Kiseyiniw kâ wî mâyi-tôtawât otihkwatima

Nôhtâwîpan mekwâc kâ kî pimâtisit mistahi mâna kî âcimow e kî wâpahtahk mîna âtiht e kî pehtahk kekwâyiw. E kî âcimot peyakwâw e kî natohtawak, ekote kâ kî ayâcik pisisikNakawiyiniwak kî wîci-ohpikimewak.

Mâcika peyakwâw, itwew, peyakw kiseyiniw kî otihkwatimiw peyakw nâpewa, mâka namawîya ohci-sâkihew. Pisisikw kî kakwe-mâyi-tôtawew. Peyakwâw e kîsikâk kî wîsâmew kita mâcîcik, mâka ekospi kîskitâsa piko kâ kî isihocik kayâsi-iyiniwak mîna e kî mohci-kîsowahpisocik tastawic oskâtiwâhk. Ekosi mâcika kî kapesiwak etokwe, itwew, mohci-kotawânihk. Ana nâpew kî kehcikonam otâsa mîna omaskisina, ekosi mistikw mâna kî cimatâwak ispimisihk iskotêhkânihk, ekota e akotâcik maskisina mîna mitâsa kita pâsteki. Mekwâc e kwâhkotek iskotew kî kawisimowak e ati-tipiskâk. Kî kiskeyihtam mâka ana nâpew kita asweyimât osisa ekâ kita mâyi-tôtâkot. Ana kiseyiniw, e ayeskosit, semâk kî nipâw, mâka ana nâpew kî otinam otâsa mîna omaskisina. Pâtimâ, kiseyiniw kî koskopayiw. E kî nipâsit aciyaw kî waniskâw, ekwa kâ ati-pasikôt, e ati-otinahk anihi maskisina, mâka namawîya kî kiskeyihtam wîya ôma otâsa kâ otinahk. Macosteham iskotehk. Iteyihtam otihkwatima otayâniyiwa. Ispi e kiskeyihtahk e iskwâteyiki kî wîhtamawew otihkwatima e itât “Sawâskitew kekwây!” Mâka ana nâpew wîhtamawew âsay wîya e kî otinahk otayâna. Ekwa ana kiseyiniw kâ papâsiniket, âta e wî otinahk otayâna, mâka âsay kî mestihkahteyiwa. E kekisepâyâk kisâtinew otihkwatima, mâka ana nâpew kî kîwew e kî âcimot kita nâtimiht osisa. Mistahi mâka kî mâkohisow ana kehte-nâpew mîna kiskinohamâsow ekâ wîhkâc mîna ekosi kita tôtahk!

Ekosi ôma kâ isi-âcimot nôhtâwîpan.

The above story was told in clear Plains Cree by William Harris and was published in 1948 in H. E. Hives’ A Cree Grammar. The story is a particular episode of the evil father-in-law myth, one that is common across Cree country with only minor variations. In this well-known episode, the father-in-law tries to burn his son-in-law’s leggings and moccasins while camping overnight on a winter hunting expedition. The son-in-law, being quite clever, turns the tables on his father-in-law.

Hives’ transcription is quite clear, though it is based on English phonetics. The above transcription is therefore an adaptation written in the contemporary Cree orthography, which is both phonologically and morphologically informed. Punctuation was modified to improve the clarity of the story and two changes to the original wording were done, one being a correction of what was assumed to be a misspelling and the other an omission of a short string of words that appeared out of context. The changes made are as follows:

1. In the original, “â iskotâyike” is assumed to be “e iskwâteyiki” and was spelled as such.

2. In the original, “wekataw-âkwu-âtokwâ,” which appears to be “wî kâtâw ekwa etokwe,” was omitted. Hives translated this as “later on, it seems.” As it did not seem to make sense in the the context of the sentence, nor the story, it was omitted in favour of clarity.

ᐅᒉᒃ ᐊᑕᐦᒄ

Few constellations can be said to carry the same name across the various dialects of the Cree language. But one such constellation is the Big Dipper, known across Cree country as ᐅᒉᒃ ᐊᑕᐦᒄ, meaning ‘fisher constellation.’

The fisher, called ᐅᒉᒃ in Cree, is a kind of marten that is also known as the pekan in English. The second word in the compound, ᐊᑕᐦᒄ, literally means ‘star,’ but is synecdochically applied to the constellation itself. This constellation’s name was certainly inherited from Old Cree given its wide distribution and the fact that the second word in the compound has since undergone changes in most dialects in all instances except within the compound itself. For example, a star is now known in the East Cree dialect by the diminutive form ᐊᒐᐦᑯᔥ.

The mythological origins of this constellation was recorded by Harald Pommerehnke in the 1950s. Pommerehnke was a German immigrant who spent the first couple of years in Canada in Senneterre, a town that bordered the territory of the Waswanipi Cree. It was there that a Cree person related the following story, which he published in 1996.

The Big Dipper was created according to the Cree when a group of hunters chased a fisher. But the fisher escaped high up into a tree. They tried to shoot him down with arrows, but arrows would not reach him. So they went to get the best marksman who came and hit the fisher in the tail with an arrow and broke his tail. That is why today we see the Big Dipper with a slightly broken tail after his escape into the heavens.

Pommerehnke, Harald (1996) Experiences and Observations Among the Lake Simon Algonkin and the Waswanipi Cree: Early 1950’s. Manuscript donated to the Museum of Civilization, Hull.


The turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) is a bird indigenous to the Americas that was domesticated nearly 3,000 years ago. It came to be called ‘turkey’ presumably due to trade with the Ottoman (Turkish) Empire after the bird was introduced to Africa, Asia, and Europe.

This indigenous bird was known to Cree people historically in the southern reaches of Cree country, and then later at northern trading posts where Europeans raised their domesticated animals, including turkeys.

Documentation of the Cree name for this bird begins in the 1600s and 1700s, where its name is listed in French-based orthographies suggestive of miširew and mišihyew, forms that continue to be used by contemporary speakers. Modern sources in various Cree dialects (written here in their local orthographies followed by a standard orthography for the sake of comparison) include the Atikamekw ‘micirew’ (miširew), the Innu ‘mishineu’ and ‘mishileu’ (mišinew/mišilew), the East Cree ‘ᒥᔑᐦᔦᐤ’ (mišihyew), the Moose Cree ‘ᒥᔑᓓᐤ’ (mišilew), and the Swampy Cree ‘ᒥᔑᓀᐤ’ (mišinew). All these forms derive from the Old Cree name for the bird, which the comparative method allows us to reconstruct as *mišihrew, appropriately meaning “large gallinaceous bird.”

Interestingly, an elderly man from Attawapiskat informed me yesterday that a river on Akimiski Island bears the name ᒥᔑᓀᐗᒋᔾ (mišinewaciy), meaning “turkey hill.” He relates how an even older man told him he used to hunt wild turkeys on that island years ago. A domesticated flock gone feral perhaps?

Beland, Jean Pierre. Atikamekw Morphology and Lexicon. Dissertation, Berkeley, Linguistics, University of California, 1978.

Brousseau, Kevin. Lexical Database of the Atikamekw Dialect, 2020.

Brousseau, Kevin. Lexical Database of the Moose Cree Dialect, 2020.

Brousseau, Kevin. Lexical Database of the Swampy Cree Dialect, 2020.

Fabvre, Bonaventure. Racines Montagnaises (ca. 1693). Transcribed by Lorenzo Angers et Gerard E. McNulty. Québec: Université Laval, 1970.

Junker, Marie-Odile & Marguerite MacKenzie. Editors. Dictionnaire innu en ligne. 2016. Web.

Junker, Marie-Odile, Marguerite MacKenzie, Luci Bobbish-Salt, Alice Duff, Linda Visitor, Ruth Salt, Anna Blacksmith, Patricia Diamond, and Pearl Weistche, eds. The Eastern James Bay Cree Dictionary on the Web: English-Cree and Cree-English, French-Cree and Cree-French (Northern and Southern dialects). 2018. Web.

Laure, Pierre, S.J. [1823 copy of 1726 manuscript]. Apparat français-montagnais. Transcribed by David E. Cooter. Sillery, Québec: Presses de l’Université du Québec, 1988.

Silvy, Antoine, S.J. [c.1678–1690]. Dictionnaire montagnais-français (ca. 1678– 1684). Transcribed by Lorenzo Angers, David E. Cooter & Gérard E. McNulty. Québec: Presses de l’Université du Québec, 1974.

Online Etymology Dictionary, 2020. Web.

ᐁ ᐯᒋ ᐱᒥᔥᑳᔮᐦᒡ

ᓂᒌ ᒋᔅᒋᓄᐎᔨᑯᓈᓐ ᐲᓯᒽ, ᐊᒐᐦᑯᔕᒡ ᒫᒃ, ᒣᒀᒡ ᐁ ᒌ ᑯᔅᐸᐦᐊᒫᐦᒡ ᐐᓂᐯᑯᐦᒡ ᐅᐦᒋ᙮

ᓂ ᒌᒫᓂᓈᓐᐦ ᒌ ᐱᒫᔥᑕᓐᐦ ᐅᔅᒋᒋᐯᒡ᙮

ᓂᒌ ᐐᒋᐦᐃᑐᓈᓐ ᐁ ᐱᒥᔥᑳᔮᐦᒡ, ᒥᓯᐌ ᑕᐦᑐ ᐊᐌᓐ ᐁ ᑎᐯᔨᒥᑎᓱᑦ᙮

ᓂᒌ ᓇᒣᐦᑖᓈᓐ ᒥᓯᐌ ᔮᔦᐤ ᐁ ᐃᔅᑯᔥᑎᑴᔮᒡ ᑐᐌᐎ ᓰᐱᔾ᙮

ᒥᓯᐌ ᐁ ᑕᐦᑐᑌᐎᓯᔮᐦᒡ ᓂᒌ ᒫᑎᓇᒫᑐᓈᓐ ᑳ ᐌᔫᑕᐦᒡ ᒦᒋᒻ ᑳᒌ ᒥᔅᑲᒫᐦᒡ ᐊᓐᑌ ᓅᐦᒋᒦᐦᒡ᙮

ᐁ ᐅᑖᑯᔑᒡ ᒌ ᒋᔨᑲᐎᐦᑖᑾᓐᐦ ᓂ ᓂᑲᒧᐎᓂᓈᓐᐦ ᐁ ᒪᑗᔭᐌᒡ ᑲᔭᐹ, ᓂᒌ ᑑᑖᑯᓈᓐ ᒫᒃ ᒉᒌ ᒥᔪ ᐸᐙᒧᔮᐦᒡ ᐁ ᑎᐱᔅᑳᒡ᙮

ᒦᓐ ᐁ ᒉᒋᔐᐹᔮᒡ, ᓂᒌ ᒥᔯᔨᐦᑌᓈᓐ ᐁ ᐊᑎ ᐃᔑᒋᒣᔮᐦᒡ ᐊᓐᑌ ᐁ ᒦᒋᒥᔅᑳᒡ ᓂᑦ ᐊᔅᒌᓈᓂᐦᒡ᙮

ᐁ ᐃᔥᒀ ᓃᐱᐦᒡ ᒫᒃ, ᓂᒌ ᐋᐦᑐᒉᓈᓐ ᐲᑐᔥ ᐗᔦᔥ ᒉᒌ ᐊᔦᔅᑲᐐᔥᑕᒫᐦᒡ ᒉ ᐱᐳᐦᒡ᙮

ᓂᒌ ᒥᔪ ᑲᓇᐌᔨᒥᑯᐙᓈᓐ ᐅᑲᒉᐦᑖᐌᔨᐦᑕᒧᐎᓂᐙᐤ ᓂ ᒋᔐᔨᓃᒥᓈᓇᒡ᙮

ᓇᒪᐐᔾ ᐐᔅᑳᑦ ᓅᐦᒋ ᒋᐱᐦᑐᐦᑌᓈᓐ ᒣᒀᒡ ᐁ ᑑᑕᒫᐦᒡ ᐊᓂᐦᐁ ᒫᐗᒡ ᐁ ᐃᔅᐱᐦᑌᔨᐦᑖᑾᐦᒡ, ᒨᔥ ᐊᐗᔥᑌ ᐙᐦᔭᐤ ᐁ ᐐ ᐃᑐᐦᑌᔮᐦᒡ ᒣᒀᒡ ᐁ ᔖᐳᔥᑲᒫᐦᒡ ᐆᐦᐁ ᐊᔅᒋᔾ ᑳ ᒫᒪᔅᑳᑌᔨᐦᑖᑾᐦᒡ᙮

The above is a poem by Louis Bordeleau titled Voyage dans le temps. It was translated at his request into Cree by the author of this blog, Kevin Brousseau.


Cree Months


Months in the Cree language are a recurring topic of conversation in our communities as these have mostly been supplanted by English or French names. It is quite natural, in fact, to hear elderly monolingual speakers make use of the English or French names, often followed by the Cree ᐲᓯᒽ, meaning ‘month.’ There are a number of reasons for this, one of which is the variability from one community to another that complicates communication when the calendar is involved. This is largely because months are often named after seasonal phenomena that naturally vary from region to region. As a result, certain names that are common to multiple dialects may not always refer to the same month.

Below, you will find a comparison of the names of the months in six Cree dialects, those spoken at Attawapiskat (eastern Swampy Cree, an N-dialect), Moose Factory (Moose Cree, an L-dialect), Waskaganish (southern coastal East Cree, a Y-dialect), Waswanipi (southern inland East Cree, a Y-dialect), Opitciwan (Atikamekw, an R-dialect), and Pessamit (southern Innu-aimun, an L-dialect). The names will be spelled phonologically using syllabics to facilitate the comparison. It is important to note that only the first four dialects are officially written using syllabics. The others have adopted Latin script orthographies.


Attawapiskat ᑭᔐ ᐸᐙᐦᑕᑭᓇᒽ
Moose Factory ᑭᔐ ᐹᐦᐲᐙᐦᑕᑭᓇᒽ
Waskaganish ᒪᑯᔐ ᒌᔑᑳᐤ ᐲᓯᒽ
Waswanipi ᐗᔭᐐᒪᑲᓄ ᐲᔑᒽ, ᑳ ᒋᓄᔑᑦ ᐲᔑᒽ (F)
Opitciwan ᑫᓄᓯᑦ ᐲᓯᒽ
Pessamit ᒋᔐ ᐲᔑᒽ


Attawapiskat ᑭᔐ ᐲᓯᒽ
Moose Factory ᑭᔐ ᐲᓯᒽ
Waskaganish ᑳ ᑕᐦᑯᑯᒋᐦᒃ ᐲᓯᒽ
Waswanipi ᑳ ᑕᐦᑯᔑᑦ ᐲᔑᒽ
Opitciwan ᐊᑯᐦᑲᒌᔥ ᐲᓯᒽ
Pessamit ᐁᐱᔑᒥᓂᔥᑴᐤ


Attawapiskat ᒥᑭᓯᐎ ᐲᓯᒽ
Moose Factory ᒥᑭᓯᐎ ᐲᓯᒽ
Waskaganish ᒥᒋᓯᐤ ᐲᓯᒽ
Waswanipi ᒥᒋᔑᐤ ᐲᔑᒽ, ᒥᑭᔑᐤ ᐲᔑᒽ
Opitciwan ᓂᑭᑯ ᐲᓯᒽ
Pessamit ᐐᓇᔥᑯ ᐲᔑᒽ


Attawapiskat ᓂᔅᑭ ᐲᓯᒽ
Moose Factory ᓂᔅᑭ ᐲᓯᒽ
Waskaganish ᓂᔅᒋ ᐲᓯᒽ
Waswanipi ᔒᔒᐱ ᐲᔑᒽ, ᓂᔅᑭ ᐲᔑᒽ
Opitciwan ᑳ ᐙᓯᑲᑐᑦ ᐲᓯᒽ
Pessamit ᔒᔒᑉ ᐲᔑᒽ


Attawapiskat ᐊᓃᑭ ᐲᓯᒽ
Moose Factory ᐊᓖᑭᔑ ᐲᓯᒽ
Waskaganish ᐋᔑᒸᑯ ᐲᓯᒽ
Waswanipi ᒸᑯ ᐲᔑᒽ
Opitciwan ᐙᐱᑯᓐ ᐲᓯᒽ
Pessamit ᓂᔅᓯ ᐲᔑᒽ


Attawapiskat ᓵᑭᐸᑳᐎ ᐲᓯᒽ
Moose Factory ᓵᑭᐸᑳᐎ ᐲᓯᒽ
Waskaganish ᒧᔖᐌᐦᔮᐤ ᐲᓯᒽ
Waswanipi ᐙᐱᑯᓐ ᐲᔑᒽ, ᔖᒋᐸᑳᐤ ᐲᔑᒽ, ᓇᒣᐤ ᐲᔑᒽ (F)
Opitciwan ᐅᑌᐦᐃᒥᓐ ᐲᓯᒽ
Pessamit ᐙᐱᑯᓐ ᐲᔑᒽ


Attawapiskat ᐅᐸᔥᑰᐎ ᐲᓯᒽ
Moose Factory ᐅᐸᔥᑰᐎ ᐲᓯᒽ, ᐸᔥᑰᐎ ᐲᓯᒽ
Waskaganish ᐅᐸᔥᑰᐤ ᐲᓯᒽ
Waswanipi ᒣᒀ ᓃᐱᓄ ᐲᔑᒽ, ᐅᑌᐦᐃᒥᓐ ᐲᔑᒽ (F)
Opitciwan ᒥᐦᑯᒥᓐ ᐲᓯᒽ
Pessamit ᔐᑖᓐ ᐲᔑᒽ


