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Isaac Brock earns award for musical Cree-ation

March 29, 2021
Isaac Brock Cree Video WEB

Kindergarten to Grade 2 students in the Cree Bilingual Program at Isaac Brock School recently recorded a rendition of Raffi's Baby Beluga in the Cree language.

Cree language teacher Colleen Omand submitted a video of the performance to the Manitoba Aboriginal Languages Strategy for its cultural and languages contest. The video will officially be announced as the winning submission at the virtual Indigenous Languages Symposium on March 24. The class will receive a prize of $500.

"I'm so proud that my students were able to learn and sing the song in Cree," Omand said.

The Cree cover song stems from a recent class project, where Cree Bilingual Program students learned about the animals of the North, beluga whales being one of those creatures.

In January, the students started learning the lyrics for a Cree version of Raffi's 1980 hit song. The students received help from elder Ellen Cook, who the class refers to as Chapan, which means great-grandmother in Cree.

"They became very fluent and articulate in their pronunciation of the Cree words. When they sang the song they just sounded so amazing," Omand.

Omand said the recording was done in a safe, physically distanced manner, with all the students wearing masks while singing.

"Marla Tran, our vice-principal, came to help us with the music and melody. She played the song on piano and my students were just blown away. I said 'OK, let's start singing' and they sounded amazing. We did it in two takes."

Omand also enlisted the help of teacher Jared Lehotsky, who put together the video. It consists of the audio recording set to illustrations by the students, as well as Grade 4 student Elias Elliott, who is the brother of one of the younger students.

"It takes a village," Omand said. "It's a joy to hear students be able to use the Cree language in a school environment. I think about the residential school survivors, those who had to live through that and those who didn't make it home. It gives me a sense of pride that students are now learning the language as early as Kindergarten."

Tran said she was honoured to contribute piano to the song.

"It was so exciting to watch and listen to the students sing the song in the Cree language and to see the pride on their faces when they were finished," Tran said. "Here at Isaac Brock we're putting reconciliation into action."

In January, 2020, Isaac Brock's Cree language students sang O Canada prior to a Manitoba Moose game. Omand said this class project ranks right up there.

"I'm the proudest teacher. This is one of the highlights of my career," she said.


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