Everything about our culture is in our language: Opaskwayak Education Authority

This short video profile outlines the challenges and successes of Opaskwayak Education Authority’s nēnowē program, a Cree immersion program at Joe A. Ross School at Opaskwayak Cree Nation, Treaty 5 Territory. The video was produced by Blanche Cowley-Head and Dean Head of CHG Productions in 2017 on behalf of OEA.

Thanks to Blanche Cowley-Head for arranging permission to present this beautiful video here along with a transcript of the (n-dialect) Cree in both SRO and syllabics (for those learning to read that way). It’s exciting to share community successes!

Click here to watch the Youtube video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QiFm-3qPaVY

English parts of this transcription were auto-generated by YouTube. Solomon Ratt of First Nations University provided the Cree text in SRO. The syllabics were created from Sol’s SRO using a computer tool. (Arden Ogg is responsible for any errors introduced (of course), and will be grateful for help to correct them!)

Sylvia Lathlin-Scott:

aspin kâ-mâcipanik kapê sîpîy niwîcihikonân. kimâmânaw askiy êwako kâ-wîcihikoyâk –ôma nêhinawêwin aspin kâ-mâcipanik êkwâni kapê ê-ininimiyâk ninêhinowânân êwako mâna – kâ-âpacîtâyâk anima ininimiwin.

ᐊᐢᐱᐣ  ᑳᒫᒋᐸᓂᐠ  ᑲᐯ ᓰᐲᐩ  ᓂᐑᒋᐦᐃᑯᓈᐣ᙮  ᑭᒫᒫᓇᐤ  ᐊᐢᑭᐩ  ᐁᐘᑯ  ᑳᐑᒋᐦᐃᑯᔮᐠ᙮  ᐆᒪ ᓀᐦᐃᓇᐍᐏᐣ  ᐊᐢᐱᐣ  ᑳᒫᐃᐸᓂᐠ  ᐁᒁᓂ  ᑲᐯ  ᐁᓂᓂᒥᔮᐠ  ᓂᓀᐦᐃᓄᐚᓈᐣ  ᐁᐘᑯ  ᒫᓇ᙮  ᑳᐸᒌᑖᔮᐠ ᐊᓂᒪ ᐃᓂᓂᒥᐏᐣ᙮

Captions (translation of Cree):

Since the beginning, this river has always been with us. This land is our mother. Our Cree language helps us. Since the beginning we have been Cree people. We spoke Cree. We were given the Cree language to speak.

Bev Fontaine, Opaskwayak Educational Authority, Inc. Director of Education:

Our Cree immersion program started or ten, eleven years ago and we started first by meeting with the elders and getting their feedback on what their thoughts were in terms of our language, and where our language was that in the community.

Elder Matilda Lathlin:

namôna mîcîtwâw nitô-pîtawâw awinak kitâkanâsîmot. êkota anima ispîk kâ-kî-ati-mâcipanik nînanân oti kâ-ispihtisiyâk. ispîk kâ-kî-mâci-iskôlowiyâk ik-ê-nikotwâsik ê-itahtwâskîwiniyâk. êkota mâna kâ-kî-pihtokahikawiyâk kiskinwahamâtowikamikôk êkota anima kâ-kî-ati-mâcipanik kâ-ati-kiskînîtamâk âkanâsîmowin

ᓇᒨᓇ ᒦᒌᑤᐤ ᓂᑑᐲᑕᐚᐤ ᐊᐏᓇᐠ ᑭᑖᑲᓈᓰᒧᐟ᙮  ᐁᑯᑕ ᐊᓂᒪ ᐃᐢᐲᕽ ᑳᑳᑎᒫᒋᐸᓂᐠ ᓃᓇᓈᐣ ᐅᑎ ᑳᐃᐢᐱᐦᑎᓯᔮᐠ᙮  ᐃᐢᐲᕽ ᑳᑮᒫᒌᐢᑰᓬᐅᐏᔮᐠ ᓂᑯᑤᓯᐠ ᐁᑕᐦᑤᐢᑮᐏᓂᔮᐠ᙮ ᐁᑯᑕ ᒫᓇ ᑳᑮᐱᐦᑐᑲᐦᐃᑲᐏᔮᐠ ᑭᐢᑭᓌᐦᐊᒫᑐᐏᑲᒥᑰᐠ ᐁᑯᑕ ᐊᓂᒪ ᑳᑳᑎᒫᒋᐸᓂᐠ ᑳᑎᑭᐢᑮᓃᑕᒫᐠ ᐋᑲᓈᓰᒧᐏᐣ᙮

Caption: It was not often that I heard anyone speaking English in the community. That is when it started… For us, anyway… When we were up to the age of starting to go to school. I was six years old when I was entered into school. It was from then that it started. When we began knowing English.


