Learning Nêhiyawêwin - Raven's Story
Updated: Oct 27
One great casualty of residential schools was Indigenous languages. After being taken from their communities, First Nation, Métis, and Inuit children were forced to speak English, or sometimes French, and often punished for using their own languages.  As of 2016, Statistics Canada reported that out of around seventy Aboriginal languages spoken, there were about forty Indigenous languages with only five hundred speakers or less. 
In an effort to revitalize these languages, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission created Call to Action 16: “We call upon post-secondary institutions to create university and college degree and diploma programs in Aboriginal languages”.
We write this blog as part of our Law and Social Media course, and I enjoy using social media. One day this summer, between videos about cats and how to cook potatoes, a young woman named Raven came across my For You page on TikTok. She was discussing her recent move to Edmonton to pursue a Nêhiyawêwin (Cree) language program at Yellowhead Tribal College. When the blog team decided to write about Education for the month of October, I decided to reach out to see if she would be willing to share her story with me.
Raven is a young Plains Cree and Saulteaux woman, who was born and raised in Kitchener, Ontario, and her family is from Lake St. Martin First Nation in Manitoba. Growing up, Raven did not feel connected to her Cree culture. Her mother was taken from Winnipeg as part of the sixties scoop, during which Indigenous children were taken from their families and put into the child welfare system. These children were usually placed in white eurocentric families, and did not have an opportunity to practice or learn more about their culture or language. As a result, people like Raven’s mom were unable to share much about their culture with their children.
Raven wanted to learn more about her Cree culture, yet growing up in Southern Ontario, she did not find many opportunities to, as most people are Anishinaabe and Haudenosaunee. During the pandemic, she began taking Cree language classes online, where one of her classmates shared that they were studying Cree language at Yellowhead Tribal College. After meeting with recruiters, Raven felt like Yellowhead Tribal College was where she needed to be.
Yellowhead Tribal College has been operating on Treaty 6 territory since 1986.  It is one of a handful of institutions across Canada offering degrees in Indigenous languages. Yellowhead Tribal College offers “accredited programs in a flexible, supportive academic environment that nurtures Indigenous cultures and traditions”. 
As a member of Lake St. Martin First Nation, she was eligible for funding for her education. Raven did eventually receive funding, but the process was not seamless. It was not until two weeks before classes started that her funding was confirmed. After posting about this on TikTok, she received over 100,000 views and 11,000 likes, and her comments were filled with people sharing support and providing resources. She found that many other people were experiencing the same issue when trying to get educational funding from their reserve, and she shared advice for them.
Raven’s time at Yellowhead Tribal College differs from her past experience at a colonial institute that she attended while studying advertising and marketing. At Yellowhead Tribal College, she feels that teachers really care about the students and are understanding of different lifestyles. In her previous education, there were rigid deadlines and consequences for late assignments, but at her current institute, there is a totally different vibe. While there are still deadlines for assignments, teachers are more flexible, and it is a more welcoming environment.
In her first year, Raven is taking four classes: Cree 100, which is an introductory Cree class, Native Studies, which is an introduction to Indigenous culture, Traditional Materials, which is about cultural teachings and the spiritual aspect of language, and Cree Morphology, which teaches the process of how the language is put together. After the program, Raven is considering being a teacher, but would also love to incorporate the language into her art, and to teach the language through art.
Beyond her language degree, Raven hopes to continue embracing and learning more about her Cree culture. Although she has not had much opportunity to meet other Cree people in Edmonton in the two short months since moving here, she finds that she sees many more Indigenous people in Edmonton than in her hometown. On her TikTok page she also shares videos of herself jingle dancing, and information about powwows.
As mentioned above, social media can be a valuable tool in finding and creating community. For Raven, each video creates a little community in the comments, where the sharing of experiences and resources can take place. You never know who you will reach on social media. It might be a curious law student, someone who has a shared experience, or someone who is inspired by your story and can learn from you.
Raven’s experience with Yellowhead Tribal College highlights the importance of offering Indigenous Language Revitalization programs. While institutions like the University of Alberta and the University of Victoria are offering such programs, her experience with the Indigenous learning environment shows that there is a lot of value to learning in such a focused environment.
I’m incredibly grateful to Raven for sharing her story with me. Even more so, I am grateful for content creators like Raven who share their stories and can inspire others.
You can follow Raven’s journey on TikTok: Kâhkâkis
If you are a prospective Indigenous student looking to fund your education, check out the following resources shared by the community through Raven’s TikTok:
Dreamcatcher Charitable Foundation First Nation Employment Centre (Regina) Canadian Indigenous Services- Education Native Counsel of Nova Scotia (Nova Scotia) Native Women’s Association of Canada NIB Trust Fund Indspire Bursaries and Scholarships Freehorse Post-Secondary Funding Program Indigenous Language Revitalization Scholarship Program (North West Territories)
Until Next Time,
 Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, Honouring the Truth, Reconciling for the Future: Summary of the Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (Ottawa, Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, 2015) at 200
 The Canadian Encyclopedia, "Indigenous Languages in Canada", (last updated 20 April 2022), online: The Canadian Encyclopedia <thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/aboriginal-people-languages>.
 Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada: Calls to Action (Ottawa: Public Works and Government Services Canada, 2015) at 7.
 Chief Lady Bird, Empowerment through revitalization of Indigenous language and education", (last visited 24 October 2022), online: Queen's University <queensu.ca/research/features/empowerment-through-revitalization-indigenous-language-and-education>.
 Yellowhead Tribal College, "About Us", (last visited 24 October 2022), online: Yellowhead Tribal College <ytced.ab.ca/about/>.