U of R Education student’s video supports U of R’s Reconciliation efforts

By University Advancement and Communications Posted: September 1, 2020 2:00 p.m.

U of R Education student Wahbi Zarry on location in front of First Nations University of Canada.
U of R Education student Wahbi Zarry on location in front of First Nations University of Canada. Photo: courtesy of Wahbi Zarry

Wahbi Zarry is a third-year Faculty of Education student in the Baccalauréat en éducation (le Bac) program. Originally from Casablanca, Morocco, Zarry grew up in France and later relocated to Montréal before moving to Regina to study to become a French teacher.

His interest in Indigenous languages was fueled by his attendance at several conferences where he discovered that many of the world’s First-Peoples’ languages are at risk of disappearing. A multiple-language speaker (French, Arabic, English), Zarry is producing a documentary series called Canadian Languages, half-hour videos designed to build awareness about Indigenous languages. 

10 Days of Cree is the first of the documentaries that follow Zarry’s efforts to learn as much of the Cree language as he can in less than two weeks. To help him achieve his goal, Zarry enlisted the services of Solomon Ratt, an associate professor in the Department of Indigenous Languages, Arts, and Cultures at First Nations University of Canada, a U of R federated college . For more than 30 years, Ratt has taught Cree in the Y-dialect (Plains Cree). He has also authored several workbooks and story collections including mâci-nêhiyawêwin (Beginning Cree) and nihithaw acimowina (Woods Cree Stories), both published by UR Press.

Wahbi Zarry and Soloman Ratt, an associate
professor in the Department of Indigenous
Languages, Arts, and Cultures at First
Nations University of Canada, dive into a
Cree language lesson.
Photo courtesy of Wahbi Zarry

“My main goal with the videos was to present the fragility of Indigenous languages in a different manner,” says Zarry. “It’s important that it be a story documenting my experience - I’m a foreigner - that didn’t grow up in Canada. My perspectives on Indigenous languages will be different from a Canadian or someone with a European background.”

Adds Ratt, “I thought 10 days of Cree was a good project, that is why I was receptive to his proposal. Most of the world's Indigenous languages have died and more are threatened. For those that have a chance of survival they must be used in multimedia projects like Wahbi's project and more visibility of their use in the communities. Right now, it is rare to hear any Indigenous language used in community gatherings, media broadcasts, and print – posters, newspapers, and books.”

In the latest issue of the Faculty of Education’ blog, Education News, Interim President and Vice-Chancellor Thomas Chase observed that Zarry’s video aligns with many of the University’s most important initiatives. 

10 Days of Cree is a fine example of the quality work our students produce, and just as importantly, a fine example of Reconciliation in action that should inspire and serve as an example for us all – particularly as we work to bring to life our new Strategic Plan, kahkiyaw kiwâhkômâkaninawak,” said Chase.

Zarry started working on the production in December 2019 with the help of Tony Quiñones, a Regina filmmaker who served as director of photography and editor. The video features, among others, Chief of the Cowessess First Nation, Cadmus Delorme  BAdmin ’13, MPA’16 and Saskatchewan’s Lieutenant Governor Russ Mirasty, S.O.M., M.S.M., a Cree speaker.

According to Ratt language can’t be separated from culture.

“Language has all the aspects of being Indigenous or being a person,” Ratt said in a 2019 interview on CBC Radio. “Everything is present in the language; family values, kinship systems, the respect you learn through the kinship systems, they’re all within the language."

In Ratt, Zarry found an instructor with as much passion for teaching as he has for his language.

“I was so impressed with Solomon,” Zarry says. “He encouraged me a lot. I think he agreed to do it because he was impressed by the fact that a non-Indigenous guy coming from halfway around the world was interested in this subject.”

Zarry hopes that eventually Canada will find itself in a situation similar to New Zealand. In that country, the Indigenous language of Māori is one of three official languages (along with English and New Zealand Sign language) and these days many of the teachers of Māori are non-Indigenous teachers teaching Māori to Māori people.

“I hope people learn from the video that Cree is a very interesting language to learn and there’s only one way to save Indigenous languages,” says Zarry. “I don’t like the word ‘save,’ I prefer the word “revitalize” the languages. When I say, ‘learn the Cree language,’ I don’t mean to be fluent. I urge everybody to take 10 hours to learn more about the Cree language.

Since posting the video to YouTube, Zarry has received feedback from all over the world.

“This is why we put the video on YouTube,” he says. “It can be seen by people all over the world. Just the other day I got a comment from a person in Turkey. I took the comment and translated it with Google Translate and the guy was saying very beautiful words. He was saying we have to protect all languages in the world.”

Zarry’s next video will focus on the Nakota language and is set to be released later this year.

To view 10 Days of Cree click here.  To follow Zarry’s Canadian Languages Facebook page, click here.



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