Promoting Cree languages over the air

By Bryan Eneas
January 12, 2018 - 5:00pm

A small northern village’s local radio station is promoting the Cree language not just to its residents but to the entire world.

CFNK Radio based in Pinehouse boasts 100 per cent Cree language programming which extends beyond news. While covering international, national, provincial and local news coverage is offered, minor sports play-by-play is also broadcasted.

Vince Natomagan’s passion for radio started some 30 years ago when he first took the mic as a Cree weather reader. Despite dabbling in various professions and different levels of education, Natomagan said he’s always been called back to the airwaves.

“I always seem to fall back on the passion I have, and that is promoting the Cree language,” Natomagan said. “I’m proud to say it’s more of a passion for me than a duty. My colleague Clarence [Iron and I] always tease each other; I’ll say ‘as long as I can prop myself up in a chair when I’m 80, I’ll probably still be talking in Cree.’”

Natomagan said he and one co-host speak Michif-Cree, and one person speaks fluent “Y” dialect Cree. A new announcer will be starting soon who speaks “Crenglish,” which is a mixture of Cree and English on air.

He said the variety of languages reflects in the stations listener-ship; it’s also a reason why the radio station has seen success on a national and international level.

“Let’s not forget where Cree originated from, the Algonquins in Quebec and Ontario… to northern Manitoba… into northern B.C. and right into Montana,” Natomagan said. “We all understand each other in terms of the dialect we use.”

Presenting radio in Cree presents its own challenges; direct translation is not always possible. To work around this issue, Natomagan and his crew use what he describes as linguistic dynamic equivalence. He said he tries to keep the spirit, integrity or general message of what he’s been told intact while still adhering to strict journalistic principles.

Spreading the language to the youth of Pinehouse is an important aspect of what Natomagan and his team do.

He described his community as at a “halfway” point in terms of using the language. He said roughly 90 per cent of the youth understand the language, but young people might not yet feel comfortable in speaking Cree.

“I’d venture to say we have roughly 250 homes, and I’d say roughly half of those homes tune in at 7 a.m.,” Natomagan said. “So by virtue of that, the kids are actually hearing my Cree news… At least they’re hearing us at the home level. I’m not necessarily sure if they’re speaking [Cree].”

The executive director said in the future he’d like to reach out to the youth and get them more involved in different aspects of the radio station.

Vince, along with his co-hosts Theresa K Natomagan and Clarence Iron bring a combined experience of nearly 70 years to the community of Pinehouse. They’re able to do so through funding grants from Heritage Canada.


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On twitter: @BryanEneas 

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