A trio of passionate and devoted First Nations University professors have answered to one call of the Cree speaking community by publishing the first Cree dictionary of mathematics terminology.

Ten years ago, Dr. Arzu Sardali, a physics and mathematics professor at FNUniv, initiated a nationwide math contest for First Nations schools, and it was then when “Many teachers told him that it would be good to have a dictionary of mathematical terms not only in Cree but also in [other] First Nations languages.”

This demand gave birth to the Cree Dictionary of Mathematical Terms for Elementary Class, he said.

Professor Sardarli collaborated with Dr. Ida Swan and Dr. Willie Ermine, who are both associate professors of Indigenous Education at FNUniv, to compile the first volume of the 25-page dictionary.

Swan said, “There are dictionaries but nothing that is related to mathematical terms; there is really nothing out there." As a Cree speaker, “We didn’t see our language as part of that subject. If we wanted to use a [mathematical] term, we tried our best to explain a term. Most of the time we tried to describe the concept, rather than come up with one term.”

Sardarli said, "It is difficult for Cree speakers to learn mathematics in English."

“When you put things into an indigenous perspective, using words that are in Cree, then it is easy for students to understand math concepts,” Swan said. “Some teachers are reluctant to teach math because the conceptual aspect is hard to understand. They need help.” For Swan, this dictionary is “just the first step.”

“We tried to work with words that are used [and] that most people would understand. If you come up with a new word, you would have to explain it all over again.” However, she added the process was not easy. “It took a long time to find the terms. We tried to explain things in a western way as much as possible,” moving it into "the noun-based [structure], like the English language, rather than the verb-based” structure you see in the Cree language.

To tackle that problem “the dictionary was reviewed by different Cree speakers,” elders, speakers, and teachers from different parts of Saskatchewan, Sardarli said. They defined the new words by finding and selecting existing words in the Cree language. Sometimes they had to keep three Cree words to explain one mathematical term, for example the words ‘kâ-mâmawi-akihtîki’ which means ‘group.’

Dr. Angelina Weenie, the Department Head of Indigenous Education at FNUniv, said “All efforts to preserve our languages are very important, so we definitely need more resources like this. This is a good beginning for developing resources in the language."

For Swan, the dictionary “contributes to the preservation of the Cree language. I think it is a big deal.”

“Any language is alive if that language is used in many different areas" and disciplines, Sardarli said. "It is a historical step.”