Lorraine Corrigan, a McMurray Métis elder, would never miss a chance to gather with her community to speak and teach Cree. Speaking the language with friends and family always made Corrigan’s day.
Before COVID-19, the Local held weekly coffee nights for elders and people to come together and speak Cree. Now that public gatherings have been banned, the Métis Local and elders like Corrigan are sharing language teachings online.
The Local is posting a virtual Cree Chat series on its social media accounts every Wednesday. A photo or video will share some words of the day. Corrigan is in the first video of the series, explaining how to count to 10 in Cree.
“I’m proud of my language, and I like speaking it and I like teaching it,” said Corrigan. “Cree is a hard language to learn but right now, there are a lot of Cree people out there that want to learn.”
McMurray Métis spokesperson Melanie Walsh said it is important the Local do what it can to share cultural and historical knowledge from elders while keeping people safe.
For Walsh, promoting Indigenous languages is part of reconciliation. The municipality’s recent announcement that new traffic signs will include Cree, Dénesųłiné and English are a good way to raise awareness of Indigenous languages.
The most recent data on languages spoken in Canada comes from the 2016 census, which found only 20 per cent of First Nations people could converse in an Indigenous language. This is a six per cent drop from 2006.
“Being able to greet and elder in their native language will make that elder’s day,” said Walsh. “The ability to joke around and say a word here and there in Cree is really monumental.”
Until elders can teach their language in person, Treasure Cooper, program coordinator for McMurray Métis, said bringing Cree Chat online is the next best thing to gathering in person.
“Our elders always talk about not being allowed to speak their language or their language was taken away from them,” said Cooper. “In this way, we reach more people and show them that it’s important to relearn our language.”
Corrigan misses the challenge of conversing in Cree and says she is praying for the day she can meet again with people to share her love of the Cree language.
“Whatever language a person has, they should be speaking it,” said Corrigan. “Don’t ever lose your language.”
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Sarah Williscraft, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter