Celebrating the first Woodland Cree dictionary

Valerie G. Barnes Connell Jordan/Northern Advocate With photos of the Late Colin Charles and his manuscript in the foreground, Chief Tammy Cook-Searson and Keith Goulet wrapped Minnie McKenzie is a Star Blanket, honouring her for her leadership and work in the digitalizing of the two-Volume Colin Charles Cree Dictionary.
Valerie G. Barnes Connell Jordan/Northern Advocate
A photo of the late Colin Charles, (R) and Keith Goulet (L) in 1974, when work on the Dictionary began, with a copy of the original work, was central to the evening’s celebrations.

Family members and those connected with the production of the first and only TH Dialect Cree Dictionary gathered at Kitsaki Hall in La Ronge on Wed. Feb. 8 to launch the long-await resource.
“This is the first TH dictionary that we have so … this is going to teach many of us Cree,” Chief Tammy Cook-Searson said to begin the evening celebrations. “Even us fluent speakers can learn Cree because there’s lots of old Cree words in there that we don’t use that much.”
The late Colin Charles began work on the dictionary in 1974 and continued until his death June 11, 2013, at which time, Chief Tammy Cook-Searson promised to get the dictionary published and available for the people.
Keith Goulet, who co-wrote this with [the late] Colin Charles, was on hand for the celebrations.
At the time of Charles’s death, Goulet suggested the dictionary be digitalized to honour Charles and his work.
“(We thought) that should be no problem,” Cook-Searson said as she spoke of the work taken on initially and primarily by Minnie McKenzie, LLRIB Cree Language and Culture Coordinator. “My goodness, it’s been so much work, 10 years.”
McKenzie carried the manuscript with her throughout her many life changes such as teaching with NORTEP, working with LLRIB in different capacities. Although sometimes living away from the community, but she kept the manuscript with her through the intervening years.
During the celebrations, Cook-Searson and Goulet presented McKenzie with a completed set of the Dictionary. They also wrapped her in a Star Quilt in appreciation for her dedication and work to see the project completed.
Photos of the late Colin Charles and a copy of the original manuscript sat in the centre of the proceedings.
LLRIB printed copies of the two-volume work to give to family members and presenters at the event. The dictionary will be made available for purchase in the near future.
Others who have help with the project have been Simon Bird, former LLLRIB Education Director, Knighton Hillstrum and Jack McKenzie.
“Minnie took it on and here we have a digital copy now,” Cook-Searson said.
The digital copy makes the Dictionary available for publication in print and other possibilities in the future.
It is published in two volumes. Volume 1: Cree to English and Volume 2: English to Cree.
Goulet worked with Charles on the dictionary and continued through the digitization process to the final work.
Goulet was “our MLA for many years and he also worked as Education Director and he led NORTEP/NORPAC and got it what it was, bringing teachers to the North and training our northerners to become teachers,” Cook Searson said.
Charles left an important legacy for the people and was remembered during the celebrations by his daughter, Regina Poitras and granddaughter, Karen Sanderson, who both spoke at the event.
The evening ended in Cree with a Kahoot game, highlighting the Cree language and the importance of language enhancement and preservation.

Valerie G. Barnes Connell Jordan/Northern Advocate
Viewing the completed dictionary for the first time are, the late Colin Charles’s daughter, Regina Poitras, and granddaughter, Karen Sanderson. Both contributed additional information in the completion of the project.