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Some approaches to improving Cree language and culture retention

Leander Fornas, University of Massachusetts Amherst


My dissertation focuses on a major problem found in Cree language retention efforts and in Cree education across the Cree Nation of Canada: the lack of a standard Cree orthography. My arguments for standardization are broad-based due to factors of cultural, religious, sociopolitical and educational biases that vie for their regional voice on Cree language matters. Meanwhile, Cree language and culture continue to ebb with each passing generation. This sets the parameters of my study. Information has been gathered from literature review, as well as from interviews, observations and other miscellaneous field sources. To help resolve the predicament of multiple versions of written Cree as practiced today, the thrust of this study proposes a standard phonemicization of Cree in Roman that is compatible to the current needs of the five main Cree dialect populations. I view Cree language and Cree culture as almost synonymous, being that Cree culture is keeper of the Cree language. This interdependency of Cree language and Cree culture is the key to Cree identity. The native language and cultural survival efforts of circumpolar indigenous cultures are increasingly threatened by external pressures. This I illustrate by presenting parallels in the geography, material culture, livelihood, traditions, sociopolitics, education, etc. of the Crees, Samis, and northwestern Siberian aboriginal groups. All the above arctic indigenous groups have common problems in areas listed. All arctic native peoples are a shrinking minority in an expanding global population. The Crees, as other circumpolar native peoples, have no alternative but to move ever more expeditiously in their efforts at Cree language and culture preservation that adapts to changing times, if expectations are that Cree is to survive and function as a working language well into the first century of the third millennium. Perhaps, this study may help persuade the Crees toward cooperative interaction with circumpolar groups striving to save their threatened native languages and lifeways. Interaction between the Crees, Samis and the Siberian Ob-Ugrians and Samoyeds could be a step in the right direction for all concerned.

Subject Area

Cultural anthropology|Language|Bilingual education|Multicultural education

Recommended Citation

Fornas, Leander, "Some approaches to improving Cree language and culture retention" (1998). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9841869.