A wisdom-seeking team from the University of Calgary’s Faculty of Social Work is challenging the way Indigenous cultures are studied in academia by submitting a research funding application entirely in the nêhiyawewin (Cree language).
The proposal, titled isihcikewin e apatak ka natahîwe: atoskatamik tanisi kesi pîtos kiskinohamake, was entirely written in the Cree language and submitted to the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC).
The team, led by Elder Leona Makokis, seeks to use Cree-based and Indigenous wisdom-seeking processes to explore the connections between ceremony and healing through the teachings of Cree Elders and knowledge-keepers. It also aims to honour nêhiyaw (Cree) language holders and knowledge-keepers by submitting an application entirely in the Cree language.
Makokis is a ceremony and language holder from the Khewin Cree Nation and a former president of the University nuhelot’įne thaiyots’į nistameyimâkanak Blue Quills, a First Nations post-secondary institution located near St. Paul, Alta.
“I think it’s really hard for people to totally understand our worldview,” Makokis said. “In the words that we say, when they’re translated into English … they don’t mean much, actually.”
Associate professor and Elder’s spiritual helper Ralph Bodor, Ph.D. candidate Stephanie Tyler, and Metis-nêhiyaw Ph.D. student Kristina Kopp, are also part of the wisdom-seeking team.
“Language creates reality. There are multiple realities, and these realities are created through language.
Cree is a language of verbs. English is a language of nouns. When you’re trying to change a verb into a noun, it’s impossible,” Bodor said.
“So the challenges of, translating words like ‘father,’ ‘mother’, ‘uncle,’ … they’re nouns, but in Cree they’re verbs. They’re roles that people play.”
This is the team’s second proposal written entirely in nêhiyawewin.
SSHRC rejected the previous proposal without appeal because it claims the use of the Cree language makes it unfeasible for the organization to ensure the project receives the same quality of peer review as proposals presented in English or French, according to the University of Calgary’s press release.
Bodor said the goal for the team isn’t getting the funding, but being evaluate the same as every other proposal submitted in French and English. He said SSHRC review committees often bring in French speakers to review French proposals and would like a similar opportunity afforded to the team’s proposal by bringing in nêhiyawewin speakers.
“There is a huge opportunity for SSHRC. … I tried to appeal it, but you can’t appeal an administrative decision,” he said.
Makokis said she wasn’t surprised by the decision, but said this is a learning journey for SSHRC.
“I think this is a learning journey on (SSHRC’s) part,” Makokis said.
“I don’t think they even recognized that there’s another world view aside from the Western world view. … Had they gone through the whole process it would have been a learning opportunity and an opportunity to do some relationship building.”
“Resources and funding are hinging on the ability to speak colonizer languages as opposed to the sovereignty that would come with being able to speak Indigenous languages and be able to operate from within that universe,” she said.
SSHRC is a federal research funding agency that promotes and supports research and research training in the humanities and social sciences.