Tag Archives: Cree

News from away! (with the Batmanns and their iPad)

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We received our iPad just before going to Argentina, and it has been our faithful travel companion ever since. It was on this little screen that we saw our niece for the first time (after hiking six hours down a mountain to find wifi on a semi-weekly basis… Two weeks overdue, seriously, kiddo?!);
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that Josh applied for Education from an Argentine campground (and was accepted!);
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that a Mennonite frantically tried to learn Cree as his train chugged towards the Northern school at which he was expected to teach it;
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and of course, it was on this little screen that this very blog was born.
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Now, halfway across the world in a different direction, our little iPad has remained faithful in keeping us connected with our lives back home and in being the bearer of some very exciting news. In May, in a campground outside of Rome, it was on this iPad that I opened the email that would change the direction of my life yet again:
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Med!

Going into Medicine has been a dream of mine for many years. I am beyond thrilled to not only have the chance to study Medicine, but also to study it in the Bilingual Stream, which will allow me to continue pursuing my passion for the French language and the French community that has become an incredible part of my life!

I received the email around midnight, so all the buses going into town had stopped running. Therefore, we celebrated my future career in Medicine by running across the highway and going to McDonald’s for celebratory McNuggets. I figured I didn’t need to worry about being a good role model for healthy eating practices until I was actually IN med school 😉
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After receiving my acceptance in May, I had a few blissful weeks free of any obligations. Finally, however, the magnitude of paperwork caught up to me. In early July, I spent an entire day in my cousin’s office in a tiny hamlet of Switzerland downloading, printing, filling out, scanning, and finally coaxing an ancient fax machine to send all the forms required for my admission. I am frankly astounded that the forms actually sent properly… I don’t know if the College of Physicians & Surgeons of Manitoba have ever received an enrollment package from Ober-Says, Switzerland!
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During this trip, Josh’s path has also meandered along some new adventures! In May, Mr. B officially graduated with his B.Ed. Although we were in Köln, Germany at the time of his convocation, his wonderful Ed friends made sure to include him in their celebrations:
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In June, we were living in a London flat with Josh’s family during their annual trek to England. One Sunday evening, Josh received an email describing a possible job opportunity for the fall. He excitedly emailed back, but the next day, we went to Glastonbury for the night, so we were without Internet for one day. ONE DAY… which was apparently enough time for the principal of the school to request an interview with Josh! Arriving home that night to a pile of emails, we panicked that he had missed his chance. However, thanks to a convenient time difference and some speedy Skype-calls, Josh got ahold of the school, who reassured him that it wasn’t too late, his interview could be moved to the next day.

Fantastic… Except that the next day, we had tickets to see Charlie and the Chocolate Factory at London’s West End. So, we brought the iPad and during the show, Josh snuck out of the theatre and ended up doing his interview in the theatre bar over Skype. Only at one point did his potential employer ask Josh if there was a marching band in the background. Unconventional, perhaps – but, that very evening, there was a job offer in his inbox, so unconventional seemed to have worked!!
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A huge thank-you to Laura for faithfully checking our mail back at home, M.O.M. for being willing to sign and drop off all Sara’s crazy forms, Andreas and Simone for letting Sara commandeer their office all day and then (trying to) explain to their workplace why two Canadians had to use the fax machine for an hour, Gwen and Leanne U. for being the most persistent emailers, the Dixons for the 3G, the bartender at Royal Drury Lane Theatre for not batting an eyelash during Josh’s interview, Margaret Park School for being so flexible (note from Josh: I’m so excited to join you this fall!)… And to all of our amazing friends and family, back in Winnipeg or here in Europe, who cheer us on in our crazy, unconventional, ridiculous adventures. We love you guys and love sharing our life with you!

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Iaith fyw

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Getting to Wales is no easy task. Despite being neatly nestled in England’s bosom, it took us no less than four trains to get there. Mists became heavier, and place names wildly more exotic, as we approached the legendary birthplace of Merlin. Upon boarding the last train we were greeted by this:

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Now, many an Englishperson had told us that Welsh was basically a dead language. But as we passed signs bidding us ‘Croeso’ to places such as Lladundon and Gwynydd, it became clear that we were in a very bilingual country…more bilingual, even, than Canada!

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This comparison between Welsh and Canadian bilingualism got me thinking. It’s not a fair comparison, because Canada’s two languages are both colonial, whereas Welsh is a native (in the most general meaning of the word) language that survives despite the presence of English. A more appropriate comparison would be between English (or French, in Quebec) and the multitude of First Nations languages that have been present for thousands of years.

What has allowed Welsh to survive while less than 1% of Canadians still claim a First Nations language as their mother tongue? And what can Canada learn from the Welsh success? As Canada tries to recover from centuries of colonization, these are definitely things worth addressing (though this applies to the nation as a whole, I will speak only to my own experience, which is in Manitoba).

