Organization skills

Calgary organization offers Blackfoot and Cree language classes, paving the way for identity

A Calgary organization is providing the opportunity for more people to learn to speak Blackfoot and Cree, giving participants the opportunity to learn more about Aboriginal culture.

Miskanawawhich means “paths” in Cree, offers four and six week courses for beginners as well as those looking to learn conversational skills.

Elder Pablo Russel, who teaches the class on Blackfoot conversation, said fluency in the language is the first step to a more meaningful understanding of other Indigenous traditions.

“They could learn to pray by listening to elders pray in their language, and they could understand ceremonies and rituals,” he said.

Classes are accessible to the public, but can be particularly important to Blackfoot and Cree people whose identity has been ripped from them by Canada’s history of deliberate dismantling of Indigenous cultures.

“A lot of First Nations people were denied their language, you know, and that was during boarding school,” Elder Russel said.

“So there were a few generations [where] the parents, you know, traumatized, they don’t teach their children to speak Pied-noir or Cree. »

This is the Sunridge location of the Miskanawah Community Services Association. It provides services at two sites in Calgary. (Jo Horwood/CBC)

Damitra Smokeyday, the cultural services connector for Miskanawah, said as elders get older, there is an added sense of seriousness about making sure their language skills are passed on.

The importance of retaining these languages ​​also extends beyond an individual’s knowledge, having been highlighted as a national priority by the truth and reconciliation commission.

“One of the 94 Calls to Action states that Indigenous languages ​​are a fundamental and valuable part of Canadian culture and society, and there is an urgent need to preserve them,” Smokeyday said.

“It’s just very important to restore and regain something that was taken from us.”

A language that “comes from the heart”

In addition to the language itself, course participants will also learn about cultural traditions, customs and etiquette.

A native Blackfoot speaker, Elder Russel said times have changed, allowing indigenous people to take pride in their heritage and learn a language that allows them to understand rituals and prayers, as well as communicate with people. other Blackfoot and Cree speakers.

He said he was happy to share the language he grew up with.

“When you speak your own language, it kind of comes from the heart, you know. [It’s a] more honest way of speaking, and then when you speak a foreign language like English, it was coming from your head.”

Miskanawah accepts up to 15 students in its courses, which are offered multiple times throughout the year.