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Nehiyaw Language Lessons

Nehiyaw Language Lessons

The ᓀᐦᐃᔭᐤ (nêhiyaw or Plains Cree) Language Lessons Program is an ongoing offering of the Centre for Race and Culture that is unique to our organization.


Initiative Background

The ᓀᐦᐃᔭᐤ (nêhiyaw or Plains Cree) Language Lessons Program is unique due to the methodology used by Reuben Quinn, our language instructor and project coordinator.

The methodology, which is based on ᒐᐦᑭᐯᐦᐃᑲᓇᐠ (cahkipehikanak or syllabics) and their arrangement in the star chart, is a traditional format that incorporates the cultural and philosophical teachings of the ᓀᐦᐃᔭᐤ language. This method of teaching the ᓀᐦᐃᔭᐤ language is not used anywhere else in the greater Edmonton area or in the entire educational system in Edmonton.

The methodology, which is based on ᒐᐦᑭᐯᐦᐃᑲᓇᐠ (cahkipehikanak or syllabics) and their arrangement in the star chart, is a traditional format that incorporates the cultural and philosophical teachings of the ᓀᐦᐃᔭᐤ language.

The objective of our language lessons is to teach ᓀᐦᐃᔭᐍᐏᐣ (Plains Cree language) using this holistic approach based on 44 symbols, 14 consonants and the eight-direction syllabic system. The directions’ philosophies are included as the lessons are taught in the manner of natural law.

Edmonton has the second largest Indigenous population of all Canadian cities, second only to Winnipeg. Many of our citizens are searching for ways to regain their lost language and reconnect with their cultural identity. Through our language lessons, learners become empowered by learning ᓀᐦᐃᔭᐍᐏᐣ (Plains Cree language) using the traditional and historical way of language transmission. This helps participants to reclaim and strengthen their own cultural and linguistic heritage while also ensuring the survival of this language.

For survivors of the residential school system and other impacts of colonization, the revitalization of language is an important part of strengthening culture and cultural identity.

Upcoming Classes: 

Currently, we are not offering the lessons due to lack of funding. We are hoping to secure funding for this important initiative and restart the lessons soon. Stay tuned!

Beginners ᓀᐦᐃᔭᐤ Language Lessons is a course designed for adult language learners who have little or no prior knowledge or instruction in the language. This course covers an introduction to the 8-direction, 44-symbol, 14-consonant star chart system. Time will be spent on learning and practicing correct articulation of each sound. Basic vocabulary including numbers, kinship, and greetings will be covered. By the end of the course, students should be able to draw the start chart and articulate each sound accurately. Students should be able to introduce themselves and have a short conversation in the language.

Intermediate ᓀᐦᐃᔭᐤ Language Lessons is a new course designed for adult language learners who have already completed the beginner level course with Reuben Quinn (or who have some prior knowledge of ᓀᐦᐃᔭᐍᐏᐣ and the syllabic writing system). This course will continue where the beginner level course leaves off, building student vocabulary, fluency, and understanding of the language. Time will be spent on verb conjugation, sentence structure, and basic conversational skills. Intermediate vocabulary including verbs, colours, and other topics tailored to students’ interests will be covered. By the end of the course, students should be able to have some short conversations in the language.

Meet the 2020-2021 Team:

Reuben Quinn, Program Coordinator and Instructor: Reuben has been working with Aboriginal youth and adults within Edmonton for 16 years. He has been a Cultural coordinator and Cree instructor for Edmonton Public Schools, Mother Earth Children’s Charter School, as well as the Edmonton Young Offender Center. Reuben grew up in the residential school era and when the Blue Quills School was taken over by the Aboriginal community, there was a resurgence of language and cultural teachings. Reuben credits the late Mrs. Rosanna Houle for reviving the Nehiyaw (Cree) Cahkipeyihkanah and teaching it to all the students who had been liberated from the residential school. The Nehiyaw Cahkipeyihkanah, or as some refer to it ‘the Star Chart,’ is a tool Reuben uses for teaching the Cree language.

