The translation of a selection of beloved books by Robert Munsch into Nêhiyawêwin (Cree) and Denesųłıné (Déné) culminates a two-year project undertaken by Nuxełhot’įne thaaɁehots’į Nistameyimâkanak Blue Quills (UnBQ) University to help revitalize Indigenous languages.
Four books have been translated into both languages, including audio recordings: Love You Forever; Ready, set, go ; black flies; and deep snow. Smelly Socks was also translated into nêhiyawêwin.
Lynda Minoose is one of the translators. She has worked as the Director of Language and Culture for Cold Lake First Nations since 2010 and has done extensive translation work for UnBQ. She says translating is a lot of work, but also a good learning experience for her.
“I don’t see it as a job, I see it as a learning opportunity. I’m learning fluency for a thing and how to say things correctly. I learn to read and write, to speak, to share. I am learning the correct nuances of our language.
Minoose worked on Love You Forever and Deep Snow and hers is the voice that reads the stories in both recordings and sings the mother song in Love You Forever.
Hearing the stories read in these languages is a rewarding experience, said Tina Wellman, language resource developer at UnBQ.
“You can tell a story or a joke in English and it’s so bland, but then you go say it in Cree and you’ll have a room full of laughter. It’s such a descriptive language.
Wellman found Munsch to be a strong advocate for the use of Indigenous languages. She contacted publishers Firefliy and Scholastic about how to translate the books after doing some research. She then contacted Dr. Marilyn Shirt, head of the linguistic team at UnBQ, to undertake the translation project. They then had to find funding, which was provided through an Aboriginal Languages Grant from Alberta Education.
Wellman began the translation project by purchasing a number of Munsh books in English “to see which ones have the illustrations that would best represent us”.
Blackflies was originally published with artwork by First Nations artist Jay Odjick of the Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg First Nation in Quebec. He praised the team for their work in a Facebook post.
“Extremely happy to share the news that Blackflies, my collaboration with Robert Munsch, has been translated into Cree by Susan Dion, transcribed into Syllabic by Tina Wellman and Dene, translated and transcribed into Syllabic by John Janvier!… Hats off to everyone involved, as well as my gratitude and respect for them for fighting for our languages and our young people. Kichi Migwech,” he wrote. “It is one of my dreams that one day parents can have libraries for themselves and their children in Aboriginal languages.
Blackflies was a huge hit, like all of Munsch’s works.
“Everyone has heard of Robert Munsch and a lot of our kids have read them,” Wellman said. “I am a great defender of our language and I wanted to join our young parents and their children. I can only speak for myself, but I grew up in a family where they said: “What is our language worth? So we weren’t encouraged to speak our language.
Shirt interpreted the question. “The way I would translate that would be ‘What is our language for?’ In this context, (Wellman’s) mother would say, “It’s no use to us.”
“One of the reasons we lost our language is that some parents asked how would it benefit our children to learn and speak Cree? It is better for them to learn English so that they can function in this environment. And then some parents said, “It’s better for our children to learn English so that they don’t have to go through the pain of what we went through when we went to school, and the discrimination and the difficulties that we have and abuse as a result of speaking Scream’.
The loss of use of native languages is why Wellman thought the audio component would be important because there are so many people who cannot read and write in the languages and she wanted to appeal to that audience.
Shirt said she spoke Cree until she was about five or six years old, then she went to boarding school and her mother decided it was better for the family to speak English. Shirt started learning the language again as an adult after the birth of his daughter. She and her husband wanted to create an environment for her daughter to learn Cree.
Language revitalization became Wellman’s passion.
“I started my journey working in group homes and saw the kids there didn’t know the language so I thought I’d go into the social work program and change the policies. and make sure our language is taught to the children in care.”
Once in the program at UnBQ, all Wellman could think about was the language, so she changed her field of study and learned to read and write in Nêhiyawêwin because, although she was fluent in it, she didn’t. had never learned to read or write it.
“And that made me even more excited because I’m a bookworm and I want to be able to go to the bookstore and pick up a book in nêhiyawêwin and be able to read it.”
The two-year project included more than the translation of the Munsch books. Resource kits have been created for teachers, which include lesson plans, videos, games and 14 storybooks written by UnBQ students.
“We have students in our classes who write their own stories and then we publish them,” Shirt said. “I think there are enough stories that people have within our own communities, our own history and our own life events that we have to tell on our own.”
Shirt said he realized there was a lack of resources in indigenous languages at all levels: higher education, secondary and for people to watch media or read books.
“And the focus [usually] is not about our own stories, our own dreams. It’s someone else: Jack and Jill and this life. So I think we have to be able to have value in our own stories, our own lives, and our own history,” Shirt said.
“Since the days of (Prime Minister John A.) Macdonald, there has been the development of a negative Indian narrative which allowed the people of that time to treat First Nations people with the harshness that they done. So that made people in Canada accept this kind of behavior, but it also affected how we viewed ourselves because we were also listening to this negative Indian narrative,” Shirt said.
“So that has to change. We have to start seeing the value in our lives. And the stories students wrote about things they experienced in their own lives weren’t all negative. They are quite positive and they show us as human beings. And if these stories can be told in Cree, so much the better. Or in denesųłıné.
Visit https://www.bluequills.ca/UnBQResources/BQStore to order books and resource materials.
By Rebecca Medel, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Windspeaker.com, Windspeaker.com