19 August 2021

nēhiyawēwin: paskwāwi-pīkiskwēwin (Cree: Language of the Plains)
by Jean L. Okimāsis
Published by University of Regina Press
Review by Marlin Legare
$34.95 ISBN 9780889777675

Contrary to mainstream and colonial belief, Indigenous languages are not dying tongues. The rate of resurgence of Indigenous languages to the academic and literary realms are unprecedented and their continued existence and usage despite repeated attempts towards their destruction is a testament to the resiliency of Indigenous languages and those who practice them. This resiliency and dedication to Traditional languages is no better exemplified than in nēhiyawēwin: paskwāwi-pīkiskwēwin (Cree: Language of the Plains).

This instructional piece of literature published by University of Regina Press was written by Jean L. Okimāsis, a retired Cree language teacher originally from White Bear First Nation who still actively works in the production of Cree resources for the First Nations University of Canada and other organizations. Reading this, it was clear to me that Okimāsis has a decorated background as an educator as it read incredibly structured to me. If one were to surround a class around the contents of this book, it would be a simple task to separate classes based on chapters or even segments of chapters.

The book begins with an introduction of the Cree language, informing the reader that Cree is not a homogenous language, but rather one with many different dialects and inflections. The dialect covered in this book is Plains Cree, but many others do exist such as Woods Cree and Rock Cree. As languages are meant to be spoken and not exclusively read, the lessons covered in this book are very phonetic in nature. Okimāsis does a phenomenal job of covering the spoken intricacies of a language that is traditionally spoken rather than written. If you are to utilize this book to teach yourself Cree, I would recommend doing so either with a partner or in the comfort of somewhere quiet as you will need to physically sound words and phonetics out to gain a better understanding of the language. This is especially true for those with little to no Cree experience as some letters and accents make completely different sounds to their English counterparts.

However, there is no need to be intimidated by the uniqueness of the language as Okimāsis covers these phonetics as well as verbs, sentence structure, conversational contexts, modes, and includes a wide variety of appendices and references. It is also worth mentioning that this book is accompanied by audio labs and language workshops that are provided online for free. Search “Cree Language of the Plains” wherever you get your podcasts to learn along.

This book is highly versatile for the secondary educational classroom, those seeking to get in touch with their cultures, and even language enthusiasts as it can be workshopped in a group setting or done alone at your own pace. Overall, it is a highly practical language learning tool that I predict will be a mandatory reading for Indigenous language classes for years to come.


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