CFL to broadcast first game in Indigenous language

By Jeremy Appel, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

(ANNews) – History will be made at the July 22 Canadian Football League (CFL) game between the Edmonton Elks and Winnipeg Blue Bombers. 

Indigenous-focused news outlet Windspeaker will broadcast the Elks home game at Commonwealth Stadium in the nêhiyawêwin (Cree) language, the first time a CFL game will be broadcast in an Indigenous language, as part of the Elks’ inaugural Indigenous Celebration Game. 

The broadcast can be heard throughout Alberta on Windspeaker radio stations CFWE-FM in Edmonton and CJWE 88.1 FM in Calgary.

Victor Cui, the Elks president and CEO, announced the partnership between the club and Windspeaker on CFWE on July 8. 

“Sports has the power to transcend all language barriers,” Cui said. “As a community-owned team, bringing people together around the game of football is one of our main objectives.”

Windspeaker Media CEO, president and publisher, Bert Crowfoot, said the Elks’ representatives reached out a few months ago to inquire whether the news outlet could assist with the Indigenous Celebration Game. 

“They came to us but they didn’t realize the reach our stations had,” Crowfoot told his news outlet. “We basically cover the whole province. They thought we were just a small Native radio station. As soon as they knew what our reach is they were excited.”

In addition to the nêhiyawêwin-language broadcast, the national anthem will be performed in English and nêhiyawêwin, there will be an Indigenous half-time performance, and George Arcand Jr., grand chief of Treaty Six First Nations, will do the coin toss to determine which team gets first possession of the ball. 

The Elks are also hosting an Indigenous youth football on game day. 

Previously, Windspeaker Media broadcasted a pair of Western Hockey League (WHL) games in the Blackfoot language. Crowfoot said this made Windspeaker the obvious choice for a bilingual broadcast. 

“We have experience doing play-by-play in language,” he said.

Wayne Jackson, Darcy Houle and Edwin Thomas have been named as the co-hosts of the Cree broadcast. 

Jackson, who hails from the Goodfish Lake First Nation in northeastern Alberta, has been a Cree-language teacher and advocate for 20 years. His first language is nêhiyaw, learning English through school and watching television. 

“It will be monumental to broadcast in the language of our ancestors on Treaty Six territory for what we pray to be a start of common occurrence in the revitalization of our Indigenous languages,” Jackson told Windspeaker. 

Houle, who was also born on Goodfish Lake and whose mother tongue is also nêhiyaw, is a long-time Elks fan. 

Thomas is a student at Blue Quills University — the first Indigneous-owned and operated university on Turtle Island. He’s from the Saulteaux First Nation in Saskatchewan, and is fluent in nêhiyaw and also speaks the Saulteaux language.

Crowfoot said the broadcasters will have to be somewhat creative in their descriptions of what occurs on field, which was also a challenge when Windspeaker broadcasted the WHL games. 

“There is no Cree word for touchdown or sideline or just some other football terminology,” he said. “They’ll use Cree language to describe things. When they want to create a word, they will have to describe it.”

Windspeaker is in talks with other CFL franchises to broadcast their games in local Indigenous languages, said Crowfoot.

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