Revitalizing the Cree Language through Music

Revitalizing the Cree Language through Music

Cree musicians in Canada collaborated to help revitalize the Cree language in a clever and fun way. The resulting album, made up of music penned in the Cree language, was a collaboration among national artists as well as international artists, which is intended to be released on June 21, the National Aboriginal Day in Canada.

The Cree musicians are from Fort Smith in the Northwest Territories (NWT) in the South Slave region in Canada. The completed album contains 14 tracks and titled “Cree Songs: Howls from Gratitude.” In Cree, the album’s title is “Nehiyaw Nikamonak: Oyoyowin ohci Nanaskomowin.” NWT Metis Nation and the NWT Cree Language Program are the producers and they hope that those who are interested in learning the Cree language will be helped by the album.

According to Veronica Johnny, a musician, the project was groundbreaking. She is one of the artists featured in the album. She said that there are many musicians in the U.S. and Canada who release songs in their indigenous languages. This latest project is a part of the trend of bringing people closer together. She said she was not fluent in Cree and recording the album made her realize that she needs to study the language and in fact, she actually made progress in her Cree language learning.

While there were contributions from more established musicians such as “A Tribe Called Red,” which is an electronic group, many of the tracks came from local talents from NWT. This came about because the NWT Cree Language Program undertook two music workshops in Hay River and Forth Smith as parts of the production of the album. When the workshops ended, a group composed of elders, youth and musicians brainstormed and penned four songs that were later recorded.

Kyle Napier, who is the manager of the NWT Cree Language Program and member of NWT Metis Nation said that the album contains music in several genre. He says that the tracks include traditional Cree drumming, hip-hop, hard rock, country, folk, classic rock and even powwow-step. It also includes a lyric book with translations.

Napier considered the Cree language album as very important in the effort in preserving the native language. He added that there were 75,000 known speakers of Cree 20 years ago. Today, the number had dwindled to about 50,000. He said that unless something is done, the numbers will quickly go down. He said that this is the right time to start revitalizing the language, when there are still elders who can teach the youth.

Johnny finds the final mix quite good and is very happy with it. She also realized that the best way for a person in learning languages is via music, comparing it to the traditional nursery song, the ABCs.

The project’s website had already uploaded three of the album’s songs. The entire 14 tracks will be free during the observation of the National Aboriginal Day in Canada.

Image Copyright: The Nishiyuu walkers by Steve Kingsman / 123RF Stock Photo

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