Tânisi: Triple word score at the U of R's Indigenous Research Showcase

By Krista Baliko Posted: September 20, 2019 5:00 a.m.

Laser-cut tiles used in Dr. Edward Doolittle's language-learning activity.
Laser-cut tiles used in Dr. Edward Doolittle's language-learning activity. Photos: U of R Photography

Board games the likes of Scrabble have been designed for use in many languages, particularly European ones. Now a professor at the University of Regina is in the process of designing a word game in Plains Cree - affectionately referred to as SCreeble - in order to help teach the language in a fun and engaging way.

Dr. Edward Doolittle, associate professor of mathematics at the First Nations University of Canada, will present on his SCreeble project at this year's University of Regina's Indigenous Research Showcase, an event that highlights the depth and breadth of Indigenous scholarship and activities taking place at the University.

The week-long event will feature presentations and activities every day from September 23 to September 27. The week's events - which are free and open to the public - begin on Monday morning with a Pipe Ceremony.

Doolittle will also discuss his project on Monday afternoon.

"Word games are fun to play, and are the sort of learning tool that language teachers might have trouble developing on their own because it takes a certain amount of expertise to create puzzles and games, as well as to be an expert of an Indigenous language," says Doolittle, who has spent a considerable time learning his Mohawk language and is now learning and promoting Cree because he's in Saskatchewan.

He says that since starting the process of adapting the game for Cree, numerous issues and challenges have arisen, such as issues of standardized spelling, the availability of dictionaries, and adapting the rules to suit the language rules of Plains Cree.

"A board game like this is a problem of statistics, and the way this arises is in finding the right distribution of tiles."

Doolittle explains that in English, the letters "z" and "q" are uncommon, and thus in games like Scrabble only a few of these tiles are included and they are worth more points. The same issue exists in Plains Cree.

"I had to determine the frequency of the letters, which helps me to figure out the distribution of the tiles, and also the point score of the tile," says Doolittle, who is also working on the project with Dr. Arok Wolvengrey, a professor of Algonquian Languages and linguistics at First Nations University.

Doolittle says that, in general, Cree words are also about twice as long as English words, and so he opted to use a larger-than-average board with players stating with 14 rather than 7 tiles.

"With all of these different considerations, I'm now fine-tuning the rules to ensure it's a fun and playable game," says Doolittle. "Once that's complete, I'd like to hold a SCreeble tournament."


Dr. Edward Doolittle has combined his knowledge of statistics and his love of language to create SCreeble.

One of the activities that is part of the University's Indigenous Research Showcase is the Blanket Exercise - an impactful and interactive activity for learning about history from an Indigenous perspective.

Kallie Wood, the University of Regina's Acting Executive Lead, Indigenization, and her partner, Chris McKee, will lead the activity.

"Participants will explore over 500 years of history with us as we share the historic and contemporary relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in Canada, also known as Turtle Island," says Wood.

Wood, an Indigenous woman who lived the '60s scoop, foster care, and assimilation - along with the intergenerational effects of residential schools, will facilitate alongside McKee, a non-Indigenous man who was also adopted, but, Wood says, with a much different experience.

"Chris has a heart and passion and for the journey of reconciliation in our country," says Wood. "Together we will walk participants through the history that has brought us to the present-day complexities that exist in this country."

Wood says the participants will be provided with a safe space for questions and answers and at the end of the exercise participants will be invited to engage in prayer circles, debriefing, and processing time.

"Many triggers can occur during the exercise; we are attuned to that and offer guidance and support for next steps," says Wood.

The Blanket Exercise will take place on Wednesday, September 25. Registration is free and open to the public, and is limited to 50 people.

Dr. Kathleen McNutt, Interim Vice-President (Research), says that the Indigenous Research Showcase allows the general public and University faculty, staff, and students the opportunity to see the kinds of vibrant research and activities in which the University of Regina community is engaged.

"The array of scholarship being presented and the activities that are taking place show the University community's high level of commitment to inclusion and Indigenization," says McNutt.

Other events that are taking place include a public lecture by lawyer and author Harold Johnson, entitled, "Changing the story we tell ourselves about alcohol" on Tuesday, September 24 at 7:00 p.m., in the Research and Innovation Centre theatre (RIC 119).

On Tuesday, September 24 at 10:00 a.m., Dr. Sherry Arvidson, assistant professor in the Faculty of Nursing, will discuss her research into the factors that influence the retention rates of Indigenous students in undergraduate Social Work, Education, and Nursing programs.

For a full listing of free public events during U of R's Indigenous Research Showcase, please visit https://www.uregina.ca/research/indigenous-research-day.html.


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