The University of Regina Press, located in Saskatchewan in western Canada, is a relatively new publisher: it was launched in spring 2013, out of the ashes of the decades-old Canadian Plains Research Center Press, the university’s former publisher. But the press has already established itself as an important force for Canada’s aboriginal cultures, aiming to bring new life to endangered languages.
June 2 marks one year since the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada released its initial report, which offered 94 calls to action to repair the country’s relationship with aboriginal people, referring to this part of Canada’s past as “cultural genocide.” For instance, the report includes stories of children who were beaten for speaking their native languages in government- and church-run residential schools.
To help address this history of oppression, this June URP will release a book titled 100 Days of Cree by Neal McLeod, a professor at Trent University and a poet. The nonfiction book is divided into 100 themes and offers Cree words and English explanations for everything from traditional subjects such as powwows and medicine to modern subjects such as Facebook and Star Wars. It also includes a guide to pronunciation written by Arok Wolvengrey, a linguist and the author of a Cree-English dictionary.
“When we think about indigenous languages, there’s a part of us that thinks they’re dying languages, ” URP publisher Bruce Walsh said. “And then this manuscript comes in that demonstrates a living, vital language.”
McLeod said that he and Wolvengrey worked to keep a balance between traditional usage and modern adaptations. “To revitalize our languages, we have to do two things: we have to document the classical terminology, because within that terminology are all of our metaphors and idioms; but we also have to think of how to put old words together, to coin words, to describe the contemporary world.”
According to Walsh, in addition to publishing scholarly books, he aims to publish “cool, fun, playful, and accessible” books that appeal to young people. That’s why URP plans to also publish a word-a-day Cree book later this year, as well as a mobile app on the language in spring 2017.
Cree has more native speakers in Canada than any other aboriginal language—about 83,000, according to 2011 census data—and there are dozens of other native languages at a greater risk of becoming extinct. URP is in the midst of an ambitious project called the First Nations Language Readers. The press has already published five Language Readers, each of which features traditional and modern stories told in both the aboriginal language and English, covering obscure languages such as Blackfoot and Lillooet; the goal is to cover 60 or more aboriginal languages.
Other URP titles include James Daschuk’s nonfiction book, Clearing the Plains: Disease, Politics of Starvation, and the Loss of Aboriginal Life, which has sold more than 21,000 copies, and Joseph Auguste Merasty’s 2015 memoir, The Education of Augie Merasty. Walsh said books like this are important because they educate the public about Canada’s censored history. The Truth and Reconciliation report “reinforced that the path we’re on is the right path,” Walsh said.