Cultural revitalization: Drawing on the past for a better future

Posted on June 19, 2020

I’m from kâniyâsihk, which means “a point” in Cree. This particular point is located on Ministikwan Lake in Saskatchewan, where I grew up and still live. The boreal forest is extremely beautiful, and is home to amazing lakes as well as various animal and bird sanctuaries.

As a researcher, I’ve studied teaching methodologies, teacher training programs and environmental education in an effort to improve the education in my community. For over 15 years, I’ve worked with community schools to promote education that focuses on the land and the Cree language. Let me tell you a bit about the revitalization efforts I’ve been involved in.

kâniyâsihk Culture Camps

At Ministikwan Lake, we launched a group initiative that could inspire other communities to do the same. In 2000, we found that there was a disconnection—a communication breakdown—between our elders and our children. Our own Indigenous dialect, Plains Cree, was not being spoken by many children at school or in the community, which made it very difficult for our elders to pass on their Indigenous knowledge.

We also noted a disconnection with the land. For example, the annual harvesting of medicinal plants and wild foods, such as edible berries, was becoming an endangered tradition. We were so rich in culture and resources that this disconnect had gone unnoticed. But when the elders and knowledge keepers were no longer connecting with the younger generations, it was alarming to enough of us to take action. As community members and family members, we decided to create a space where we could not only share our knowledge and language but also learn from other Indigenous nations of the world. We created kâniyâsihk Culture Camps (opens in new tab), a non-profit organization focused on the holistic well-being of the community. It is a gathering place for elders to pass on their knowledge and teach our youth about our ancestral customs. It is also a place to commune with nature, paddle on the lake in the summer, go dog sledding in the winter and return to the heart of Cree culture by speaking the language and making connections. More than 16 years later, we’re proud to say that kâniyâsihk Culture Camps have been a real success.

Cree immersion school

The success of the kâniyâsihk Culture Camps encouraged us to launch a program for the students in our community: kâ-nêyâsihk mîkiwâhpa, a land-based Cree immersion school.

We started the Cree immersion school in response to a community survey designed to determine the importance of our language and culture. The survey revealed an overwhelming need to preserve, revitalize and normalize our language. This drove us to determine how much time students were spending speaking Cree at school and to closely examine the education curricula. We discovered that the curricula were not representative of any Indigenous knowledge. Rather, they were very Eurocentric.

It was clear that we needed a program that would allow us to impart our ancestral knowledge, preserve our traditional culture and revitalize the Cree language. Our immersion school allows our community teachers, who are all fluent in Cree, to use their skills and teach in their own dialect. It is a place where First Nations perspectives are explained and students are dedicated to learning.

Inspiration for the future

I hope to inspire others to implement their own cultural revitalization initiatives. Such programs provide opportunities for Indigenous youth to develop traditional skills, learn about their native culture and speak their ancestral language. But more importantly, these types of programs allow younger generations to reconnect with their elders, who have a wealth of knowledge to pass on.

If you know of another Indigenous revitalization project, tell me about it in the comments sections below.


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Get to know Kevin Lewis

Kevin Lewis

Kevin Lewis

Dr. Kevin wâsakâyâsiw Lewis is a nêhiyaw (Plains Cree) instructor, researcher and writer from the Ministikwan Lake Cree Nation in Treaty 6 Territory. Dr. Lewis has worked with higher learning institutions in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta, in the areas of Cree language development and instructional methodologies. His research interests include language and policy development, second language teaching methodologies, teacher education programming and environmental education. For over 15 years, Dr. Lewis has worked with community schools to promote land- and language-based education. He is the founder of kâniyâsihk Culture Camps, a non-profit organization focused on holistic community well-being, and one of the co-developers of kâ-nêyâsihk mîkiwâhpa Land-Based Cree Immersion School.

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Submitted by Steeves Gourgues on June 22, 2020, at 15:40

Hello Kevin,
In recent years, various actions and projects have been undertaken to revitalize certain Aboriginal languages in Canada. I have written an article on this subject for the Language Portal of Canada's Our Languages blog, which should be published later this summer.
Actions have been undertaken in this regard for Objibwe, Atikamekw and Wendat. Language expresses culture, and you probably know that there is now a Cree version of Wikipedia.
There are also new digital tools for Aboriginal languages, and I plan to write a new blog post on the subject soon.

Submitted by Dean Simmons on June 23, 2020, at 9:39

Thank you for sharing the story of your efforts to revitalise the Plains Cree language and culture in kâniyâsihk. This is vitally important work, and I'm so pleased to hear that it has been successful.

Submitted by Charlene Lindsay on January 14, 2021, at 12:59

Thank you for this inspirational work. When we work together to revitalize our languages and various other aspects associated with the loss of our cultural values, great things can happen.
My colleagues and I are presently working to build on this great work as well through our organization Sustainable Development & Revitalization for First Nations Community Engagement (SDNR), which was founded at York University’s Schulich School of Business in 2013 through proactive engagement with professors, PhD and graduate students, Indigenous populations in remote regions as well as government bodies. After spending two years gathering knowledge through mixed methods, qualitative and quantitative research, data analysis and various other methodologies, we came to the viable conclusion that SDNR had to be launched into a proactive organization. As such, SDNR was officially incorporated in 2015 and since then, we have been slowly working on various projects associated with the revitalization of our languages and fashion, and so many other great initiatives. In December 2017, we launched the first ever Indigenous Fashion Week Toronto as well as the first ever Ottawa, Montreal and Thunder Bay Indigenous fashion weeks. After these events ended, Indigenous people all over Canada started launching their own Indigenous fashion weeks, shows and events, which was so inspirational for us as a team because this is exactly the kind of traction and momentum we wanted to create.
As an Indigenous scholar and researcher, I am so happy to be able to use my education and work experience to give back to my communities. And I look forward to the ongoing annual events that my colleagues and I will be hosting, because through these events, we truly are revitalizing our fashion, our languages and our cultural values.

Submitted by Cian Angelo Riano on March 14, 2022, at 17:09


Submitted by Teshome Wakjira on March 28, 2022, at 17:57

I am delighted with this inspection. I found this page when I am searching for sample experience to design my own cultural revitalization. I need to be. Connected for further experience.
Best regards

Submitted by Willard Martin on May 1, 2023, at 16:54

My people, which are the Nisga'a of northwestern BC, have struggled to revive or language and culture for 45 years and experienced very little success. We are always looking for information regarding successes of other similar groups of Indigenous peoples. We might do well with receiving accounts of proven successful methodology. Also which are the most useful medias for teaching.

Submitted by Margarita Marichal on July 15, 2023, at 13:31

I am working on a research about westernization of curricula and loss of traditional games and stories. Although our group have not lost language, we have lost traditions. Younger generations are growing without the knowledge and cultural identity they need to thrive. Cultural identity gives you direction and purpose. I'll be grateful if you could share some aspects about redefining the curriculum for cultural revitalization purposes.