After many years of discussions, the Cree Nation has appointed its first language commissioner.
Jamie Moses was appointed last month and has worked for more than 16 years as the cultural coordinator for his home community of Eastmain, located on the coast of James Bay about 1,200 kilometres north of Montreal.
“The feeling of being selected as the first language commissioner is quite overwhelming. I worked so hard in the field of culture and language over my life,” said Moses, who has been appointed to a five-year term.
Moses was raised by his grandparents and said he was taught to work hard no matter what he was doing. And through those efforts on the land, he mastered the Cree language.
He said he feels a sense of urgency in the work he will be doing.
“We’re in a crucial time where a lot of our elders that speak the language best are slowly disappearing. They are the last generation that lived off the land,” said Moses, who is 38 years old.
Moses said it was an elder who encouraged him to apply for the job.
“She believed this important task should be given to somebody [who] is still young, for the next generation to see the importance of the language,” said Moses.
Efforts to create a Cree language commission have been underway in Quebec since 2012, according to annual reports on the Cree Nation government’s website. In 2019, the Cree Nation passed the Cree Language Act of Eeyou Istchee, which was its first-ever law since achieving self-governance in 2017.
At the time, Grand Chief Abel Bosum said the creation of the commission and the hiring of a commissioner was a priority.
“We want to be able to pass this language and its links to culture [and territory] and so forth on to our children,” said Bosum in 2019.
Preserving the language for future generations is also a priority for Moses.
“My parents’ generation were able to speak to me in my own language from day one, but we’re in an era where a lot of [Indigenous] languages around the world are being threatened because of modern technology,” said Moses.
He also said that it’s a priority for him to use that modern technology, such as YouTube, to create tools to engage youth.
“Those Cree who are speakers of the Cree language, they can write it, write songs in Cree. Those are the ones who we can support for our Cree language to be alive and continue to evolve with us and for those future generations,” said Moses.
A lot of language preservation work has already been done by the Cree School Board and the Cree Nation Government, according to Moses. He said he looks forward to consolidating and collaborating with all the Cree entities in the future.
Moses will start his work as language commissioner early in 2021.