About Cree Syllabics

Florrie Mark-Stewart surfs the web in Cree
Florrie Mark-Stewart surfs the web in Cree

The Crees use a syllabic writing system developed by the Methodist missionary James Evans in the 1840s. It became popular amongst the Cree of Iiyiyuuschii, towards the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth centuries, with the availability of religious texts translated into Cree syllabics under the direction of reverends John Horden and W.G. Walton. It wasn't long before syllabics were known and used by almost all Cree adults.

Evans' Typemaking Project web page

Then, as a result of residential school and the public education system in our communities, the use of syllabics by youth and middle-aged people declined. In the last twenty years, however, there has been a resurgence in its use, school-aged children and many young adults now able to read and write syllabics: By placing a great deal of emphasis on Cree literacy in its programs, the Cree School Board has played an important role in its resurgence.

Most Crees feel that knowledge of syllabics is an important part of being Cree, and that Cree literacy plays an important role in maintaining and promoting the use of their language. Some, however, are torn about how best to promote it:

At the moment Cree is the sole language of instruction from kindergarten up to and including grade three. With many of the youth struggling to complete high school, some parents wonder if the concentration on Cree is interfering with the academic progress of their children.