrator).