Caylie on a Chinuk Walk

When the community we planned to start working with in late May 2014 had its funding temporarily delayed, Evan and I decided to make the most of our free time and the +1500-km drive I had made from Edmonton to the Pacific Northwest. I met him in his hometown in rural Oregon, and we spent the next 10 days using Where Are Your Keys? Techniques to teach each other a bit of Chinuk Wawa and Cree.

I had been interested in WAYK since last spring, when I heard a Sḵwxwú7mesh language worker enthusiastically describe the method while presenting on a spreecast on indigenous language revitalization. I’m not Aboriginal myself, but I’ve had an interest in learning the Cree language and helping others learn more about it, and the fact that I can’t speak more than a sentence or two of it after several years of classes made me curious about whether I could learn to speak Cree—and help others in Edmonton who I know want to learn it—through WAYK.

During my first few hours in Oregon, Evan and I recorded a short pre-test to demonstrate my knowledge of Chinuk Wawa, which was effectively non-existent. Over the next week, Evan introduced me to 40 or 50 “Techniques” used in WAYK, and we spent an average of 2 hours each day playing with the language. This was my limit, and we spaced out our learning throughout the day, breaking sessions into more manageable 15- to 45-minute sessions every few hours, with breaks for resting/project-planning in English/eating in between. Our very first session was out in the mossy woods, and I was delighted to find that lessons could take place anywhere imaginable: in the forest, by a river, touring local sites of interest, on walks in small towns, in restaurants and grocery stores, etc. I quickly learned that everything was a setup! Evan was constantly plotting ways to strategically introduce new aspects of the language to me, and many setups were set up hours or even days in advance!

Caylie's Molalla Chinuk Lesson

At the end of our week, Evan and I recorded a post-test. I had been nervous that I would be a “dud,” as my previous attempts to gain fluency in French and Cree had fallen flat. To my surprise, we carried on (and recorded) a conversation in Chinuk Wawa over 30 minutes long! The conversation was certainly not advanced, but I could express some likes and dislikes, describe some things we had done throughout the week, talk about my family, etc.

In that one week, I had gained the proof I needed that WAYK could be used to help others learn the Cree language.

Post authored by Caylie

Written by Evan Gardner