Fort Smith youth create new board game to preserve Cree language and culture

A new N.W.T board game is bringing Cree language and culture to northern communities. 

Ryan Schaefer and Eyzaah Bouza, both 20 years old from Fort Smith, created the game to be like Snakes and Ladders, with a traditional twist. 

Named Trails and Overflow, the game takes players through a South Slave trap line where their knowledge of Cree animal names and numbers are tested in a race to the finish line. 

Schaefer and Bouza developed the game at a 2018 workshop joining language revitalization with game development. Schaefer said he never expected the product to come to fruition.

When he heard the concept that he and Bouza created would be brought to life, Schaefer was thrilled. 

He hasn’t yet seen the prototype in person, but said the art and game pieces “look amazing,” noting Yellowknife artist Cody Fennell’s design. 

“It’s pretty cool, something that me and my buddy made a few years ago, joking around, actually turning into something big,” he said. 

Read more: CBC/Radio-Canada

New twists on an old language: Efforts flourish to keep Cree alive

Mahti nehiyawetan — let’s speak Cree.

Cree speakers believe the key to preserving the language is just that simple.

Neal McLeod, author of 100 Days of Cree, says the language is at a pivotal point in history — it can either fade into obscurity like many other First Nations languages or see a resurgence.

However, it all depends on those interested in not only learning it, but in teaching it.

McLeod, from the James Smith First Nation, considers himself fortunate because he grew up hearing the language spoken by his relatives. As he grew older, he made a conscious effort to learn it.

Each year, the world loses more Cree language speakers than it gains. Their dwindling numbers has become an increasing concern to those, like McLeod, who could be among the last generation of Cree speakers.

As an educator and author — but not a language instructor — he decided to do something about it.

Read more: Regina Leader-Post