Attawapiskat ᐅᐦᐸᐦᐆᐎ ᐲᓯᒽ
Moose Factory ᐅᐦᐸᐦᐆᐎ ᐲᓯᒽ
Waskaganish ᒥᔕᑳᒣᐦᔮᐤ ᐲᓯᒽ
Waswanipi ᐊᑎᐦᑌᐎᒥᓐ ᐲᔑᒽ (F)
Opitciwan ᐅᑕᐦᑕᐦᑯᓐ ᐲᓯᒻ
Pessamit ᐅᐴ ᐲᔑᒽ


Attawapiskat ᐌᐦᐌᐎ ᐲᓯᒽ
Moose Factory ᐌᐦᐌᐎ ᐲᓯᒽ
Waskaganish ᐌᐦᐌᐤ ᐲᓯᒽ
Waswanipi ᐊᑎᐦᑲᒣᑯ ᐲᔑᒽ
Opitciwan ᑳᑯᓀ ᐲᓯᒽ
Pessamit ᐅᔥᑰ ᐲᔑᒽ


Attawapiskat ᐅᐱᒪᐦᐊᒧᐎ ᐲᓯᒽ
Moose Factory ᐅᐱᒪᐦᐊᒧᐎ ᐲᓯᒽ, ᐱᒪᐦᐊᒧᐎ ᐲᓯᒽ
Waskaganish ᐐᔖᑯ ᐲᓯᒽ
Waswanipi ᐱᓈᔅᒌᐤ ᐲᔑᒽ, ᐐᔖᑯ ᐲᔑᒽ
Opitciwan ᓇᒣᑯᓯ ᐲᓯᒽ
Pessamit ᐙᔅᑌᔅᓰᐤ ᐲᔑᒽ


Attawapiskat ᑲᔥᑲᑎᓂᓯᐤ
Moose Factory ᑲᔥᑲᑎᓂᓯᐤ
Waskaganish ᑲᔥᑲᑎᓐ ᐲᓯᒽ
Waswanipi ᒪᔥᑲᐗᑎᓄ ᐲᔑᒽ
Opitciwan ᐊᑎᐦᑲᒣᑯ ᐲᓯᒽ
Pessamit ᑕᒀᒋ ᐲᔑᒽ


Attawapiskat ᐸᐙᐦᑕᑭᓇᔑᔥ
Moose Factory ᐲᐧᐋᐦᑕᑭᓇᒽ, ᐲᐙᐦᑕᑭᓇᔑᔥ, ᐹᐦᐲᐙᐦᑕᑭᓇᒽ, ᐹᐦᐲᐙᐦᑕᑭᓇᔑᔥ, ᒪᑯᔐ ᐲᓯᒽ
Waskaganish ᐲᐦᒉᒪᑲᓄ ᐲᓯᒽ
Waswanipi ᐲᐦᒉᒪᑲᓄ ᐲᔑᒽ, ᒪᑯᔐᒌᔑᑲᓐ ᐲᔑᒽ (F)
Opitciwan ᐲᐦᒋ ᐱᐳᓐ
Pessamit ᐲᔑᒧᔅᔅ

Sources for the above are as follows: Attawapiskat, Angela Sheesheesh (Facebook post, 2020); Moose Factory, Dictionary of Moose Cree – 3rd edition (2019); Waskaganish, Annie Whiskeychan’s Lexicon (1973); Waswanipi, Waswanipi Realities and Adaptations: Resource Management and Cognitive Structure (Feit, 1978), Jane Saganash (2020), Allan Saganash (2020), Maggie Gull (2020), and Emma Sagansh (2020); Opitciwan, Atikamekw Morphology and Lexicon (Béland, 1978) & Dictionnaire atikamekw (online, 2020); and Pessamit, Dictionnaire français-montagnais (Drapeau, 1991).

Note that the Waswanipi is a mixed dialect transitioning towards Southern Inland East Cree. The speech of elders speakers of this dialect contains many features of the dialect directly to the south, that of Opitciwan. There are thus a variety of month names collected in this community. Terms followed by (F) were unknown to speakers consulted and are therefore only found in Feit, 1978.

Fieldwork in the six dialects undertaken by the author of this blog informs the above phonological spellings.

Psalm 49:16-17

ᐁᑳᐐᓚ ᑯᔥᑖᒋᐦ ᐃᔅᐱ ᐊᐌᓇ ᒦᔕᑭᐦᐃᐦᑌ, ᐃᔅᐱ ᐁ ᐃᔑ ᑭᔥᑌᓕᐦᑖᑾᓂᓕᒃ ᐐᑭ ᐊᑎ ᓚᐦᑭᐸᓕᓕᑫ; ᐌᓴ ᐃᔅᐱ ᓂᐱᑌ ᓇᒪᐐᓚ ᑫᒀᓕᐤ ᑲᑕ ᑭᐦᒋᐎᑖᐤ; ᓇᒪᐐᓚ ᐅ ᑭᔥᑌᓕᐦᑖᑯᓯᐎᓐ ᑲᑕ ᓅᔅᐱᓇᑎᑯᐤ᙮


