Mrs Spence was born in 1918 in New Reserve (Little Red River) in Saskatchewan, where her first language was Woods Cree (th-dialect). She served for over eighteen years as an Elder Counsellor at Saskatchewan Indian Federated College, where her genuine kindness and thoughtful prayers comforted and encouraged literally hundreds of university students. Now in her 90s, she continues to be a staunch advocate of all that is Cree, and a genuine inspiration to all who meet her.
Mary Cardinal Collins
B.Ed., M.Ed. University of Alberta
Mary is from Saddle Lake, and spent her early days with with the only nohkom she knew, Isabelle Batoche, was already 72 when she adopted my mom as a baby. Growing up with this kohkom gave Mary access to language and memories of the early 1900s. At Blue Quills Indian Residential School, Mary managed to retain her language even as other children lost theirs. Eventually, Mary pursued Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Education at the University of Alberta, and she is now the Cree language consultant for the Edmonton Catholic School Board. View Mary’s cv here: Mary Cardinal Collins
M.A. University of Wisconsin, Ph.D. University of British Columbia
When Clare Cook decided to pursue her doctorate in linguistics at the University of British Columbia, she fell in love with the beauty of the Cree language and has been focussed on it in her linguistic work ever since. She specializes in Cree sentence structure, and has taught courses on the structure of Cree as well as curriculum development for Cree.
In addition to linguistics, Clare loves community and family history, and she believes that both history and language are crucial to one’s identity. One of the Cree speakers whose language she spent a lot of time trying to understand was the late Sarah Whitecalf, who said nêhiyawéwin nêhiyawiwin “Speaking Cree is Being Cree.” This succinct and profound phrase has stuck with her, and she supports any and all ways of preserving and passing on people’s knowledge of themselves, their family, and their communities in their language. Clare has worked with people from a number of Cree communities in Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba toward that end — sometimes helping them to express their family and community stories, and other times helping them find those stories.
B.A., B.Ed. University of Saskatchewan
Cynthia is from Stanley Mission, Saskatchewan. During her early childhood living on the family’s trapline, she spoke only Woods Cree (th-dialect). It was not until she and her sister reached school age that the family moved back into town and she began to learn English.
After completing University studies, Cynthia returned to teach in Stanley Mission, frequently using Cree as the language of instruction in response to the preference of her students. In 2004, after seven very rewarding years in the classroom, Cynthia was lured by the opportunity to develop Cree teaching material to join the Gift of Language and Culture Project. Her work day is now spent developing stories, lessons, units and various resources in Cree, all written in SRO and syllabics. Cynthia is honored to do this work because she never stops learning about her language.
Cynthia is the Cree Curriculum Developer at the Gift of Language and Culture Project.
Rusty Gardiner’s photographs fill an important role within the Cree Literacy Network capturing the beauty of Cree people and communities, and reminding us of the communities we hope to serve.
Born in the northern Saskatchewan Mécommunity of Ile à La Crosse, he grew up bilingual, speaking English at school, but with a mother and aunties who insisted he use Michif-Cree to speak with them everywhere else. Later working with the Hudson¹s Bay Company, he was posted in several northern communities in Manitoba and Ontario where Cree — in various dialects — was the dominant language. Having been born into the Cree language, he has come in time to appreciate this birthright as a gift and a privilege to be cherished.
CM B.Mus.. B.A. University of Western Ontario Member, Order of Canada
Tomson Highway was born in a snow bank on the Manitoba/Nunavut border to a family of nomadic caribou hunters. He had the great privilege of growing up in two languages, neither of which was French or English; they were Cree, his mother tongue, and Dene, the language of the neighbouring “nation,” a people with whom they roamed and hunted.
Today, he enjoys an international career as playwright, novelist, and pianist/songwriter. His best known works are the plays, “The Rez Sisters,” “Dry Lips Oughta Move to Kapuskasing,” “Rose,” “Ernestine Shuswap gets her Trout,” and the best-selling novel, “Kiss of the Fur Queen.” For many years, he ran Canada’s premiere Native theatre company, Native Earth Performing Arts (based in Toronto), out of which has emerged an entire generation of professional Native playwrights, actors and, more indirectly, the many other Native theatre companies that now dot the country. He divides his year equally between a cottage in northern Ontario (near Sudbury, from whence comes his partner of 25 years) and a seaside apartment in the south of France, at both of which locales he is currently at work on his second novel.
M.A. University of Wisconsin, Ph.D. University of British Columbia
Jeff Muehlbauer is a linguist who grew up in Wisconsin on land that had been taken from the Menominee people. Recognizing a personal debt to that community, he was drawn to learn about their language and culture in an effort to understand their experience and challenges, even if he could do little that would help.
Since receiving his PhD from the University of British Columbia, where his thesis on semantics and syntax used both Roman Orthography and Syllabics for the sake of potential Cree readers, he has worked primarily with Plains Cree speakers of both status and Métis backgrounds.
