Recent History – 1999
March 2, 1999
By Mike Leschart, Daily News Staff
A pilot project offered through the city’s Child Development Centre (CDC) is offering courses that can strengthen families and help parents rear children more effectively.
Through the Building Blocks program, young parents learn a host of parenting techniques, along with discovering more about their backgrounds and culture.
“It’s right for people who want some help to strengthen their family, and who are prepared to put time in participating in the program,” said CDC Executive Director Ruth Westcott.
“Many of us as young parents really don’t know a lot about child development.”
The program is in its infant year, funded by the province and offered through the CDC and Aboriginal Family Resources Society.
Twenty families are currently taking part. Building Blocks offers an eclectic mix of topics, for both white and Native parents, who are either referred to the program or refer themselves.
A Cree course, for example, is taught by Isabelle Friesen (Eagle). Students begin with the alphabet, which in traditional Cree actually consists of symbols instead of letters, and progress to familial terms like mother and father, and on to the months of the year.
“They’re using it for their every day language — bacon and eggs or milk or whatever it is,” Friesen said. “Lots of times we laugh at ourselves when we don”t come out with the right pronunciation.”
The class is a learning experience for Friesen as well, who has a Saulteaux-Ojibway background. She says the Cree language is a universal native language, pulled from both the Plains and Woodland Cree of Canada.
But through time, the language is becoming lost, and the traditional symbols have transformed into blocks of English letters that resemble sounds. This often makes the words long and difficult to spell. Some of the shorter words are, for example, nohtawe (father) and nikawe (mother). But often the words are twice as long as their English derivatives, and are difficult to remember. But many of the problems can be overcome, she says, within the right learning environment.
“If you can have a very easy atmosphere when you’re teaching something like this, people remember it a lot more,” she said.
So with her Cree dictionary and Hymn Book, Friesen is able to restore some of these lost traditions, a mission she says is tremendously worthwhile.
“It just seems like I’ve been lying on the ground, just like an apple laying dormant and all of a sudden, Bingo I’m plucked and there I am,” she said.