New language app aims at keeping Cree culture alive

After three years of hard work and dedication, the Samson Cree Nation has entered the world of iPhone apps.

App to teach and preserve Cree

App to teach and preserve Cree

After three years of hard work and dedication, the Samson Cree Nation has entered the world of iPhone apps.

A Cree language app was introduced to the world last week with the intention of ensuring a future for the Cree culture. Samson Coun. Vern Saddleback was inspired by the idea after hearing former United States president Bill Clinton speak some years ago. The speech touched on cultures being lost because of failing to modernize.

“I took those words and that’s exactly how I think,” said Saddleback.

It was about three years ago that Saddleback met with a software development company called Thornton Media Production, who expressed interest in developing this language app. Saddleback jumped on the idea and spent the next year finding ways to pull together $25,000.

“It’s a cheap cost when you consider what’s at stake,” he explained.

This app is designed as a fun way for kids to learn the Cree language and get other people and cultures to learn some basic Cree phrases. Saddleback feels as technology advances and kids get older, the Cree culture is disappearing. The response from members has been overwhelming, he said.

The free app contains almost 600 words and is quite large at 500 megabytes, but it is filled with games, quizzes, a recording of a word or letter sounds and a recorder for users to improve their articulation.

Developers had to be aware of the Cree culture as well, so Saddleback invited more than 30 elders and Cree language teachers to plan how the app should look like and what would be needed for learning.

The process took almost a year of planning and then Thornton Media took another nine months to develop the app. Saddleback received his first version of the app before Christmas. “We were floored,” he said.

Despite some glitches with pictures and words being mixed up, Saddleback and his team were excited at what they saw. Once the kinks were sorted, the app was released on Apple’s app store for free and was displayed at a Treaty 6 education conference last week.

“We had such a great reaction from the community and from the kids,” said Saddleback.

He saw a video of his granddaughter trying some of the games and being excited when she had the right words.

Plans for future apps are underway and Saddleback said they are thinking of ways to incorporate botany and other sciences into new apps that meet school curriculum. Initial work on those apps has already begun.

As of Jan. 31 there were 453 downloads of the app with users downloading from Canada, the United States, Taiwan, Indonesia and Thailand.