University of Alberta summer camp helps Indigenous women learn Cree

A group of young Indigenous women is reconnecting with their culture at the University of Alberta campus.

It’s part of a 10-day long summer camp called the Young Indigenous Women’s Circle of Leadership

“Encouraging our young ladies to become strong Indigenous women and to be proud of who they are and where they come from,” said knowledge keeper Susan Sinclair.

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“Part of this course is learning how to function in mainstream society as well as maintain their identity as strong indigenous women.”

The program has been in existence at the U of A for 12 years.

It’s the first summer being back in person after going online the past two years.

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“It’s wonderful to have kids back in person to do real things with real elders and knowledge keepers,” said Dr. Heather Blair, a literacy and language professor at the U of A.

“We have the resources — we’re a big university, we have a lot of people here who care about Indigenous languages, so it’s kind of bringing the resources together.”

Allie Parry, 15, participated in the online course last summer and said it’s a good community of people to learn alongside.

“You get to learn your culture, traditions, you really feel at home when you’re here,” Parry said.

The camp includes cultural crafts, traditional teachings and storytelling.

The primary focus, however, is on reclaiming the Cree language.

“The importance of language retention is of the utmost importance, especially right now during truth and reconciliation,” Sinclair said.

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“They’re just like sponges wanting to learn the language and that is what we want to encourage.”

When it comes to learning Cree, Parry is a beginner, but she’s glad to have the opportunity.

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“Now I can say a few little lines and little songs, That’s progression to me, so that means the world,” the teen said.

“Our culture has language left and that’s wonderful.”

The YIWCL is the only Cree immersion youth program in Alberta and it’s open to all Indigenous and non-Indigenous women between the ages of 12 and 18.

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