Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Language challenge for Cree Nation

Norway House sets goal for 2020

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MARCEL Balfour is challenging the 5,500 residents of Norway House Cree Nation to become proficient in Cree by the year 2020.

Balfour, chief of Norway House, persuaded the band council earlier this week to adopt a multi-faceted motion that will make Cree the community's official language and will encourage residents to speak Cree as often as possible.

Balfour, 40, readily admits he is far from being proficient in Cree but adds he's prepared to do whatever it takes.

"I'll have to roll up my sleeves and get with the program," Balfour said.

The resolution also designates the third Monday of September as Cree Language Day and a local holiday, when all band employees and members will speak only Cree.

"We want to have councillors go into the schools and have the students see them speaking Cree," Balfour said.

Balfour estimates that about 75 per cent of the community understands Cree and between 50 to 60 per cent can speak Cree to some degree.

He said he chose 2020 as the target year because it's a realistic time frame.

The band council has been pressuring the Frontier School Division to bring in a Cree immersion program at the two schools it operates in the community, Balfour said, but added the division has been dragging its heels. He said he hoped the resolution will pressure the division to comply with council's wishes.

Balfour said English is the language of business on council and in most places in the community, adding it seems it's the older generation that is more comfortable speaking Cree.

Balfour said he was adopted twice and grew up in southern Manitoba. A lawyer by profession, Balfour said being able to speak Cree is vital to the community.

"I think going back to school and learning to speak Cree cannot be as painful as studying law," Balfour said.

Balfour said he expects that being proficient in Cree will eventually be a requirement to holding local office.

aldo.santin@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 9, 2009 A4

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