The Little Cree Books evolved out of a class project Dorothy Thunder assigned to her Intermediate Cree class in the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Native Studies in 2009. Many of the young adult learners in the class had difficulty reading at the level required by many of the great Cree language books that already exist.* At the same time, they found that Dorothy’s assignment—which was to write a short story in English, translate it into Cree, and provide illustrations—was not only a great way to demonstrate what they had already learned, but also to learn and cement new vocabulary and grammatical rules. The Little Cree books are simply an ongoing extension of that class project, and are intended to add to the collection of Cree language resources that are currently available.
The major addition that these little books make to the original class project is that they are written using Alberta Education’s Cree Language curricular guidelines as their foundation. Because the structure of the Cree language is much different than the English language, it does not always make sense to simply translate books for early English readers into Cree. Some Cree rules are more complex than their English counterparts, and are more appropriately introduced at higher reading levels, while other Cree rules simply do not exist in English (or vice versa). Therefore, these little books are designed to incorporate the vocabulary and grammatical elements introduced at each grade level in Alberta’s Cree curriculum framework and guides to implementation (K–3 and 4–6).
The University of Alberta’s Faculty of Native Studies generously provided funding through the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) Aboriginal Research Programme grant for the “Good Relations for Cree Language Education in Alberta” project, led by then-Dean Ellen Bielawski, to support Caylie Gnyra in the initial creation of the Little Cree Books project. Mary Cardinal-Collins, as well as current and former Native Studies faculty, including Dorothy Thunder, Nathalie Kermoal, Val Napoleon, and Reg Cardinal, have provided support and encouragement along the way. The project now continues on a volunteer basis, with a simple love of the language as its driving force.
*For example, “kôhkominawak otâcimowiniwâwa/Our Grandmothers’ Lives as Told in Their Own Words” and “âh-âyîtaw isi ê-kî-kiskêyihtahkik maskihkiy/They Knew Both Sides of Medicine: Cree Tales of Curing and Cursing Told by Alice Ahenakew” (both edited and translated by H.C. Wolfart and Freda Ahenakew) and even the somewhat more-accessible “wawiyatâcimowinisa/Funny Little Stories” (by Cree linguistics students and Arok Wolvengrey).
These little Cree books serve several purposes:
- Developing the stories provides an opportunity for contributors to learn more Cree vocabulary and practice writing in SRO and syllabics.
- Creating the digital illustrations and layouts provides an opportunity for contributors to learn how to use Adobe Illustrator and InDesign to create digital books.
- encourage others to contribute as authors, artists, or translators for many more books on an ongoing basis. Contact us if you are interested in contributing/collaborating!
- encourage contributors to work collaboratively on the books, and build a community of people who are excited about learning and sharing the Cree language.
- provide an opportunity for classes to fundraise for field trips, events, or class resources by writing and illustrating new books (which could be posted here, to add to the collection of accessible Cree language resources) that could be “sponsored” by groups of donors. This idea is just in its early stages, but please contact us if you are interested in discussing it further.
- provide a collection of resources for early Cree readers to view online at school or at home, or as hard copies that can be printed and duplicated.
- provide files that can be changed and edited by instructors of other Cree dialects or other Algonquian languages, for use in teaching their languages.