Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of February 22, 1999
Sister loved the Cree
U of A prof finishes dictionary begun by aboriginal nun from Hobbema
By RAMON GONZALEZ
WCR Staff Writer
Fifteen years after her death and thanks to a University of Alberta professor, a Cree nun from Hobbema has realized one of her dearest dreams - the publication of an authoritative Cree dictionary.
Earle Waugh, a professor of religious studies at the U of A, made Sister Nancy LeClaire's dream come true Jan. 29 when he released the Alberta Elder's Cree Dictionary - a 577-page dictionary which includes extensive Cree-English and English-Cree sections.
The dictionary project began in the mid-1970s through the initiative of LeClaire, a Samson Cree from Hobbema who had a great personal love for the Cree language.
"Her concern at the time was the Cree language was taking a beating under the overpowering dominance of English as a cultural language and the movement of the Cree people into the cities," noted Waugh, who teaches aboriginal religious traditions as well as Islamic traditions at the U of A.
LeClaire, a Sister of Assumption, believed an authoritative Cree dictionary would not only aid Cree youth in becoming more fluent in her beloved language, but would provide a bridge for other Albertans to appreciate its beauty.
She spent more than eight years working on the dictionary, using the insights of many elders and Cree consultants in the process.
She used Father Albert Lacombe's Cree dictionary as a basis for her work which she revised and completed to the letter N.
Before her death in 1984, LeClaire pleaded with Waugh to complete the dictionary. "I was presented with an incredible task because I don't speak Cree," commented Waugh. "I'm not a linguist."
Enlisting the help of many Cree elders, including George Cardinal, who co-authored the dictionary with LeClaire, Waugh edited the book and got it published by the University Press.
Waugh also used Father Roger Vandersteene's 500-page manuscript on learning Cree to finish the second part of the book from the letter O to Z.
Vandersteene's work was especially helpful for the last 100 pages of the book, English to Cree, which presents new terminology.
The Cree people constitute the largest aboriginal language group in Alberta and many other Cree-speakers live across Canada. The Alberta Elder's Cree Dictionary is based upon both the Northern Cree (the "TH" dialect) and the Plains Cree (the "Y" dialect).
One of Waugh's biggest challenges was collecting Cree words in both dialects as Cree communities, sometimes 15 km apart, may use a completely different word to describe the same thing.
"There is no guarantee that we have captured the richness of the Cree language here," he admitted. "I'm absolutely positive that there are hundreds or perhaps even thousands of words out there that we have not included in the dictionary."
However, Waugh is convinced the dictionary will go a long ways in helping preserve, present and expand the Cree language.
It took over 100 people and $200,000 to complete the project, with money coming from government and private sources.
The dictionary is designed for schools, families, businesses, governments, media as well as speakers, students and teachers of Cree. There are about 20,000 Cree people across Canada, 4,000 of them in Alberta.
Out of 1,350 copies of the dictionary printed, 500 were sold before publication. It sells for $49.95.
Now Waugh wants to put the dictionary onto a CD-ROM, a task which may take at least a year.