Jean Okimâsis: YWCA Video Tribute & Bio (in Cree)

It’s a privilege to record here some of the background material prepared for YWCA’s Lifetime Achievement award presented to Jean Okimâsis this week. Frankly, some of us will continue to celebrate this well deserved recognition for quite a while!

Thanks to YWCA Regina’s Melissa Coomber-Bendtsen who shared the tribute video organized by Adrienne Soroka. One of Jean’s former students prepared the Cree edition of Jean’s bio (written first in English by Arok Wolvengrey), and has now provided us with accompanying audio (all presented below) so we can listen, learn, and read along with a rather rare example of the Cree language used in a more formal contemporary context.


Jean Okimāsis B.A., LL.D. (kihci-kiskinwahamātowikamik, oskana kā-asastēki)

Jean Okimāsis B.A., LL.D. (University of Regina)

Jean Lillian Littlechief kī-isiyihkātāw ispīhk kā-kī-nihtāwikihikot onīkihikwa Dawson ēkwa Lillian (née Still), mōswacīhk ohci, sāwi-wāpanohk kisiskāciwanihk. ēkota ē-kī-wīkiyit omosōmipana ‘okimāsis’ kā-kī-itimiht, ēkota ohci kī-nēhiyawastāw otaspiyihkāsowin ka-kistēyimāt. Jean kī-māci-kiskinwahamākosiw mōswacīhk kiskinwahamātowikamikohk ēkwa kī-kīsi-kiskinwahamākosiw Lebret ayamihāwi-kiskinwahamātowikamikohk.

Jean Okimāsis was born Jean Lillian Littlechief to parents Dawson and Lillian (née Still) of White Bear First Nation in southeastern Saskatchewan. She translated her family’s name back to okimāsis to honour her grandfather, who also lived there. Jean received her elementary education on White Bear Reserve before completing high school at the Lebret Residential School.

mēkwāc ē-kihci-kiskinwahamākosit Psychology nētē University of Regina, kīhtwām kī-ati-mamihcihikow opīkiskwēwin, nēhiyawēwin, ēkwa kī-ati-wīci-atoskēmēw Dr. Ahab Spenca 1982 askīwin kā-kī-ispayik, ta-ohpikihtāhk iyiniw pīkiskwēwin kiskinwahamākēwin anita Saskatchewan Indian Federated College (anohc First Nations University of Canada). wiya nistam kī-nīkānapīstam ēwako kiskinwahamākēwin. wīpac kī-masinaham omasinahikana nēhiyawēwin, paskwāwi-pīkiskwēwin, piyisk okiskinwahamākēma Solomon Ratt kī-takonamiyiwa kiskinwahamākēw-atoskēwina ēkota masinahikanihk. 2018 askīwin kā-kī-ispayik, mētoni kēkāc nistomitanaw niyānanosāp askīwina ohci ē-pimi-āh-astāhk, otatoskēwin kī-astēyiw misiwēskamikwēyāpīhk, ē-mosci-mēkihk, ta-ayamihcikēhk ēkwa ta-nitohtamihk.

While pursuing a Psychology degree at the University of Regina, she rediscovered a pride in her first language, Cree, and joined the late Dr. Ahab Spence in 1982 to build the fledgling Languages program at the Saskatchewan Indian Federated College (now First Nations University of Canada). She served as its first department head. She soon published Cree, Language of the Plains, which was improved in succeeding editions through collaboration with her student Solomon Ratt. In 2018, after almost 35 years of consistent use in various editions, the entire set of books, with rerecorded audio, was made available online for free download.

ispīhk kā-kī-atoskēt SIFC Jean wiya nistam kā-kī-nīkānapīstahk iyiniw pīkiskwēwin kiskinwahamākēwin (1985-1988) ēkwa mīna kīhtwām pēyakwāw, piyisk kā-kī-pōni-atoskēt 2002 askīwin kā-kī-ispayik. mēkwāc ē-ay-atoskēt ēkota kī-wīcihtāsow ta-ohpihtāhk iyiniw pīkiskwēwin kihci-kiskinwahamākēwin BA ohci (nēhiyawēwin mīna nahkawēwin) nistam kānatāhk ēwako kihci-kiskinwahamākēwin ka-kaskihtamāsohk. mihcēt oski-kiskinwahamākosiwina kī-ohpikihtāwak ēkospīhk mīna ē-wāh-osīhtācik iyiniw pīkiskwēwin-masinahikana ēkwa kotaka iyiniw-pīkiskwēwin āpacihcikana kita-takonamihk iyiniw-kiskinwahamākosiwina.

