New books bring languages to life

‘Our Own Words’ authors share life experiences in Cree and English

By Kuaile Wei

Three books, multiple personal stories and one thing in common: all are written in both Cree and English. 

The “Our Own Words” series inaugural titles were celebrated by the University of Regina Press (URP) and First Nations University of Canada (FNUniv) at a book launch at FNUniv’s Regina campus on Oct. 26.

“We’ve been seeing online, and hearing in conversations at the Language Keepers Conferences, that there are many beginner texts or early language-reader books but there are fewer longer, more advanced books that people can have access to,” said Karen Clark, the senior acquisitions editor of the URP team.

The press hopes to bridge that gap with the books, which so far include kôhkominawak otâcimowiniwâwa/ Our Grandmothers’ Lives, edited by Freda Ahenakew and H.C. Wolfart; kâ-pî-isi-kiskisiyân /The Way I Remember by Solomon Ratt; and Kayas Nochin / I Come From a Long Time Back by Mary Louise Rockthunder.

“The series has… already published three books, with a focus on the First Nations communities and others interested in learning or practicing Indigenous languages,” explained Clark.

Clark said the books allow readers to engage with the richness of Indigenous languages and cultures at an intermediate level.

One of the books in the series, The Way I Remember by Solomon Ratt, explores the experiences of a residential school survivor and their journey back to language and culture.

Clark said the publishing house was drawn to this book due to the importance of supporting Ratt in sharing his personal story and traditional stories from his community. 

“The impact of the book is expected to be significant, given the scarcity of memoirs published in Indigenous languages and the need to preserve these stories for future generations,” said Clark.

Clark explained the books in the series are envisioned to resonate with readers both within and outside the Indigenous community, inspiring conversations and discussions on Indigenous culture and language. 

“We hope to inspire conversations nationally, to the rest of Canada, people maybe who don’t have the opportunity to sit down with someone like Solomon. His own words tell the story ,” said Clark. 

As well, this approach helps ensure Indigenous stories are represented accurately, she added.

“We hear a lot of stories in the news, lots of representations of Indigenous people, but this is a firsthand account of his own story.”

The books are “very important,” according to Jesse Archibald Barber, professor of literature at FNUniv. 

“Those books provide a very reliable source of knowledge of how the languages (are) spoken and not just in an academic sense, not just in a sense of preserving the language, but in a way that is still rooted in the living community,” said Barber.

Looking to the future, UR Press plans to continue the “Our Own Words” series, and to expand the languages included. 

“Because of where we’re situated on Treaty 4 Territory, we have more relationships with the language groups that are of this Territory,” said Clark.

Clark said the press is in the early stages of planning a book with a Michif-speaking Elder, which presents the opportunity to publish the story in three languages, Michif, English and French. They are also exploring the possibility of publishing in Nakota.   

“We’re taking it seriously, hopefully, with great sensitivity to do our part in answer to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action,” she said.

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