Thursday, May 6, 2010

Preserving Cree Language: Path of the Elders as an Archive

 Do You Know What “Pine” Means?

We ran into a problem during the creation of On the Path of the Elders: we couldn’t find the literal translation of “pine”.

Maybe this doesn’t sound like such a big deal. After all, it’s just one word.

But it symbolizes how much of the Cree language we have already lost.

One of the goals of On the Path of the Elders is to encourage the preservation and transmission of Aboriginal language.

Not only do the interviewees in the Doug Ellis Audio Collection speak in their native language, but we have also integrated Cree throughout the role-playing games.

For example, for medicinal plants in the Healing game both the English and Cree names are provided, along with the Cree syllabics and an English translation.

So, the Cree name for Labrador Tea is Kakike-pokwa, which means “infinite plants”-- so-called because they stretch as far as the eye can see.Or Cattail is Pashekanushk, which means "exploding" because they seem to explode when they spread their seeds!

But we couldn’t find the literal translation of “pine” no matter how hard we searched. Even the oldest Elder didn’t know.

So sure, it’s just one word.

But it’s also a reminder of the real threats facing Aboriginal language and culture. As fewer and fewer youths are taught Cree or other languages, we risk losing not only the language itself, but also a vital part of the First People’s culture.

After all, language is a key part of our identity. Our words determine how we understand the world and ourselves.

Through its historical resources and adherence to Mushkegowuk and Anishinaabe culture, On the Path of the Elders is more than a game: it’s an archive of the First People’s language and history.

But we still need to ask ourselves what’s missing from this collection, and how can we prevent further erosion of the language in the future.

Collette Jackson, Content and Marketing Specialist at BlackCherry Digital Media, is writing on behalf of On the Path of the Elders, a free online educational resource that explores Cree and Ojibway history and culture, and the signing of Treaty No. 9. 

Check out On the Path of the Elders at

For more information, email us at

Created in partnership with BlackCherry Digital Media, Archives Deschâtelets, the Doug Ellis Collection at Carleton University, Our Incredible World (Pinegrove Productions), the Mushkegowuk Council, Neh Naak Ko, the Archives of St. Paul University, Carleton University, and Wendy Campbell, Educational Consultant (Learning Methods Group).

This project was made possible with the support of the Department of Canadian Heritage through the Canadian Culture Online Strategy. Created with additional financial assistance from Indian and Northern Affairs Canada and the Inukshuk Fund.

1 comment:

  1. The differences in languages would have been a serious issue for the Elders who signed the treaty. There must have been a host of English words for which they had no literal translation. I speak English but reading Treaty No. 9 requires a completely different vocabulary.