The Cree Literacy Network was created in 2010 to promote Cree language and cultural literacy, through the publication of bilingual books and other literacy materials (in Cree and English) that use Standard Roman Orthography for writing Cree. We believe that Cree language literacy can be learned better and spread farther if everyone uses the same, consistent writing system. We also believe that authentic Cree language materials prepared in translation can promote cultural literacy, even among those who read only English.
But Cree literacy refers to so much more than just reading. Cree literacy also means awareness of Cree history and culture, living tradition and ancient ritual. It means the understanding of the depth and scope of damage from past wrongs, and the necessity of the fight to see them righted. In these difficult days of the 21st century, it also means being aware of Cree political issues past and present, and working together with others — Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal alike — to help preserve the “home on Native land” that we all share.
This network is based on a small but determined circle of dedicated speakers, writers, students, teachers and linguists, whose collective commitment to the Cree language spans decades in the prairie provinces of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta. It also includes input from others who are equally committed in other ways to the revitalization of Cree culture in all its forms.
Building on the substantial living legacy created by Honourary Founders, Dr Jean Okimâsis and the late Dr Freda Ahenakew, we hope to contribute to strengthening connections throughout the Cree-speaking communities of the prairies, and offer meaningful support to those who share our passion for retention and revitalization of the Cree language (in spoken and written form), and of Cree culture. not just the survival, but the revival and flourishing of the language in spoken and written form, working as it should within a vibrant and flourishing culture.
What is Standard Roman Orthography?
Standard Roman Orthography, or SRO as it is also known, is a system of spelling that uses Roman letters (that is, the letters of English alphabet), with a few modifications, to represent Cree language sounds. SRO is unique among the presently available systems of writing Cree because of its consistent (that is, “standard”) approach to spelling.
Consistent spelling – writing the same word the same way every time – is an essential building block in developing truly fluent reading skills in any language. SRO is also the spelling system that is mostly widely used for print publications in Cree, and has the greatest number of published reference resources. As of 2010, SRO is taught and used in a Cree language programs in schools, colleges and universities across the prairies.
The Cree Literacy Network seeks to build on this solid, tested foundation by increasing awareness of SRO, and using it as widely as possible to help carry the Cree language – and with it, Cree culture – forward into the 21st century.
What about Syllabics?
Whether you believe syllabics were invented by the Methodist missionary James Evans in the 1840s, or that syllabics was a gift directly from the Creator to the Cree people, educational research shows that syllabics is neither better nor worse than SRO for reading and writing Cree. Some research even shows that it may be easier for beginners to read. Perhaps this is why syllabic literacy spread so quickly following publication of the first syllabic bible.
Although many Cree speakers learned to read and write in syllabics, and a few of their handwritten documents and journals have been preserved, the printing presses remained within the hands of the churches, where they were used almost exclusively to print prayer books and hymnals. Today, special computer software makes syllabics more available on computers and smart phones, but it still takes considerable expertise to set them up for ordinary users, and the collection of non-religious reading materials and reference sources remains very small.
Members of the Cree Literacy Network respect and value the efforts of all individuals and communities working to speak or write Cree in any form. We hope to encourage a spirit of cooperation among Cree-speaking communities that will help to fill bookshelves with high quality Cree language material suitable for all readers. We hope those who are committed to syllabic literacy will see our library as a resource that can help support them in preparing publications of their own.