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Moose Cree dictionary launch stirs hope and inspiration

Wednesday April 16, 2014
Submitted photo

A snapshot of entries related to love in the Moose Cree dictionary that was launched on March 31 in Moose Factory.

The Moose Cree dictionary launched on March 31, a Monday.

My aunt Geraldine Govender set a goal to make this happen and I remember her talking about the dictionary often. I am very happy for her and it is bittersweet to see the dictionary with a dedication to my granny Janiskwew.

In the last few years of Granny Janiskwew’s life, I remember sitting at her feet and listening to her speak in Moose Cree. It was difficult for me to understand and this disconnection still saddens me. The release of this text does give me hope, that my own children and the next generation will have a chance to connect with the voices of their Elders.

I was impressed with the community members that have turned out for the launch and the workshops that happened on Tuesday (April 1) and Wednesday (April 2).

My aunt Geraldine had this to say after the dictionary launch: “It was with heartfelt gratitude and enormous excitement that I saw the people gather in the foyer of the Moose Cree complex during the book launch of the Moose Cree dictionary and again afterwards with the influx of requests for copies of the dictionary. Never had I imagined that this would spark such interest and hope.”

In many ways, this dictionary is a remedy to reports about the languages of First Nations communities dying. When our Elders die, I think about what they are taking with them, what we won’t learn from them and what Cree words, expressions and stories they knew.

“Moose Cree is an archaic dialect and as such is unique and worthy of strengthening and celebrating,” Geraldine said on the day of the release.

I now feel I have a chance to learn the language my Granny spoke gracefully, eloquently and candidly with her family. I think of the stories and history of the community she shared with us and hope this will allow others to connect with our roots. I remember how I loved listening to her tone change as she told stories, especially when she got to the funny, exciting parts. My Aunties have recorded her stories in the last few years, and with this book I will hear them and understand them a little more. What’s the first little step I can take? Read and get to know the Ililîmôwasinahikan, perhaps a page or two a day.

I attended the Tuesday workshop on how to use and read the dictionary. Kevin Brousseau, the Cree linguist from Waswanipi who compiled and edited the dictionary, led the workshop.

Brousseau took the time to explain both writing systems found in the dictionary, the syllabic and alphabetic, and also spoke about the importance of keeping our particular dialect of Cree alive. As he put it, the loss of a dialect is not only a tragedy for the community where it was once spoken, but also a tragedy for the culture in general.

I found the workshop fascinating, especially when Kevin spoke of word formation. I was amazed at how innumerable words can be created simply by adding parts onto a lexical root.

Dictionary entries such as sâkihtâw, sâkihew, sâkihâkan, sâkihiwew, sâkihiwewin, sâkihitowak, sâkihitowin, sâkihikosîw, and sâkihikosîwin, all words that refer to love with various shades of meaning, nicely illustrate the beauty and richness of our language.

Some young people were in attendance at these workshops, but most of the crowd was older community members and Elders. During the discussion, I saw the interest in Moose Cree language grow in our community as people of all ages were beginning to share words they learned from the dictionary. Having posted pictures of the dictionary online, people started contacting me from all over the country to ask me how they could get their hands on a copy of this dictionary!

I look forward to seeing this publication evolve in future editions. Having studied French and Spanish in school, I remember the verbs and their conjugations, and it seems like a part dealing specifically with this would be highly practical in a future edition of the dictionary.

My aunt Geraldine also studied languages in school.

“I am relearning my language which I spoke as a child,” she said as she watched a room full of people begin to learn their basics of the language spoken by their ancestors.

“I studied various languages in high school and university and began to appreciate how Cree is such a fascinating and rich language. With one word, we can describe what it would take several words in English. The dictionary and future edition(s) will give us the lexical terms that we can use to express ourselves as our ancestors did.”

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