(A shorter version of this article appears in the April issue of the Anglican Journal.)
The University of Regina Press (URP) is publishing a series of First Nations Language Readers, or story collections, designed as teaching tools for beginners wanting to learn particular languages and about the cultures of the people who speak them.
In April, Blackfoot Stories, a collection of eight stories told by Lena Russell, will be released. Russell Ikkináinihki “Gentle Singer,” a fluent speaker of Blackfoot from the Kainai (Blood) reserve in southern Alberta, produced the book with Inge Genee Piitáákii “Eagle Woman,” a linguist at the University of Lethbridge. Blackfoot is not usually written in syllabics, so unlike other books in the series, the stories are presented in the Blackfoot language using the Roman alphabet, together with the English translation only. The book also includes a Blackfoot-to-English glossary containing all the nouns, verbs and adjuncts found in the texts, as well as stress or pitch accents over the vowels.
Also slated to be released this year is Woods Cree Stories, written and translated by Solomon Ratt, a Woods Cree speaker and educator at the First Nations University of Canada (formerly Saskatchewan Indian Federated College). Writing in the foreword, Arok Wolvengrey, a professor of languages and linguistics at the university, promises that the stories are suffused with Ratt’s special brand of humour, which he says is not only the best medicine but also “an exceptionally useful teaching tool.”
Another book in Lillooet is planned for 2015.
These books follow two others published for Plains Cree and Saulteaux by the University of Regina’s predecessor, The Canadian Plains Research Centre Press. Though the press was renamed and launched in 2013, its new publisher Bruce Walsh says its focus on aboriginal publishing continues. “Our motto is ‘For many peoples, a voice.’ So we are really going to work on those language guides and get as much of that language out into the country as we can, and we’re going to continue to do deep publishing within aboriginal history,” he said. Walsh added that he would like to see the series map the 75 aboriginal languages used across Canada.