About our Network

The Cree Literacy Network was created in 2010 to promote Cree language and cultural literacy, in oral form, and through literacy materials (in Cree and English) that use Standard Roman Orthography. We believe that Cree language literacy can be learned better and spread farther – all in support of living oral language – when everyone shares the same, consistent writing system. We also believe that authentic Cree language materials (both oral and written) can work even better to support language when presented side by side with English translation, to promote cultural literacy, even among those who read only English.

Through the essential tool of standard spelling, the Cree Literacy Network supports the fundamental right of Cree speakers to understand and be understood. 

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https://www.eaglefeathernews.com/quadrant/media//pastIssues/October_2010.pdf

Cree literacy refers to much more than just reading. Cree literacy also means awareness of Cree history and culture, living tradition and ancient ritual. It means understanding the depth and scope of damage from past wrongs, and the need to fight to see them righted. In these challenging days of the 21st century, it also means being aware of Cree political issues past and present, and working to preserve the “home on Native land” that we all share.

Who are we?
This network is made up of a small but determined circle of dedicated speakers, writers, students, teachers and linguists, whose collective commitment to Cree language and culture spans decades in the prairie provinces of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta.

Building on the substantial living legacy created by Honorary Founders, Dr Jean Okimâsis and the late Dr Freda Ahenakew, we work hard to strengthen connections throughout the Cree-speaking communities of the prairies. We offer meaningful support to those who share our passion for retention and revitalization of the Cree language (in spoken and written form), and of Cree culture. We want to see the language flourishing in spoken and written form, working as the everyday tool it should be within a vibrant and flourishing culture.

Why focus on spelling?
In a traditional setting, spoken language is learned naturally by osmosis. Children are natural sponges, who soak up everything they hear. But – in any language – reading and writing are skills that have to be taught. Within a residential school system determined to kill the languages themselves, no such teaching was ever offered. Nor was it offered anywhere else – until the 1970s when it began to be taught in universities.

Standard spelling is an essential building block in developing truly fluent reading and writing skills, but consistent spelling does not come naturally. Learning the rules can be annoying, and even distressing for people who have had bad school experiences.  But unpredictable spelling makes things tough for language learners:

  • unpredictable spelling often leaves readers guessing about what was intended
  • similar-sounding words are easily confused
  • words can’t be found in a dictionary when they’re spelled differently
  • computer tools can’t work with made-up spelling either, so they can’t help
  • books printed in made-up spelling are a nightmare for students to use

SRO is the spelling system that is mostly widely used for print publications in Cree, and has the greatest number of published reference resources. As of 2010, SRO is taught and used in a Cree language programs in schools, colleges and universities across the prairies.

The Cree Literacy Network seeks to build on this solid, tested foundation by increasing awareness of SRO, and using it as widely as possible to help carry the Cree language – and with it, Cree culture – forward into the 21st century.

What about Syllabics?
Whether you believe syllabics were invented by the Methodist missionary James Evans in the 1840s, or that syllabics was a gift directly from the Creator to the Cree people, educational research shows that syllabics is neither better nor worse than SRO for reading and writing Cree. Some research even shows that it may be easier for beginners to read. Perhaps this is why syllabic literacy spread so quickly following publication of the first syllabic bible. But syllabic literacy outside of the church was another casualty of the residential school system.

Although many Cree speakers learned to read and write in syllabics through the late 19th century, very few of their handwritten documents and journals have been preserved. Printing presses remained within the hands of the churches, where they were used almost exclusively to print prayer books and hymnals. Today, special computer software makes syllabics more available on computers and smart phones, but it still takes considerable expertise to set them up for ordinary users, and the collection of non-religious reading materials and reference sources remains very small.

Members of the Cree Literacy Network respect and value the efforts of all individuals and communities working to speak or write Cree in any form. We hope to encourage a spirit of cooperation among Cree-speaking communities that will help to fill bookshelves with high quality Cree language material suitable for all readers. We hope those who are committed to syllabic literacy will see our library as a resource that can help support them in preparing publications of their own.

