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  • Writer's pictureAndrea Custer

Teaching Cree in 2022

I was born into a war

A war that has been waged against every fiber of my Creeness and that of my people

My shield is the values and teachings left by my ancestors

Brothers fallen from the spears of diseases and addictions

Fighting for who we are is complicated and tough

Sometimes I feel it is dismal

Still I cling to hope

My ancestors suffered through diseases and residential schools and still they held on

They are power, and resilience

So, we are power, and resilience

Today, tomorrow, and forever, I will put on my armour and war paint

Grab my weapons, get online, and train the next generation of warriors

nikī-nītāwīkin mīkwāc ī-kī-nōtināniwik

ōma kā-nōtinikawiyāhk kā-isi-nīhithawiyāhk ohci

niwīcīhikon kīhci-kiskinwahamākīwina kā-kī-nakitamākawicik nikihci-āniskocāpanak

nitisānak pakisinwak āhkosowina ohci

kā-nōtinikiyān ninīhithawātisiwin ohci āskaw athiman

āskaw kīkāc ninōhtīsinin

māka kiyāpic nipakosīthimon

nikihci-āniskocāpanak wīthawāw kī-kitimākisiwak, āhkosowina ikwa ayamihāwi-kiskinwahamākiwikamikohk, ikwa kiyāpic kī-miciminamwak onīhithawātisiwinwāw

wīthawāw aniki maskawātisiwak, ikwa sōkātisiwak

kīsnānaw mīna kimaskawātisinaw, ikwa kisōkātisinānaw

anohc, wāpahki, ikwa kākikī nikapostiskīn ninīmāskwīwina ikwa nōtinikīsisopīkahikan

nitotininīn ninaskwākana, nitotōtān apihkīsīs-athapiyihk, ikwa nikiskinawahamāwāwak kotaka


tānisi my name is Andrea Custer

I have been a Cree teacher since 2014, beginning in maskwacīs Alberta. Beautiful nēhiyaw country! I’ve had the opportunity to work in Beauval, Sturgeon Lake, Ahtakakoop and SICC before I came back full circle to First Nations University of Canada in 2019 starting as a sessional instructor and then as a Cree Language instructor.

In 2020, I was asked to teach Cree 100 and Cree 101 and then boom the pandemic hit a couple of months into my language teaching experience. Everyone had to adjust a new life online including the students that I’ve been blessed to work with and teach.

Two years later, we are still teaching online with plans to return to face to face teaching. Nonetheless, the pandemic has forever changed the way we do language teaching

(among other things).

It may have created some hardships as we could no longer socialize like we used to, but, it also provided a new way of teaching Cree to the world!

In December 2020, I sent out a poster asking if anyone was interested in a Cree and Coffee group on Sunday mornings through zoom. This is where I met Charlotte and she helped me facilitate the next three sessions of Cree on Sunday mornings.

Thank you niwīcīwākan for continuing on with this important work.

Many other language teachers did the same, they saw the opportunity to share language in an online platform.

In university, we all had to adjust to a new style of learning. Remote learning.

I am fortunate that I enjoy learning about new techniques and methods including technology so I adapted fast and I am still learning.

Improving my practice as a Indigenous language educator is always a priority.

It will be so strange to go back to the classroom. There is a lot of discussion to be had about the effects of the pandemic on people and on teaching an Indigenous language online.

What I found is that I had a glimpse of my students lives, I got to meet their families. Some mommas and babies. I encouraged students to listen in with their children so they could learn some Cree as well. I understood it was a challenging time for them, they (and teachers) could not be in a quiet room to concentrate for a while on the subject.

I found it easier to build relationships with students who kept their cameras on during class, I could see their face and they invited me into their lives.

I got to know them and they got to know me.

In my own home, the laundry would give me dirty looks, the dishes would have fun piling up and the floor always wanted to attract any dirt. When are you going to clean me the house would say tapping its foot as I tried to concentrate on the laptop.

When my son couldn’t be at daycare because someone had COVID, he would sometimes come say hi in online classes but most of the time, kept himself busy.

Home life, work life, and school life, they all blended in with each other.

Teaching Cree is like that.

It fills every aspect of my life, they all blend so I can’t completely disengage with work automatically because speaking Cree in the home carries on even when the day is done.

Cheers to all Indigenous Language Teachers who show everyone again and again that we are a group who push forward and carry on for the next generation.

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