The obvious answer to this question is financial support. The UK government pours significant amounts of money every year into keeping Welsh alive. All official signage and documentation are in both Welsh and English, with Welsh usually being more prominent. The majority of schools in Wales are taught in Welsh, and basic Welsh is mandatory throughout all grades even in English-language schools.

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Meanwhile in Manitoba, public text does not include First Nations languages until the 58th parallel (which is basically Churchhill and that’s it), and schools must design their own curricula and materials if they want to teach a First Nations language.

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The most common objection to the use of First Nations languages in public institutions (including schools) is that there are simply too many of them. In some respects this is valid: it would be impossible to choose a single language to represent the diversity of a land this massive. But considering that 30 Waleses could fit into Manitoba alone, it is not unreasonable to propose that the Wales-sized plot of land around Winnipeg could include Anishinabe in its public texts while the Wales-sized plot of land stretching from The Pas to Gillam could include Cree, etc.

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The next anticipated objection is that a country cannot function when divided into so many linguistic groups. To counter this, we jump ahead in our voyage to Switzerland. Quite possibly the most stable country in all of history, it is split into four distinct language districts. Street signs, schools, and even food labels switch languages entirely within the same country. In fact, while visiting the Italian-speaking canton, our Swiss German cousin had to speak to the gas attendant in English to be understood. Yet the Swiss are undoubtedly Swiss, and have been for 800 years.

It’s sometimes tempting to believe that language extinction is just a Darwinian fact of life, and that any attempt to fight natural selection is just prolonging the inevitable. In the case of Latin, for example, this is very true. In the case of First Nations languages, however, their pending extinction is entirely unnatural. The systematic destruction of these languages was never inevitable, but rather was artificially imposed in the relatively recent past. This suggests that it is entirely possible to reverse the disappearance of these languages if we support their use in public institutions. Obviously this would not entirely resolve the centuries of distrust between Canada and First Nations communities, but it would be a significant step, and would ensure that the unique perspectives offered by those languages are not lost.

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Springtime in Gillam

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The sky is literally (yes, Phil Cook, literally) on fire with the most beautiful of sunrises as I pass Ashern on the last southbound Greyhound I will take for a long time. It was a complete but emotional goodbye yesterday afternoon. How often, at the end of a practicum block, do you get to visit your students working at the Co-op, and then see their younger siblings biking in puddles outside your apartment shouting ‘tansi!’, or have pyjama-clad brunch with all your favourite teachers?

Time, therefore, to catch up on some blogging, while these memories are still as fresh as the heaps of snow that seems to have disappeared some time during the night. Geez, tropical Winnipeg!

Gillam Round Two began with an epically northern evening. I was faintly aware of something called the Hudson Bay Quest, in which mushers from all around the world race across 300km of open tundra between Churchill and Gillam. I was eating butter chicken at Gillam D’Lite, the best (read: only) restaurant in town, when we received a text offering us a ride to the edge of Stephen’s Lake to see the first mushers riding. So my CT and I jumped into the eccentric science teacher’s truck and joined the small crowd of spectators around a raging campfire on the frozen beach. Among said crowd were students, parents, and a few dreadlocked Minnesotan punks who had come out to cheer their dad across the finish line.

After a few minutes of mingling and shivering, a shout pierced the darkness: “Here comes number one!”

Sure enough, a tiny LED light was visible on the other side of the lake. We watched in anticipation. We kept watching. Then we realized that that light was still a full mile away, pulled by some very tired dogs. So we saved our voices for about twenty more minutes, then cheered for the musher and his nine-dog crew as he slid up the shore. We admired his icicled beard, and the voracity with which the dogs devoured their reward of fresh caribou.

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This process was repeated three more times, along with some tearful embraces by the wives of the men that are crazy enough to do this sort of thing. Eventually we started to run out of forklift palettes to throw on the fire, and decided it was time to call it a night. As my good buddy and roommate Reid would say, “That’s so northern!”

The remainder of Gillam Round Two was less bloggable, but possibly even more memorable thanks to the wonderful people that make this town…

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A very multicultural Easter dinner with our apartment gang, which variously resembled the cast of Friends, Will & Grace, or Seinfeld (along with regular arguments about who was the Kramer)

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Staff versus student basketball game. I can now cross “give a 15-year-old girl a black eye” off my bucket list. Though we both agree that SHE ran into MY elbow.

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The first day of spring is a perfect excuse to wear shorts, even in -22°C.

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A couple of the fantastic middle years students (photo used with permission!) that showed up for our Pysanka workshop. We had a great time hanging out all evening and making some beautiful (if unusual) Ukrainian Easter eggs.

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My EA friend, Wendell, and his buddy Stephen generously invited me along for an afternoon of goose hunting. It turned out to be an afternoon of storytelling and shooting rounds into snowbanks for fun, but an excellent time nonetheless.

I understand that a town as tiny as Gillam is very much characterized by the individuals who live there, so I count myself very fortunate to have been there when I was, since I cannot imagine a better bunch of people to spend time with!

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ᓈᑫ ᑲᐚᐸᒥᑎᐣ!