At SIFC, Jean was a driving force behind the establishment of the Department of Indian Languages, Literatures, and Linguistics, for which she served as the first department head (1985- 1988) and for a second term before her retirement from teaching in 2002. As part of this, she spearheaded the creation of the first and only full degree programs in First Nations languages (Cree and Ojibwe) offered in Canada. This involved developing many new Cree courses and producing materials for already established courses.

kotaka kaskihtamāsowina mīna ōhi: nīswāyihk kī-osīhtāw iyiniw pīkiskwēwina kiskinwahamākosiwina (Saskatchewan Learning ēkwa the Western Canadian Protocol), āhkami- wāh-wīcihiwēw Saskatchewan Cree Language Retention Committee, mīna mihcētwāw sāh-sīhkiskam nēhiyaw ayamihcikēwin, ē-kāh-kiskinwahamākēt, ē-wāh-wiyascikēt, mīna ē-āh-itwēstamākēt, ē-nēhiyawascikēt. atoskātam mīna Algonquian Linguistic Atlas mīna nanātohk nitawi-kiskēyihtamowina 21st Century Tools for Indigenous Languages ohci. Jean mīna kī-nēhiyawascikēw pīkiskwēwācikan nēhiyaw-wiyasiwēwinihk kīwētinohk Saskatchewan ohci ēkwa mīna āhkami-āh-itwēstamawēw kēhtē-aya onēhiyawēwi-pīkiskwēwina. māmawi nēwosāp masinahikana kā-kī-masinahahk ahpō kā-kī-wīcihiwēt, nistomitanaw-nēwosāpwāw kī-nawasōnikātēwa ta-mawinēhowēhk Saskatchewan Book Awards, ēkwa kēkā-mitātahtwāw kī-otahowāniwiw ēkota.

Other accomplishments include: her work on two First Nations language curricula (for Saskatchewan Learning and the Western Canadian Protocol), her constant participation in the Saskatchewan Cree Language Retention Committee, and numerous contributions to Cree language literacy through instruction, editing and translation. In addition to her important contribution to the Algonquian Linguistic Atlas and the ongoing research project, 21st Century Tools for Indigenous Languages, Jean has completed transcriptions for the Cree court in northern Saskatchewan and continues to work to transcribe recordings of the Elders. In total, 14 separate books that Jean has written or contributed to have been nominated for 34 Saskatchewan Book Awards, receiving 9.

2000 askīwin kā-kī-ispayik Jean kī-nisitawinākow YWCA Women of Distinction otatoskēwina Arts and Culture ohci. kā-kī-miy-ōtinahk otahowēwin Jean omisi kī-itwēw: “mistahi ninanāskomon anohc iyikohk ē-kistēyihtamēk ninēhiyawēwin, nipīkiskwēwin, ayisk ēkota anima kā-pimohtēmakahk ninēhiyāwiwin” “I am grateful tonight that you honour my language, the Cree language, because it carries my culture and reflects the culture of my people.”

In the year 2000, she was recognized for her contributions with a YWCA Woman of Distinction Award in Arts and Culture. In accepting the award that night, she expressed her passion for her language with the following words: mistahi ninanāskomon anohc iyikohk ē-kistēyihtamēk ninēhiyawēwin, nipīkiskwēwin, ayisk ēkota anima kā-pimohtēmakahk ninēhiyāwiwin: “I am grateful tonight that you honour my language, the Cree language, because it carries my culture and reflects the culture of my people.”

nawac ōtē isi, anohcihkē, Jean ēkwa onāpēma, Arok, kī-pamihtāwak nēhiyawēwin pamihcikēwin, miywāsin ink kī-isiyihkātēw, ita kā-atoskātahkik nēhiyawascikēwin, itwēstamākēwin, kwēskasinahikēwin, ēkwa mīnwasinahikēwin. kī-kīsihtāw nanātohk atoskēwin ayisiyiniwa ohci ēkwa mīna okimāwiwina ēkwa okimānāhk ohci. āhkami-wīcihiwēw nēhiyawēwin ta-kanawēyihtamihk ēkwa pāh-pīkiskwātam kā-isi-miywāsik nēhiyawēwin ka-ayamihcikēhk mīna ka-masinahikēhk. kā-isi-sākihtāt ēkwa kā-isi-manācihtāt nēhiyawēwin isi-nisitawinawāw ēkwa ēwako ohci ka-āsōhakaniyiw otatoskēwin.

More recently, Jean and her husband, Arok, have run the Cree-language consulting business, miywāsin ink, specializing in transcription, translation, transliteration, and editing. She has completed projects for numerous private and public agencies at the municipal, provincial, and federal levels. She continues to participate in Cree retention projects and to give presentations on the importance of Cree literacy and the standard Cree writing system. Her love and respect for her language remain her defining characteristic and will undoubtedly form her lasting legacy.

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