Charis Auger plays the role of a Cree person questioning their history and gender identity in a small classroom theatre production at the University of Alberta.
Auger’s character is living on 118th Avenue in Edmonton. In the play, the character picks up her cousin and the two urban Cree women drive to meet their grandmother and aunt on reserve. But the trio cannot communicate in the same language, causing heated arguments.
For Auger, 30, it’s not far from the truth.
“This is the first time I’ve been in a safe space where I feel I can express my truth,” they said Wednesday. “I wasn’t raised speaking Cree, so I’ve always felt this disconnect with who I am.”
Auger is now reclaiming their language through a literary drama course at the Canadian Indigenous Language and Literacy Development Institute.
This partnership between the University of Alberta’s arts, education and native studies departments lets Indigenous instructors perfect their methods of teaching Dene, Cree and Nakota Sioux languages to young First Nations children.
In the teacher’s play, the students are working in five different languages, including two dialects of Dene. Drama instructor Darlene Auger sat down with the students and created different scenes of life in Indigenous communities for them to act out.
“The disconnect between elders and the new generation still happens to this day,” she said.
Darlene Auger is also teaching her students techniques like mind-mapping and making stories out of objects for the teachers to use with children between kindergarten and Grade 12.
“We hope this gives them the confidence and the strength to go to university,” she said. “Their medicine can become culture and their language.”
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