"Gokum showed me how": Four Cree children's perspectives on language and culture maintenance
Eighty percent of Indigenous children in Canada attend provincial schools off-reserve where there is no legal requirement for inclusion of Indigenous language or content in the curriculum. This has implications for the twin challenges currently faced by Indigenous communities in Canada of maintaining traditional cultures and languages while also overcoming a large gap in educational achievement between Indigenous and non-Indigenous children. While the challenges are well understood, there has been little research into these issues from the perspective of the primary stakeholders in education: children. This qualitative study explores the perspectives of four Cree children, their family members, and some teachers through a critical, social constructivist lens in the context of a James Bay Cree community in northern Quebec, Canada. This study asks, “How do Cree children who live on a reserve and attend non-Indigenous schools, and their families, make space for the expression and maintenance of their language and culture in daily life?” The data analysed include a ‘photovoice’ project conducted with the four students, and focus group discussions held with the children, their families, and teachers. The findings demonstrate that families maintain Cree traditions through land-based activities like hunting, supported by intergenerational teaching within the family. Although participants expressed cautious optimism for language maintenance, students and parents perceived that Cree knowledge has no place outside of Cree communities. Teachers felt constrained by their lack of confidence, resources or government mandate for including Cree content. Overall, between Indigenous communities’ twin challenges of culture maintenance and school achievement, achievement appears to be valued more highly by some parents and teachers. These findings have implications for how we understand the ongoing effects of colonization, globalization, and the hegemony of dominant languages and cultures in Indigenous education.