ᐯᔭᒀᐤ ᐁ ᑎᐱᔅᑳᔨᒡ ᒌ ᐸᐙᒧᐤ ᓈᐯᐤ᙮ ᐁ ᒌ ᐃᔑᓇᐦᒃ ᐌᔅ ᐁ ᐐᒋ ᐱᒧᐦᑌᒫᑦ ᑎᐯᔨᐦᒋᒉᐤᐦ ᐊᓐᑌ ᔮᔦᐤ ᐁ ᔦᑳᐗᓂᔨᒡ᙮ ᓴᔅᒋᑯᒡ ᒫᒃ ᐁ ᒌ ᓅᑾᓂᔨᒡ ᐅᐱᒫᑎᓰᐎᓐ ᐊᓐᑌ ᒌᔑᑯᐦᒡ᙮ ᑕᐦᑣᐤ ᒫᒃ ᐁ ᒌ ᐙᐸᐦᑕᐦᒃ ᐅᐱᒫᑎᓰᐎᓐ, ᒌ ᐙᐸᐦᑕᒻ ᐁ ᓃᔑᑣᐤ ᐁ ᐱᒥᔅᑲᓇᐌᑣᐤ ᐊᓐᑌ ᔦᑳᐦᒡ, ᐐᔾ ᐊᓂᔨᐤ ᐯᔭᒄ, ᐁᒄ ᐊᓂᔨᐤ ᑯᑕᒋᔨᐤ ᑎᐯᔨᐦᒋᒉᐤ᙮

ᐃᔥᑯᑕᒃ ᒫᒃ ᒫᐦᒋᑌᔾ ᑳ ᐙᐸᐦᑕᐦᒃ ᐅᐱᒫᑎᓰᐎᓐ ᐁ ᐅᐦᒋ ᓅᑾᓂᔨᒡ, ᒌ ᐋᐸᓵᐸᐦᑕᒻ ᐊᓂᔨᐤᐦ ᐁᑎᔥᒌᐎᓐᐦ ᐊᓐᑌ ᔦᑳᐦᒡ᙮ ᒌ ᐱᓯᔅᑳᐸᐦᑕᒻ ᒫᒃ ᒥᐦᒉᑣᐤ ᐊᓐᑌ ᑳ ᐃᔥᐱᔑ ᐯᒋ ᐱᒫᑎᓰᑦ ᒥᒄ ᐁ ᒌ ᐯᔭᑯᔅᑲᓇᐌᒪᑲᓂᔨᒀᐤᐦ ᐁᑎᔥᒌᐎᓐᐦ᙮ ᑲᔦ ᒫᒃ ᐁ ᒌ ᐱᓯᔅᑳᐸᐦᑕᐦᒃ ᐆᔨᐤ ᐁ ᒌ ᐃᔅᐸᔨᔨᒡ ᐊᓐᑕ ᒫᐗᒡ ᑳ ᒌ ᑕᐸᐦᑌᔨᒧᑦ ᑲᔦ ᐊᓐᑕ ᒫᐗᒡ ᑳ ᒌ ᒪᒉᔨᐦᑕᐦᒃ ᐅᐱᒫᑎᓰᐎᓂᐦᒡ᙮

ᓈᔥᒡ ᒌ ᒥᑯᔥᑳᑌᔨᐦᑕᒥᐦᐃᑯᐤ ᐆᔨᐤ᙮ ᒉᒃ ᑳ ᑲᑴᒋᒫᑦ ᑎᐯᔨᐦᒋᒉᐤᐦ ᐁ ᒌ ᐃᑖᑦ, ᐯᔨᐦᒋᒉᔭᓐ, ᐁ ᒌ ᐃᑗᔭᓐ ᒫᒃ ᒌ ᐗᔦᔨᐦᑕᒫᓀ ᒉᒌ ᓅᓱᓀᐦᐅᑖᓐ, ᒨᔥ ᒉ ᐯᒋ ᐸᐹ ᐐᒉᐎᔭᓐ᙮ ᒥᒄ ᒫᒃ ᐁ ᐙᐸᐦᑕᒫᓐ ᐊᓐᑕ ᓈᔥᒡ ᐁ ᒪᒋᐸᔨᔮᓐ ᓂ ᐱᒫᑎᓰᐎᓂᐦᒡ, ᒥᒄ ᐁ ᐯᔭᑯᔅᑲᓇᐌᒪᑲᐦᒀᐤᐦ ᐊᓂᔨᐤᐦ ᐁᑎᔥᒌᐎᓐᐦ᙮ ᓇᒪᐐᔾ ᓂ ᓂᓯᑐᐦᑌᓐ ᐊᓐᑕ ᒫᐗᒡ ᐁ ᓇᑕᐌᔨᒥᑖᓐ ᑖᓐ ᒋᐸ ᒌ ᐃᐦᑑᑌᓐ ᒉᒌ ᐯᒋ ᓇᑲᔑᔭᓐ᙮

ᑎᐯᔨᐦᒋᒉᐤᐦ ᒌ ᓇᔥᑴᐗᔑᐦᐃᑯᐤ, ᓂᑦ ᐊᐙᔑᔒᒻ ᑳ ᒥᔥᑕ ᔕᐌᔨᒥᑖᓐ, ᒋ ᓵᒋᐦᐃᑎᓐ᙮ ᓇᒪᐐᔾ ᒫᒃ ᐐᔅᑳᑦ ᒋᑲ ᒌ ᓇᑲᑎᑎᓐ᙮ ᒣᒀᒡ ᑳ ᑲᑴᒋᐦᐃᑲᐎᔭᓐ ᑲᔦ ᑳ ᓇᓀᐦᑳᑌᔨᒧᔭᓐ, ᐁᑯᑕ ᒫᒃ ᑳ ᐅᐦᒋ ᐱᒥᐎᔨᑖᓐ᙮

The above is a translation of “Footprints,” a popular Christian poem of disputed authorship. This translation is from the late Margaret Paddy from Oujé-Bougoumou and was edited by the author of this blog upon her request, as she was in the habit of having the spellings of her later work revised by him, some of which included translations of Moose Cree hymns.

Thorny Translations

I love seeing multilingual signage in public places, especially when Indigenous languages are included. In certain regions of Cree country this is more than mere tokenism as our language continues to be spoken by the majority and speakers are often literate. This is particularly true of elderly monolinguals who must often travel south for medical services. For these people, providing Cree signage is a small price to pay to make them feel welcome in a world where their ability to communicate is severely restricted. How difficult is it anyway to accommodate our people linguistically? 


