March 10, 2017 8:15 pm
Updated: March 14, 2017 7:16 pm

Cree app launched to help preserve indigenous language

WATCH ABOVE: The Athabasca Tribal Council was brainstorming ways to encourage more young people to learn indigenous languages. As Emily Mertz explains, they decided to create a translation app.

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The Athabasca Tribal Council wants to make sure indigenous languages are not lost. So it took matters into its own hands — to put language back into the hands of youth.

A free app, called ATC Cree, provides hundreds of words with their Cree translation.

“It has categories of words,” developer Byron Bates explained. “You can press on a category and it has a list of words with the English, the Cree, and a play button.

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“You press the play button for each word and you’ll hear it spoken in Cree.”

Bates was approached by the council to help create the app as a way to get young people more engaged in the language.

“I think most indigenous languages are under threat of being slowly lost,” he said. “Cree was the most spoken language in Canada before contact. If we didn’t have colonization, our national language would probably be Cree.”

READ MORE: Grassroots initiatives forming to preserve aboriginal languages 

So far, the team has recorded 447 words, about 120 of which are already on the app.

“We’re going to go around to the other member nations of the Athabasca Tribal Council — there’s five member nations; three of the nations speak Cree, two are Dene. We’re going to go around and record elders from each community that speaks Cree and put it into the app,” Bates said.

“We’re going to slowly make the app bigger and better. We’re going to launch a Dene app very soon also. We’re just going to make it very robust and hopefully it’ll be used in schools and [by] all the youth.

“I think it’s great,” he added. “Your language is a big part of your identity as an aboriginal person… to be proud of your heritage and to want to speak it.”

The app is available for Apple and Android devices.

For Bates personally, the project meant coming full-circle.

“I went to Vancouver Island University and got a Bachelor of Science, majored in computer science. I dealt with ATC to help get me the funding to go to school. Now, many years later, I’m using the skills I learned in university working with ATC to build this app. I think it’s great.”

© 2017 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc

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