A SAY Magazine and IISB editorial collaboration.
Randy Morin empowers audiences with stories and language as a speaker with the International Indigenous Speakers Bureau (IISB). He is an educator, author, Cree language keeper and an Indigenous Knowledge Keeper. Morin works with universities, teaching Indigenous Studies, and is devoted to Indigenous language revitalization. A leader in the Indigenous culture and language revolution, Morin is dedicated to bringing Indigenous language, knowledge, and perspectives to the forefront of our times.
Morin was born and raised in Big River First Nation in Treaty 6 territory (Saskatchewan). His community taught him a great many things that have helped shape the person he is today: hard work, resilience, to have common sense, problem-solving, being handy, and asking for help when needed. Most importantly his community taught
him about his language and culture, fostering a lifelong journey to educate and encourage others. SAY Magazine was honoured to interview Morin to learn more about the vitally important work he is doing, particularly through language camps and youth empowerment.
“I took all of those values I learned from my community and I applied myself to high school. Right after high school, I traveled all over North America. When I came back, that’s when I decided to honour my grandmother’s words: ‘Continue with your education.’”
Morin continued his studies at the First Nations University of Canada (FNUniv). “I was a broke student,” he explained. “I’d just become a father—19 years old on limited funding—I struggled to get that Bachelor of Arts degree in Indigenous Studies.” This is where his passion for language revitalization started. He became a tutor at FNUniv and “the spark was lit.”
Further advancing his education, he went back to university while working as a school counselor. “I became a teacher, and I worked as one for many years. Then I got my Master’s degree at the University of Victoria. Now I work as an assistant professor at the University of Saskatchewan where I am the Cree language specialist.” A self-described seeker of knowledge, Morin is passionate about using his gifts to teach others about the profound healing capacities that storytelling, language and his Cree heritage have to offer the world and its future generations.
“I’m very, very blessed that the language spirit was gifted to me by my ancestors, to my grandma, my mom, my dad, my community. And now I have the moral responsibility to share that spirit. It’s not my spirit. It doesn’t belong to me. It belongs to the people, whoever wants to learn it.”
At the University of Saskatchewan, Morin is currently working on the development of a pre-certificate program. “It’s a speaking certificate, so people who take the class can come out as emerging Cree speakers,” explained Morin. “I do a lot of work around the community, like with the nêhiyawak Language Experience, a grassroots non-profit organization.”
The nêhiyawak Language Experience travels across Saskatchewan teaching Cree language camps, and this year they will be at Weyakwin Lake. Eager learners will attend a week-long camp where they will learn many things in Cree with different methodologies. Each teacher specializes in different teaching methods: Belinda Daniels uses pictures; Bill Cook uses technology; Solomon Ratt uses TPR (total physical response); while Morin’s passion lies in the ceremonial and spiritual. “I teach about how to say our prayers, knowing all the different medicines and the tools that we use in our ceremonies.” During the camp, Elders are brought in, and everyone has the opportunity to go to ceremonies, dance, sing and participate in talent shows. “We even do outdoor activities, like fishing and snaring, and we do our own cooking,” added Morin.
Through his dedication to breaking cycles, teaching Indigenous youth and restoring the Cree language, Morin hopes to inspire more people to join this cultural and language revolution. “I think there’s a huge urgency to bring back land-based education, to bring it back to our students. Reflecting on my own experience, it was not called land-based education, it was called a way of life. My parents and grandparents would take me out to the land and they taught me so many things, just from observation, just from talking to me about plants and animals and the environment—they taught me the values. That’s what’s missing in our young people, especially our urban young people. They’re not connected to the land there. They walk on concrete. Being outside in nature connecting with your bare feet on the land… Can you imagine if our students did that every day?”
Morin is concerned about the future of our Indigenous languages and urges us all to take the steps necessary to preserve Indigenous knowledge and stories. “We all need to take the preservation of our languages far more seriously. I know people who are fluent speakers, but their children don’t speak the language. We have all the elders; we have all the human resources in the community.”
“Now is the time. There is a state of emergency on our Indigenous languages right across Canada. If you want to go on this journey, it will be a life-long journey. It’s a beautiful journey. The right people will come into your life who will help you. Go to your people now while they exist. Offer tobacco, cistêmâw, we call it. Always follow protocol.”
Morin reminds us that we don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Language resources are scarce, but they are being developed. He references other language revolution leaders like the Māori, the Hawaiians and the Navajo, who are also leading the way and may be able to offer learning support.
“If you go back to who you are, to your language, you’re not only honoring your ancestors, you’re honoring your people, your community. And when you go back to the language, you’ll find acceptance, you’ll find peace, you’ll find love, respect and dignity.”
Morin’s words resonate loud and clear as he urges this world can become a better place if we all become active participants. “Because in the language you’ll find that everything has a spirit, and we call that wahkohtowin. You’ll want to treat the world better. You’ll want to think of future generations. You’ll want to be more of a steward to the land.”
This is how Morin lives his life. Trying to live by the teachings left by the ancestors—the Creator’s laws. “On the other side, when we go to meet our ancestors, I’ll be able to go to them with dignity and say, ‘Hey, thank you.’”
Indigenous languages have embedded in them the values and teachings about how to be a good relative to the natural world. Morin explained that this worldview does not exist in English. “In English, a rock is a rock; for us, it’s a grandfather. And all these Indigenous languages have solutions in them, how to harvest, how to be stewards, how to protect, and how to interact with their environments.”
“Look at the state of the world,” he said. “We have very little time left to turn the wheel. We need to turn to our Indigenous Peoples. The world’s most biodiverse lands are located on Indigenous lands. In Canada, we only have 0.27% of the land. Reconciliation would mean giving back the lands to the Indigenous Peoples, like the national parks, while they’re still pristine, so we can protect them.”
Through his work, Morin also teaches language revitalization as a form of decolonization. “They tried to take the
language from us, so this is your chance to undo the wrongs that were done to our people. Many of our people couldn’t speak. Well, now we have the freedom to do it. So you have the moral obligation to honour what our ancestors fought and died for.”
Based on 15 years of experience running Cree language camps, Morin and his team have created a how-to guide for communities to create their own Cree language revitalization camps. This guide is free to anyone who wants it: nehiyawak.org.