Signage at Timmins & District Hospital (2020)

As it turns out, the most difficult part is often the translation itself as Cree language translators are often faced with thorny problems that lack eloquent solutions. For instance, translating between European languages is usually fairly straightforward. This is because most European language, barring Basque and the Finno-Urgic Languages, share a common ancestor and are therefore typologically quite similar. What’s more, they all make use of the International Scientific Vocabulary, a set of shared specialized vocabulary for all things scientific and many modern inventions. Cree, on the other hand, is neither related to, nor typologically similar to European languages and no consensus exists concerning the use of the International Scientific Vocabulary.

Take for instance the above image. A glance at both English and French translations will reveal a largely shared vocabulary. But while diagnostic imaging is rendered word for word as imagerie diagnostique in French, it is translated as ᔕᑄᐸᒋᑲᐣ (ᔖᑆᐸᐦᒋᑲᓐ) in Cree, a word coined decades ago that literally translates as “(thing used for) looking through.” This word, however, is quite common in Cree and would be readily understood by most speakers of the dialects spoken around both coasts of James Bay. A Cree translator would not have had any difficulty translating that word. However, the following makes me wonder just how long the translator had to ponder before deciding on this translation.

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I must admit, I read this one twice before properly parsing it, but it turns out to be quite easy to understand. Despite this, the word is not likely to be in common use given its length and morphological complexity. While elevator and ascenseur are both nouns that each contain two morphemes (or word-parts), the Cree translation is a verb that contains no less than five morphemes and is conjugated in the third person passive of the conjunct indicative neutral – now that’s mouthful! Let us break it down and gain a better appreciation of the issues translators face. We will use the alphabetic spelling of this word in order to clearly illustrate its internal components.

kâ kospâhtawîwâpihkepaniwâkâniwahk

This word was obviously provided by a translator fluent in a dialect linguists call Swampy Cree, but it should be intelligible to speakers of other dialects, especially after we parse it here together. Here is the same word, colour coded to display its internal components.


Whoever came up with this translation clearly flexed those brain muscles! It translates to something along the lines of “roped platform which is used to automatically ascend.” Let us get started. The grey w‘s in the above word carry no meaning, they are simply connectors linguists call epentheses. The purple parts that surround the word are third person singular conjunct indicative neutral inflexions – simply put, they provide the word with the sense of “that which is.” The black portion of the word above is a passive inflexion of an underlying verb of the following form.


This word literally means “he or she uses something akin to a roped platform to ascend automatically.” Let us break it down further. The turquoise part of the word is an instrumental morpheme – it adds the sense of “using something for a particular task” to an underlying verb. If we remove this, we are left with the following.


The remaining word now means “he or she ascends automatically on a roped platform.” The final part refers to the automatism of the action, the green portion refers to the use of a rope or something rope-like, and the red portion refers to any movement done on a surface above ground. Finally, the blue portion refers to ascent. We can further remove the two last parts and end up with the following verb.


Now the word literally just mean “he or she ascends on a surface above the ground.” This is a verb often used for climbing stairs or any other platform, but would not be used for climbing a slope or a mountain.

The complexity of Cree verbs, amply illustrated by this example, is often recruited to translate words that are otherwise quite simple in English or French. This complexity, however, also means there is no guarantee the intended audience will fully understand what is referred to at times. And while putting up signage in our language is indeed an important task, Cree translators are often baffled by the task at hand, often resorting to calling one another for advice. A Cree language commission could eventually work on providing guidelines for the creation of neologisms or even explore the use of the International Scientific Vocabulary, but until then translators are on their own, solving linguistic puzzles whose complexities few can truly appreciate.

Cree Folk Etymologies

A folk etymology is an attempt to explain the origin of a word or its internal structure by using more familiar words or word parts. It is often an innocent attempt at drawing a deeper meaning from a word that is otherwise morphologically opaque to the speaker. Sometimes, the folk etymology seems so logical that it even becomes the accepted form, pushing the original word into disuse. Take for instance the English word, crayfish. This word came into use in the 16th century from a reanalysis of the Middle English word crevis, originally a French loanword akin to the modern French écrevisse. Reanalyzing it as crayfish must have seemed more logical to speakers of 16th century English as it turned what was originally a French loanword into something much more English-sounding. Another example of a folk etymology that eventually prevailed over the original loanword is muskrat, as explained below.

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Folk etymologies are common to all languages, including Cree. In this post, I will discuss some common folk etymologies from four different dialects: Northern Coastal East Cree, Southern Inland East Cree, Southern Coastal Innu, and Plains Cree. As the Southern Coastal Innu speakers tend to speak French as a second language, the section dealing with words from their dialect will be written in French for their convenience. In order to clarify the origin of words and dispel their folk etymologies I will draw on cross-dialectal comparisons as well as the history of our language, always spelling using the standard orthography that consistently represents the phonology and morphology of our language, but will also include syllabic spellings except for the Southern Coastal Innu dialect as syllabics are not, and have never been, used in this dialect.

Northern Coastal East Cree

In this dialect there is a common assumption that the origin of the word meaning ‘eagle’ is the word meaning  ‘ugly’ or ‘dirty.’ Let us compare the two words in this dialect.

ᒥᒋᓯᐤ micisiw na eagle

ᒥᒋᓯᐤ micisiw vai 1) s/he is dirty 2) s/he is ugly

By comparing both words one can easily appreciate why the assumption is common. The confusion arises because of two features proper to this dialect that distinguish it from Old Cree. The first is the loss of distinction between Old Cree vowels a and i, both of which are pronounced as i in this dialect. The second feature is called palatalization, which is the change of the consonant k to a c (the c is a consonant that often sounds like the ch or ts in English) when the latter is followed by the vowel i. These features mean that words pronounced differently in Old Cree may have become homophonous in this particular dialect. Let us replace these lost vowels and consonants and compare these words again. To compare, the Old Cree forms will be placed in brackets at the end of the entries.

