Cree Tales of Curing and Cursing told by Alice Ahenakew

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Chelsea Vowel, whose blog I follow at http://apihtawikosisan.com, commented on Facebook about some recent reading she’s been doing in Cree, and kindly allowed me to include her comments here.
The book she’s reading is Freda Ahenakew and H.C. Wolfart’s collection of stories of Alice Ahenakew. It can be purchased online through Amazon or your local independent bookseller, or ordered through the publisher, University of Manitoba Press: http://uofmpress.ca/books/detail/they-knew-both-sides-of-medicine
[Chelsea:] I like to read or tell my children stories each night before bed. I’ve mostly kept that up throughout their childhood. There have been gaps, but I think it’s a good way to wind down and focus on one another in a particular way. I have been retelling and rereading certain stories, and then I realised, hey, these kids would also be interested in stories like those told by Alice Ahenakew and others! And indeed…they are fascinated! I always read a bit to them in Cree first then the English, I want them to hear the way Cree sounds, even if they still can’t understand it all yet. The stories are short enough, but give great opportunities to discuss things.
Like the first story in this book talks about the Spanish flu and a wihtikow, but also how people lived back then. My girls had all sorts of questions about these things.
These are not your typical ‘for consumption’ stories but that doesn’t mean kids won’t be interested. If you, like me, are in an urban setting and are mainly responsible for raising your children in their culture, these are good resources. Us we’re lucky the late Freda Ahenakew collected so many stories. We owe her such a debt. I have two full collections in Cree and English and I’ll get more as I can. I know the Anishinaabe have a similar treasure in the collections of Basil Johnston, and I use those too. So many words are the same, and though the stories come from a different people, we have much in common. They are certainly better than yet another iteration of Cinderella.
[Arden]: Sometimes when you read the English you may find it difficult — but I hope you will also appreciate how hard Freda worked (along with Chris Wolfart) to make the English truly reflect what Alice was saying in her Cree. I’m very pleased to be sharing your kind words about Freda this evening with one of her daughters, whom I’m visiting at the moment in Saskatoon. We are all grateful for Freda’s legacy and her example.
[Chelsea:] I like the English translations to be honest. It flows like how people actually speak, and even in the English you get a sense of the Cree syntax. This is the spoken word, written down and that remains clear. When I read this to my girls, I ‘take on’ the voice of Alice Ahenakew in a way not possible with the strictly written word. For some time I was bemoaning the lack of Cree resources to share with my kids until I reopened “Our Grandmother’s Lives…” and thought, “these too are good stories to share!” I love Freda’s children’s stories too, but these provide even more real life context and are absolute treasures.

About Arden Ogg

Arden Ogg is Director of the Cree Literacy Network, a not-for-profit-in-the-making with the goal of creating Cree language literacy materials suitable for use by learners of all ages.
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