‘They’re our method of teaching’: mother-daughter duo honoured for creating book of Cree myths and legends

Rose (left) and Elizabeth (right) Roberts pose for a photo after receiving Star Blankets for creating ‘Myths and Legends of the Woodland Cree’. In the background are PAGC Vice-Chief Joseph Tsannie, James Smith Cree Nation Chief Kirby Constant, and PAGC Vice Chief Christopher Jobb. -- Jason Kerr/Daily Herald

Elizabeth and Rose Roberts never expected to receive star blankets for their efforts to preserve Cree stories, but that’s where they found themselves on Monday during the open ceremony of the Prince Albert Grand Council (PAGC) Fine Arts Festival.

The mother-daughter duo were recognized for creating, ‘Myths and Legends of the Woodland Cree’, a new book that aims to teach children stories that previously were only told orally.

“It was very emotional,” Rose said when asked about the ceremony. “It was unexpected because Grand Chief said ‘we want to honour your mother,’ so I was not expecting to get a star blanket. I have never been to a powwow honouring like this where everybody just comes and shakes your hand, so it was emotional.”

Rose was born and raised in Stanley Mission before heading to the University of Saskatchewan where she graduated with a degree in nursing. She went back to get her masters and doctoral degrees in Community Health and Epidemiology, but stayed connected to the traditional lifestyle of the Woodland Cree.

Last year, the PAGC approached Rose about a new educational pilot project to record Cree stories in book form. Rose recorded hours of her mother, Elizabeth who does not speak English, telling traditional stories in Cree, then spent days translating them for the book.

Rose said the stories not only preserve the culture, they help teach young readers about good morals and proper living.

“They’re our method of teaching,” she explained. “I grew up listening to them. When we’d go to bed at night and the kerosene lanterns would be burned out, we’d fall asleep to the sound of my mom telling the legends. When you grow up in the language, it’s an entertaining story, but as you get older and older, you think about it, going ‘oh, that’s where I learned about kindness’, or ‘oh, that’s the lesson.’”

Rose said translating the stories wasn’t easy since it’s easy to lose the message when moving from English to Cree, but she wanted make sure the Woodland Cree dialect survives.

She said the language has always stressed a connection to the land, and that’s something sorely needed right now.

“We are starting to lose our language,” Rose explained. “I’m not the first one to say it. There have been (Cree) language speakers who are saying, ‘we’re losing our language’ so we’re trying to do whatever we can to bring back the morals and values of our culture, and as well, bring back the language so we can maintain our connection to the land and who we are.”

The books arrived from the publisher less than two weeks ago and were on sale at the PAGC Fine Arts Festival on Monday.

PAGC Grand Chief Brian Hardlotte said the books will make it easier for Indigenous youth to learn about their culture.

“Our elders in all our sectors in all our communities, they still know the legends and they tell those legends and myths to their grandchildren,” Hardlotte said. “Sometimes the schools will get them in cultural camps and so on. Elders will go there and share their stories, but very seldom are they’re captured and put into a book form.

“It’s something we weren’t really used to doing because we did everything orally, but I think now in this day and age, it’s important to capture that and that we keep it. It’s also a resource for the educators.”