ᒥᒋᓯᐤ micisiw na eagle [Old Cree mikisiw]

ᒥᒋᓯᐤ micisiw vai 1) s/he is dirty 2) s/he is ugly [Old Cree macisiw]

We can expound further on the internal construction of these words, but the Old Cree forms are sufficiently different to make the case here.

Southern Inland East Cree

As with the previous dialect, there are features in this one that obfuscate the origins of certain words. One such feature is the loss of distinction between s and š (the š sounds like the sh in English, or the ch in French) In this dialect, s is pronounced š, except by certain speakers when these consonants are in proximity to a c or t, in which case both s and š are pronounced s. Because of this, speakers of this dialect will say iškwew for ‘woman,’ but will say âpatisiw, not *âpatišiw, for ‘s/he works,’ maintaining the s in this situation due to the proximity of the t.

A second feature of this dialect is the loss of short vowels when these occur between consonants that are either identical or pronounced in the same region in the mouth (i.e. homorganic consonants). These features help elucidate the following examples.

The first example is the word for ‘thundering,’ which many people pronounce as follows:

ᓂᒥᔅᒌᔑᑳᐤ nimiscîšikâw vii there is thunder

Many suggest this word is a contraction of nimisciw, ‘thunder’ and šikâw, ‘day.’ The latter is used in compounds to designate weather in common words such as maci‑cîšikâw and miyo‑cîšikâw. However, the above form is in fact a reanalysis of nimiscîskâw, a word composed of nimisciw, ‘thunder,’ and the final of abundance ‑skâw.

ᓂᒥᔅᒌᔑᑳᐤ nimiscîšikâw vii there is thunder [reanalysis of nimiscîskâw, Old Cree  nimiskîskâw]

Another popular folk etymology in this dialect is the origin of the word Nemiska, the name of a historical summering ground as well as a modern community. The word’s original form has been preserved throughout the centuries and continues to be written as follows in syllabics:

ᓀᒥᔅᑳᐤ Nemiskâw ni, place name Nemiska

In trying to explain this word, people often suggest it means ‘place with lots of fish.’ This of course compels them to suggest it comes from the Old Cree word namêsiskâw, which speakers of this dialect pronounce as namešškâw, due to the above mentioned features of this dialect. Naturally, this is false. The problem here is the presence of an archaic component that obscures the meaning of the word. In fact, the word is composed of ne-, ‘point’ and the archaic form ‑miskâw, ‘bed (of a body of water).’ The latter is a common component of place names and is found in the name of another well-known lake in this region, Lake Opémisca or Opimiskâw in Cree, meaning ‘underwater strait’ or ‘narrow channel.’ In the modern dialect, the form of this component is ‑âmiskâw and words based on this component are readily used and understood by fluent speakers. This â preceding the component is termed a ‘pre-medial accretion’ in Algonquian linguistics. A feature of Old Cree is the absence of this vowel where it is found in many modern Cree dialects. Nemiskâw then really refers to an ‘underwater point,’ a feature that would be extremely useful for a community of fishermen who set nets for a living!

ᓀᒥᔅᑳᐤ nemiskâw 1) (obsolete) vii there is an underwater point 2) (Nemiskâwni, place name Nemiska [origin ne- ‘point’ + miskâw, ‘bed (of a body of water)’, akin to modern Cree âmiskâw]

A third folk etymology in this dialect that is quite popular is the origin of the word Waswanipi, the name of another local community. The origin of this word however has already been discussed in a previous blogpost and can be read here.

Southern Coastal Innu

Pour ce dialecte, parlé à Pessamit, nous allons regarder deux étymologies populaires. Comme les dialectes ci-dessus, certains traits de ce dialecte sont propices à ces sortes d’étymologies. Comme le cri de l’est de l’intérieur (Southern Inland East Cree), la distinction entre s et š est perdu dans ce dialecte en faveur de š, épelé sh dans l’orthographe locale. La palatalization du k en c, épelé tsh, est aussi un trait comme dans le cri de l’est. Finalement, il y à aussi question de la perte de distinction entre les voyelles a et i, comme dans le cri de l’est du nord (Northern Coastal East Cree). C’est en grande partie à cause de ces traits qu’on retrouve le type d’étymologie dont on discutera ici. Le premier s’agit de l’origine du mot nashkumeu.

nashkumeu vta il/elle le/les remercie

On entend souvent les locuteurs de ce dialecte suggérer que l’origine de ce mot serait un mot qui voudrait dire ‘donner une outarde.’ Par contre, le mot ci-dessus est dans aucun dialecte prononcer de la même manière que le mot qui veut dire ‘donner une outarde.’ Tournons nous vers la langue ancestrale pour le comparer avec le mot qui veut dire ‘donner une outarde.’

naskomêw vta il/elle le/les remercie

oniskimihêw vta il/elle lui/leur donne une outarde

Juxtaposés, c’est amplement claire qu’ils n’ont pas de la même source. Maintenant pour les décomposer, dans la langue ancestrale bien sûr.

Naskomew est un verbe transitif composé de la racine verbal nasko– et la finale transitive animée de locution ‑mew. Anciennement, la forme inanimée était naskohtamo. Le verbe voulais dire ‘consentir’ ou ‘accepter.’ Dans la plupart des dialectes cris ce sens est maintenu. Dans ces dialectes le verbe peux vouloir dire ‘remercier’ ou sinon, c’est la forme rédupliquée nanâskomew, qui prend ce rôle. Le deuxième mot, oniskimihew est la forme transitive du verbe oniskimiw, qui est la forme verbale de oniskima, qui est la forme possessive de niska, ‘outarde.’