Angela Van Essen, Program Assistant: Angela is a mistikwaskisin iskwew (a Dutch-Canadian woman) whose parents were born in Holland, and she has been learning nêhiyawêwin (the Plains Cree language) since 2008. She has worked as a teacher and as a teacher’s assistant in a variety of contexts, including Cree language classes, English literature classes, Film Studies courses, and English and a Subsequent Language classes. She holds a PhD in English from the University of Alberta, and writes about language learning, Indigenous language rights, and the wonderful complexity of nêhiyawêwin in her doctoral work on bilingual Cree-English poetry. She has published articles in Canadian Literature, Studies in American Indian Literatures, and Writing on the Edge. She is currently an Assistant Lecturer in the Department of English and Film at the University of Alberta.

Chad Whitford, Teaching Assistant: Chad is an entrepreneur from amiskosâkahikanihk (Beaver Lake Cree Nation) and is currently living in amiskwaciywâskahikan (Edmonton), he is experienced in designing and selling indigenized products. Before becoming an entrepreneur, Chad spent nine years in retail management as a store manager and department manager. For the last three years, Chad has been further developing his nêhiyawêwin through the Centre for Race and Culture. He has been implementing and modernizing nehiyaw syllabics into his artwork.

Class Details

Weeks 1 – 4

Introduction to the 8 direction, 44 symbol, 14 consonant star chart system (Nehiyaw cahkipeyihkannah). Logistics of the cahkipeyihkanah.

Weeks 5 – 6

Articulation. The p, t, k, c sounds are not represented in the English alphabet irrespective of diphthongs. The mechanical function, which is articulation, of speech will be put into practice with each student individually.

Week 7 and 8

Greetings and salutations; Naming animate and inanimate objects; Identifying relationships i.e., mother, father, brother, sister etc.

Weeks 9 to 12

Basic conversation; Function of prayer; Personalizing the language to one’s needs; Reviewing the star chart; Making a list of Elder, family, library, internet resources; Evaluation.

Nehiyaw Language Video Resources

Nehiyaw Language Video Resources is a video series to complement our Nehiyaw Language lessons delivered by instructor Reuben Quinn. In this series, you’ll find a videos in both English and Nehiyaw to help you build your understanding of Nehiyaw language and culture, practice your articulation of Nehiyaw language sounds, and hear Nehiyaw spoken by a variety of speakers. We are also working on English subtitles for these videos to help make them accessible to all learners.

Many thanks to Miyo Pimatisiwin Productions Inc for their hard work in making these videos possible, and to all of the Nehiyaw speakers and elders who contributed their time and knowledge to the project.

The series consists of the following videos:

Spirit Markers: Instructor Reuben Quinn reviews the Spirit Marker system.

Articulation: Instructor Reuben Quinn discusses some of the unique sounds in Nehiyaw.

Learning Nehiyaw Language: Wayne Jackson shares some of his experience and perspective.

Language and Connections to the Land: Wayne Jackson speaks about connections between Nehiyaw language and the land.

Descriptive Language: Ken Saddleback and Reuben Quinn talk about the layers of meaning embedded in Nehiyaw words and language practices.

Teaching Nehiyaw: Ken Saddleback and Reuben Quinn speak about the importance of continuing to provide Nehiyaw language education.

Conversations: Conversational Nehiyaw, featuring Charlene Burns and Reuben Quinn.

Storytelling: This video features Carl Quinn, delivering storytelling in Nehiyaw.

Education and Culture: Ken Saddleback and Reuben Quinn talk about the connection between education and culture.

Practice Nehiyawin: In this video, Ken Saddleback and Reuben Quinn talk about language and cultural practices in Nehiyaw and English.

Want to learn more? Check out this interview with Reuben Quinn

Initiative Funders

This initiative is supported by Canadian Heritage (Government of Canada).