Tânisi, Bob Nitisikâson, niya apihtawîkosisan: A phrase I have said over and over again. I often still stumble over some of the sounds and my mouth attempts to wrap around the fluidity of nêhiyâwêwin – The Cree language. But I am getting it, slowly. Apsîs – a little bit. That one little phrase has so much in it: it is a greeting, an identifier, a statement; an affirmation. I never say this little phrase without feeling.
Every week I drive home from a Monday full of meetings and often challenging conversations and I head straight to Cree language class. I have been attending now for over a year and a half. When I first came to class I was really nervous, I am the first in 4 generations of my family to speak Cree and honestly, I didn’t know if I even deserved to learn. When I arrived I behaved exactly like I did in school, quiet, and as respectful as I could be. I was very shy and I didn’t talk to anyone. I just came, learned some words and left. At least that was the plan.
But it wasn’t very long before I was getting teased along with the rest of the class as we made little mistakes with the words, my cheeks would turn all red and over time I began to feel comfortable, even loved within the class. Not only were we learning the language, we were learning what it means to think and behave in nêhiyâwêwin. Patrick and Patsy would tell us stories about growing up in their home, they invited us into ceremony to hear the words we were learning and to listen to Cree prayer. We smudge and pray at the beginning of every class so that the ancestors are there with us, just laughing too, and smiling because they are so proud of us learning what was almost forgotten. We were also able to learn the language from it’s source during the summertime with a week on the land. Because the language lives there, this was such a powerful place to learn and grow closer together. It felt like home.
Ninanâskomon – I am so grateful for Cree class. It is hard to find a community of people in the city willing to learn together and laugh together, to be vulnerable, to challenge one another and to support one another in reclaiming what is, for many of us, lost cultural connection. Cree Class is so much greater than just language because the language has LIFE. It IS life. Nêhiyâwêwin teaches me humility when I speak out of turn, patience when I can’t learn a word, compassion when others are struggling, honesty because it’s impossible for me to lie in Cree, generosity when I am able to help. And I am learning this through the generosity of the Elders who teach us. They are patient when we ask them to repeat words kihtwam – over and over again.
I look forward to Cree class every week and I treasure the friendships I’ve made there. We can’t learn language and culture without a community and Pathways has done an incredible job at fostering all three.
Kinanâskomitinaw – I am grateful to you all.
Ekosi – the end.
Written by Cree Learner and Pathways Volunteer, Bob Montgomery