In 1992, most of the older age group (50+) of OCN reported being Cree speakers. The younger groups (-20) reported being English speakers. By 2013, only 24% of the 35-49 age group were Cree speakers, compared to 81% in 1992. Only 8% of the 20-34 age group were Cree speakers, compared to 35% in 1992. (Opaskwayak Education Authority Inc. 1992 and 2013 Language Use Surveys)

Bev Fontaine:

If we were to lose our Cree language, if our older ones didn’t use the language anymore and we couldn’t get our young people to start learning the language then we’re not Cree people anymore. We’re just Canadians with the English language. We can’t call ourselves Cree people.

Kids singing Brian MacDonald’s counting song:

pêyak, nîso, nisto, nêwo…

ᐯᔭᐠ, ᓃᓱ, ᓂᐢᑐ, ᓀᐓ

Kids singing at the drum.

Tucker Fiddler, 15 years old (2017):

My name’s Tucker Fiddler. My parents’ name is Matt Fiddler and Ron Fiddler. I didn’t speak any Cree before I started the Cree classes, and now I know lots of words. Can understand a little bits of words when people talk to you I can understand what they’re talking about.

Gordon Lathlin, 15 years old (2017):

I was in the Cree program for five years (starting from Nursery to Grade 3). I wish I could go back to, and continue from grade 3 and up. It was fun I miss the teachers singing in Cree – Happy Birthday to all my friends when everybody found out it was their birthday. And yeah, it was a fun experience and wish it was in high school going up. But now we just have Cree classes.

Lisa Lathlin, parent champion; Jerri Rae, Cree immersion student:

Thinking about my kohkom it was very important to me to keep that language alive so that’s why I entered, I put my youngest daughter into Cree Immersion.

Bev Fontaine:

We had a great response. We had thought that we would receive about one classroom full of students. When we had registration take place we had three classrooms of students.

Students, together:



Madison Cook begins to recite the Lord’s Prayer:

nôhtâwînân, kihci-kîsikohk ê-ayâyan…

ᓅᐦᑖᐑᓈᐣ,  ᑭᐦᒋᑮᓯᑯᕽ ᐁᔮᔭᐣ

Bev Fontaine:

So recently we interviewed one of our community members and in the interview he shared with us how his daughter was experiencing the immersion program.

David Cook:

She saw my friend and she recognized him right away, and they brought him in a hospital bed. So what they did later on was she said I want to say a prayer for him.

Madinson concludes her prayer:

… mâka mîna anohc. amen.

   ᒫᑲ ᒦᓇ ᐊᓄᐦᐨ᙮ ᐊᒣᐣ

David and Melissa Cook: Parent Champions:

The Cree language is important to learn because it gives us a sense of belonging and keeps us in touch with our culture. It brings us together, brings the community, brings people together, it brings children, elders, everybody, all our people together.

Bev Fontaine:

We have had a whole cohort of students go through the program from kindergarten to grade six, and this fall we will start with a whole new cohort of students.

Conrad Merasty:

All our culture, everything about our culture is in our language. If we lose the language we lose our culture. tâ-wâniskâyak (ᑖᐚᓂᐢᑳᔭᐠ): you know, tâ-pimohtêyak (ᑖᐱᒧᐦᑌᔭᐠ). To walk, to wake up. All those things are in our language. They teach us why we need to do those things.

Sylvia Lathlin-Scott (no translation/captions provided on video):

oskâtisak kâ-wî-nôtî-nîhinowêcik, niyanân ôma ininiwak kapê kâkikê ta-ihkin. ispîhk ôma kâ-mâcipanik sîpî êkwâni kapê ê-wîcihikoyâk ôma nêhinawêwin êwako mistahi niwîcihikonân ta-kaskîtâyâk ôma êkâ ta-wanîtâyâk ta-ayamîyâk.

ᐅᐢᑳᑎᓴᐠ ᑳᐑᓅᑏᓃᐦᐃᓄᐠ, ᓂᔭᓈᐣ ᐆᒪ ᐃᓂᓂᐘᐠ ᑲᐯ ᑳᑭᑫ ᑖᐦᑭᐣ᙮  ᐃᐢᐲᕽ ᐆᒪ ᑳᒫᒋᐸᓂᐠ ᐑᐲ ᐁᒁᓂ ᑲᐯ ᐁᐑᒋᐦᐃᑯᔮᐠ ᐆᒪ ᓀᐦᐃᓇᐍᐏᐣ ᐁᐘᐅ ᒥᐢᑕᐦᐃ ᓂᐑᒋᐦᐃᑯᓈᐣ ᑕᑲᐢᑮᑖᔮᐠ ᐆᒪ ᐁᑳ ᑕᐘᓃᑖᔮᐠ ᑖᔭᒦᔮᐠ᙮

Sylvia Lathlin-Scott, translation:

Young people who want to speak Cree: we will always be those people, forever. Ever since the river began, it has always helped us, this Cree (language) that has helped us so much – to succeed in this, so we don’t lose this ability to speak it.

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