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Northern Alberta men reflect on being first to broadcast CFL in Cree

Alberta man felt emotional to be first to announce Canadian football game in Cree language.
Darcy Houle (left) and Edwin Thomas
Darcy Houle (left) and Edwin Thomas were part of the team that did the first ever Cree broadcast of a Canadian Football League game.

LAKELAND, Alta – More than 60 years since the inception of the Canadian Football League (CFL) in January of 1958, a CFL game was broadcast for the first time in nêhiyawêwin (Cree) on July 22. 

The game between the Edmonton Elks and Winnipeg Blue Bombers held at Commonwealth Stadium was broadcast by Windspeaker radio stations throughout Alberta as part of the Elks’ inaugural Indigenous Celebration Game. 

The live broadcast was led by Wayne Jackson, Edwin Thomas, and Darcy Houle. Thomas and Houle recently shared their experience as the first ones to broadcast a CFL game in nêhiyawêwin. 

According to Houle, who is from Goodfish Lake, one of the goals of the broadcast was to allow the younger generation to experience and be interested in the Cree language. 

“Most of (the younger generation) doesn’t understand and speak the language itself because it’s a lost art now,” said Houle. But he remains hopeful and believes that the younger generation will learn and understand the language.  

“And that's the goal, (it’s) to help our younger generation try and get their language back.” 

Despite the home team losing by a score of 24-10 against the Blue Bombers, the day was nonetheless a win for the Cree language. 

CFL’s first historic Indigenous radio broadcast 

Houle recalled getting emotional as he stood and watched the various Indigenous cultures showcased during the game at the Commonwealth Stadium. He said it was a very powerful feeling, and he felt humbled and proud. 

“I was kind of choked up a bit too, but it wasn't because I was ashamed of my culture - I was proud of it - that moment - and as you can see, we were gifted sweaters,” he said as he proudly tugged on his green and gold jersey with the Edmonton Elks’ logo emblazoned, along with the word wâwâskêsiwak written below, which means “elk.” 

Thomas, originally from Saulteaux first nation in Saskatchewan, recalled when Jackson offered him the opportunity to do the broadcast in Cree alongside Houle. He too was humbled to be a part of the historic opportunity. 

“I always heard the broadcasts on national TV and on radio and I never, ever thought I'd be sitting at that stage... with my own language,” he said. “Sharing it with people that understand it or that want to understand it, and who are yearning for that connection.” 

Passing on the Cree language 

Thomas echoed many of Houle’s thoughts, and encouraged those who pursue the Cree language to not give up. Thomas is a second-year student and summer employee at University nuhelot’įne thaiyots’į nistameyimâkanak Blue Quills (UnBQ), and will continue to study for a degree in the Bachelor of Arts in Nêhiyawêwin in the fall. 

“ôma niya pêyak ta-kînakatamâkêyân pîkiskwêwin. kiyâm kakiyâw oskâyak êkwa pokwâwiyak kakiyaw ta-âhkamêyimocik. êkâya kîkway ta-âkwaskâkocihk, kiyâm pohkokîkway ta-sâposkakihk anima kâ-ayimi-nakiskakihk ita kâ-kakwê nâcîstakik ôma kipîkiskwêwininâw, nêhiyawêwin,” Thomas told Lakeland This Week, in Cree. 

“The one message I can pass on for all the young generation and to those who seek the language: I hope for them to continue that path. Let it be that they will overcome any obstacles or hardships that they will come across during their journey of rekindling our language, nêhiyawêwin,” he said, in a translation in Standard Roman Ortography (SRO). 

According to Thomas and Houle, they received massive support from many people, including encouragement from other broadcasters. They also said they received much positive feedback, including from people who did not understand or speak Cree, but still listened to the broadcast. 

They said they are willing to do broadcasting in Cree again if given the opportunity.