He seeks to learn more about Plains Cree and Métis ways of thinking and how speakers put these ideas into their language. This is part of his broader personal goal of acquiring some understanding about these and other cultures such as Irish, Hmong, Mennonite, Muslim and Chinese, that all strive to persist in the face of enormous challenges from the dominant, assimilating culture.
Arden Ogg, Director & Chair
B.Mus, M.A. University of Manitoba
Arden believes one of the luckiest days of her life was the day she “met Cree” in the Intro Linguistics class of H.C. Wolfart at the University of Manitoba in 1979. After incorporating a brief study of the powwow into her music degree, she was invited in 1983 to join Wolfart’s SSHRCC-funded Cree Language Project, where Freda Ahenakew was then an M.A. student.
Through the generous guidance of Wolfart and Ahenakew, she grew into the role of technical assistant, editorial partner and typographer, and was infected with the deep passion and mutual respect of the editorial team and their shared commitment to the Cree language. Her 1992 M.A. thesis focused on Plains Cree particles. By creating and supporting this Network of people and resources, she strives to repay an enormous debt of gratitude.
In addition to Cree language advocacy, Arden also serves on the National Executive Council of the Editors’ Association of Canada as the Regional Representative for Western Canada. Through the EAC, she promotes training and professional development opportunities for Aboriginal editors.
B.Ed. University of Saskatchewan
Mother of three daughters, and proud kohkom of ten, Dolores’s diverse career path has led from from bartending to truck driving, to teaching Cree language and culture, musical recording, and politics.
Her interest in Cree language, music and spirituality is reflected in the titles of her musical recordings, which include Cree language performances of gospel music, prayers, and rock’n’roll classics (one of which received a Gold Record from Manitoba’s NCI-FM radio station).
She currently serves on the Band Council of Muskeg Lake Cree Nation.
B.Ed. University of Saskatchewan M.Sc. Candidate, University of Alberta
Dorothy Thunder is Plains Cree from Little Pine First Nation, Saskatchewan. She grew up speaking Cree at home, and later developed SRO literacy as a student of Donna Paskemin. She is a part-time Cree instructor with the Faculty of Native Studies at the University of Alberta, and a leading team member of the faculty’s Cree Language Research Team. She has been actively involved with the Canadian Indigenous Languages and Literacy Institute (CILLDI) at the University of Alberta, teaching Cree immersion classes to children, and co-authored “A Cree Immersion Day Camp: The Canadian Indigenous Language and Literacy Development Institute Model,” presented at the National First Nation Languages Conference in Winnipeg in 2006.
Along with co-editors Naomi McIlwraith and Patricia Demers, Dorothy recently celebrated the launch of her first book with the University of Alberta Press, The Beginning of Print Culture in Athabasca Country, A Facsimile Edition & Translation of a Prayer Book in Cree Syllabics by Father Émile Grouard, OMI, Prepared and Printed at Lac La Biche in 1883. This extraordinary facsimile of Grouard’s syllabic prayer book includes not only translation into English, but discrete transliterations of the Cree syllabics into Roman orthography (exactly as written in syllabics), and into Standard Roman Orthography.
Dorothy has recently begun a Master of Science program in Linguistics at the University of Alberta.
B.A. University of Saskatchewan M.A. University of Manitoba
Ph.D. University of Amsterdam
Arok has been extremely fortunate to learn from many of the leaders in Cree language education. He was first introduced to the Cree language when his grade 5 French teacher invited a Cree gentleman into class to teach a few words. When Arok eventually reached the University of Saskatchewan, Cree was the one class he knew he would take. His first class was taught by Barbara Mcleod, daughter of the late Ida Mcleod who with her husband John did so much to foster language programming at the Saskatchewan Indian Cultural College (now Centre). His second class was with Freda Ahenakew who inspired him to dedicate his career to the study of the Cree language.
He followed Freda to the University of Manitoba to work with her and her mentor, H.C. Wolfart, and completed his M.A. in Linguistics before beginning on the very long road towards his doctorate. Along the way, Freda became his adopted mother, and Arok joined the Department of Indian Languages, Literatures, and Linguistics at SIFC (now the First Nations University of Canada) in Regina, where he met his future wife, Jean Okimâsis. Inspired by Jean, Solomon Ratt, Doreen Oakes, the late Dr Ahab Spence, many other Cree colleagues in the Saskatchewan Cree Language Retention Committee and students at SIFC/FNU, Arok set aside his doctoral plans to concentrate on the publication of a much needed Plains Cree dictionary in both the standard Roman and Syllabic orthographies.
After undertaking many other welcome distractions, such as editing and publishing a variety of Cree language materials, Arok completed his dissertation on Plains Cree Syntax, and received his doctorate from the University of Amsterdam in February 2011. He is now looking forward to returning to his real work – more Cree language projects!