United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

The UN adopted this resolution in 2007. Canada removed its “objector status” to the document in 2016. In 2018, Romeo Saganash (a native speaker of East Cree) introduced a private member’s bill (C-262) to have Canadian laws brought into harmony with the document. Conservatives in the Canadian senate obstructed its passage. The fight continues.

Articles 13 and 14 of the UNDRIrefer specifically to language rights:

Article 13
1. Indigenous peoples have the right to revitalize, use, develop and transmit to future generations their histories, languages, oral traditions, philosophies, writing systems and literatures, and to designate and retain their own names for communities, places and persons.‍
2. States shall take effective measures to ensure that this right is protected and also to ensure that indigenous peoples can understand and be understood in political, legal and administrative proceedings, where necessary through the provision of interpretation or by other appropriate means.‍
Article 14
1. Indigenous peoples have the right to establish and control their educational systems and institutions providing education in their own languages, in a manner appropriate to their cultural methods of teaching and learning.‍
2. Indigenous individuals, particularly children, have the right to all levels and forms of education of the State without discrimination.‍
3. States shall, in conjunction with indigenous peoples, take effective measures, in order for indigenous individuals, particularly children, including those living outside their communities, to have access, when possible, to an education in their own culture and provided in their own language.‍


Cree language revitalization can’t afford to wait for “the state” to take action.
Please consider a donation to help us continue our work. 

9 Responses to About our Network

  1. tânisi!

    I’ve managed to lose touch with a lot of people in the move from WordPress to a self-hosted site, so I’m individually following up 😀 I’ve set it up so WordPress bloggers can ‘follow’ me in the same way you used to at the new site: http://apihtawikosisan.com/. There’s no need to keep this comment, it was just easier to contact you via the blog. If somehow I’ve overlooked that you’ve already made the switch, you have my apologies.

    kinanâskomitin, and I hope to see you soon!

    • Arden Ogg says:

      Thanks, Chelsea, I appreciate this, and thanks for allowing the re-post of another really good piece.
      I feel lousy about messing up your careful preparation copying, but I can’t replicate it in my layout. I wonder if you might consider a plug-in like JetPack that would let you add a “reblog” button. It should make it easier for others to share and distribute your content too. The feature is built in now on WordPress.com, but self-hosted sites need a plug-in of some sort.

  2. Pingback: Roadblocks to effective indigenous language development | Cree Literacy Network

  3. Charles Mills says:

    It would be nice if SRO (Standard Roman Orthography)was used in the Moosonee area of James Bay in northern Ontario.When I look at written Cree that isn’t written in syllabic form it seems so childish and inconsistent. I just wish we could take lessons on how it is done in western Canada and apply it here. When I asked a school teacher on the Moose Cree First Nation about it I was told that it’s easier to read when it’s spelled out the way it is sounded.

    • Arden Ogg says:

      Thanks for that comment, Charles. People don’t seem to realize that SRO is exactly equivalent to syllabics (and vice versa). Seems to me that’s a big advantage!
      The problem with writing “the way it sounds” is that people tend to use the rules they know from English (which most people agree are kind of crazy at best!). And you really can’t learn to read “fluently” when words don’t look the same way every time.

  4. Annalisa Kolbeck says:

    Hello! I am a school secretary from Green Lake, SK – at St Pascal School. Our school community co-ordinator is trying to reach Dolores Sand, in order to network about Cree music. Would you be able to get Dolores in touch with us?

  5. Christine Ravenis says:

    tānisi
    Can you publish Abel Charles interview of Ben Godden from our winter storytelling camp?

  6. Loretta Todd says:

    Tanisi Arden,

    We met many years ago in Edmonton. I admire all the work you and your friends and colleagues do! I was hoping you might be able to help with this. I am doing some research for the IM4 VR & AR Lab I created into words for technology. Many years ago I knew the words for television and camera and radio in Cree. They were descriptions of the meaning of those technologies for the people. Does anyone recall those words in Y dialect, especially the Cree root words. And not to emphasize the English translation, but how those words would be in English. Like I was sure television was box of shadows in root words and English translation. But I may have imagined that. ay-ay

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