NWT Literacy Council L a n g u a g e s    o f    t h e    L a n d header graphic
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The Cree language is the most widely spoken Aboriginal language in Canada. In the 1996 Canada Census, it was listed as having 76,840 mother-tongue speakers. By comparison, the second largest Aboriginal language group is Inuktitut, at 26,960 mother-tongue speakers. Cree is one of only three Aboriginal languages in Canada that could be considered, as a whole, to be enduring. However, in a few areas of the country, it is clearly declining.

Although there are 76,840 mother-tongue Cree speakers in Canada, only 49,855 say that Cree is currently the first language in the home. This is a ratio of 65% nationally. In Saskatchewan, the ratio of home-language to mother-tongue speakers is 59%. In Alberta, it is 48%. In the NWT, it is 17%. Obviously, the status of the language varies quite widely from area to area, with a sharp decline in usage in the NWT.

There are four formally recognized dialects of Cree in Canada: Plains Cree, Swampy Cree, Woods Cree, and Moose Cree. The South Slave region uses a dialect referred to locally as Bush Cree – which is similar to Plains Cree but with some regional adaptations. The four main dialects have a few consistently different sounds along with some distinct word differences.

According to the 1996 Canada Census, there were 185 people in the Northwest Territories who listed Cree as their mother tongue. However, there is no data concerning the number of people in the NWT who are actually of Cree heritage – the only census categories for Aboriginal people are Indian, Metis, and Inuit.

It is common knowledge that Tthebacha Dene text image (Fort Smith) has the largest group of Cree people, both First Nation and Metis, and that Hay River also has a significant Cree population. The Bush Cree dialect is most common in Tthebacha Dene text image and the Plains Cree dialect is most common in Hay River. Most of the Cree people of the South Slave region have relatively close family relationships with Cree groups in northeastern Alberta and northern Saskatchewan. Many of the northern Cree are inter-related with the Chipewyan people.

According to the the document "Nehiyawehin – Cree Language Plan for the Northwest Territories", the following actions must be taken to preserve and revitalize the language.

  • Establishment of Language Advisory Committees in Tthebacha Dene text image and Hay River.
  • Development of local policies that support language retention initiatives.
  • Creation of language coordinator positions.
  • Direct funding of community and culture based language activities.
  • Integration of school and community programs.
  • Establishment and/or expansion of Cree language resource centres in Tthebacha Dene text image and Hay River.

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