If you took Cree at the First Nations University of Canada, you likely met Doreen Oakes. Her smiling face is one of many the university will miss after she retired in the Summer of 2016.
For many, they met the accomplished professor and Cree Language expert.
But few know the sacrifices Doreen made in her early academic career to achieve those goals.
In the last 80s, when Doreen started university, she was a single-mom of 5 children. The oldest was 8-years-old and the youngest was just five months.
“It was definitely a struggle,” remembers Doreen as she talks about her education.
Doreen says she was fortunate to have a reliable daycare. So every morning, from September to May, she would drop her children off and head straight to school. Doreen did everything she could to maximize those hours when her children were in school and daycare.
“I rarely ever socialized,” says Doreen. “I sat in the library and did my work.”
Doreen graduated with her Bachelor of Arts in Linguistics in 1992. Not long after, she returned and received her Bachelor of Education (Indian Education) in 1995. Some days she’s still amazed she was able to do so much in such a short period.
“When I think about it now I always say I don’t know how I did it,” says Doreen.
The next year, Doreen became a professor at what was then known as the Saskatchewan Indian Federated College (SIFC). She started with four classes, two sections of Cree 100 and two sections of Cree 101.
“All I got was one book and syllabus,” laughs Doreen. “Those poor Cree students that first year.”
The rest of the course materials, Doreen created. She continued to create her materials and says every semester preparing for her courses got easier. She also shared any materials she created with other instructors, although she didn’t publish any.
Doreen also taught Cree in the Regina Catholic School System at St. Michael in grades kindergarten up to grade 8.
In 1999, Doreen started teaching full time at FNUniv. She says she loved her job. But after teaching Cree for 20 years at the university it was time to move on. And so, she decided to retire.
She says the university needs to market its language classes much better, because the program is second to none. And she also has advice for Cree Language teachers just starting out.
“Go for your masters right away,” says Doreen.
She also says it’s important for new instructors to get the basics down first, before they move on to more advanced language teaching.
Doreen says she is just getting in to retirement, but has also been approached about other Cree-related gigs that might fit in to that retirement. So even though she is technically retired, Doreen will still be busy preserving the language.