De plus, le deuxième mot est en fait pas utilisé dans ce dialecte. Il est plutôt substitué par le mot suivant.

unishkimikueu vta il/elle lui/leur donne une outarde

Tout cela étant dit, c’est impossible dans notre langue de rédupliquer un nominatif, ce qui est preuve que naskomew et nanâskomew ne peuvent pas venir de niska, le mot ancestral pour ‘outarde.’ Il faut aussi se demander pourquoi un mot voulant dire remercier viendra d’un mot voulant dire donner quelque chose!

La deuxième étymologie populaire est l’origine du mot atamishkueu. L’idée serait que ce mot tire ses origines du mot amishku, ‘castor.’

atamishkueu vta 1) il/elle le/les salue 2) il/elle lui/leur donne un cadeau

Le deuxième sens est propre à ce dialecte. Dans les dialectes de la Baie James ce mot n’est plus utilisé et on le retrouve seulement dans la vieille littérature religieuse et seulement avec son sens original, qui est de ‘saluer.’ On continue, par contre, à l’utilisé dans l’ouest avec ce sens. Dans les vieux dictionnaires des dialectes parlés au Saguenay, des dictionnaires compilés par des Jésuites dans les années 1600s et 1700s, le sens de ‘saluer’ est toujours celui qui est mentionner.

Bien sûr, ce mot n’a rien à voir avec le castor et la forme ancestrale de ce mot nous aide à voir ceci.

atamiškawêw vta il/elle le/les salue

La racine de ce mot c’est atam- suivie par les finales pour ‘contacte avec le corps,’ soit ‑škawew et sont antipassif ‑škâkew. Ces formes sont maintenant ‑shkueu et ‑shkatsheu dans ce dialecte. La racine atam– ce trouve dans un autre mot mentionné dans les anciens dictionaires, atamihew, que le père Fabvre vers la fin des année 1600s a traduit par “faire plaisir, bons offices à qlqn.”

Pour être claire, ‘donner un castor’ serait plutôt utamishkumikueu dans l’orthographe moderne de ce dialecte. Il est amplement claire que ce mot n’a rien à voir avec atamishkueu!

Plain Cree

For this dialect we will discuss two popular folk etymologies before bringing this post to an end. There are two features of this dialect that will help elucidate these etymologies. The first is the loss of distinction between Old Cree s and š, as in so many other dialects. However, in Plains Cree the loss is in favour of s. The second feature is the loss of distinction between Old Cree r and y, in favour of y.

The first first folk etymology we will discuss is the proposed relationship between the Plains Cree words for ‘woman’ and ‘fire.’

ᐃᐢᑫᐧᐤ iskwêw na woman

ᐃᐢᑯᑌᐤ iskotêw ni fire

The rational behind this, aside from a phonetic resemblance, is that women would have traditionally been the keepers of the home fire. However, the words in Old Cree are not as similar as Plains Cree speakers would have wished when the lost distinction between s and š is reestablished.

ᐃᐢᑫᐧᐤ iskwêw na woman

ᐃᐢᑯᑌᐤ iskotêw ni fire [Old Cree iškotêw]

As with the examples from other dialects, the loss of distinction between two Old Cree sounds is often what leads people to reanalyze common words with obscure origins. Another common example in Plains Cree is the endonym, Nêhiyaw, which some people have tried to explain as ‘four-bodied person’ and, alternatively, as ‘precise speaker.’ Of course, this word today simply refers to a Cree person.

ᓀᐦᐃᔭᐤ nêhiyaw na a Cree person

As with some of the other folk etymologies mentioned above, there is often a bit of romanticizing involved. This is often a telltale sign that the explanation is false. Consider the Old Cree form of this word.

ᓀᐦᐃᔭᐤ nêhiyaw na a Cree person [Old Cree nêhiraw, ‘a person belonging to one’s tribe, a compatriot’]

The historical meaning of this word is supported by historical and modern sources. For example, foreign tribes allied to our people would be designated by a compound word prefixed by this word, for example the Nêhiraw-kwêtâciwak of  the 1600s (referring to the ‘Allied Iroquois,’ i.e. the Wyandot) or the Nêhiyaw-pwâtak of the plains (referring to the ‘Allied Sioux,’ i.e. the Dakota). Additionally, the word is known to have been used by other Algonquian peoples, including the Anishinabe. In their language the word meant precisely the same thing, but would have been pronounced nî’ina. An 1886 dictionary of the Anishinabe language, compiled by J.A. Cuoq, includes the following words – note the presence of Latin and an old orthography based on French:

NIINA, (2) de notre nation; (note 2 states, “Cf. le latin nostras qui n’est qu’un dérivé de NOS, de même a été formé de NI, signe de la 1ère personne)
Niina ikwe, femme de notre nation ;
Niina masinaigan, livre à l’usage de notre nation ;
Niinawe, parler la langue de notre nation ;
Niina ikitowinan, nostratia verba
niinawinagos, i avoir l’air d’être un des nôtres, un de nos nationaux ;
Niinawisi otenang, à notre village, au village algonquin ;
Niinawisik nongom animisik, ceux de notre nation ont de la peine dans ce temps-ci;
Kotakitok Niiawisik, egent Nostrates.

Going back even further to F. Baraga’s 1853 dictionary of the Anishinabe language, we find on page 284 the word “niinawe, (nin),” which he glosses as “I speak the language of the people with whom I live.” This word is an exact cognate of the Plains Cree nêhiyawêw.

Now that the Old Cree meaning of this word has been explained, let us turn to the folk etymologies. The ‘four-bodied person’ explanation is quite straightforward. Aside from it being odd, it requires a word of the form *nêwiraw to have existed. This word, which would literally mean ‘four-body,’ would then undergo some irregular change of inserting an extra syllable and losing a w, yielding nêhiraw. If this were the case, we would expect to find evidence either in the historical record or in another dialect or related language, yet no evidence for this can be found anywhere. No such word exists in any Cree dialect or related language.

The second folk etymology is that of ‘precise speaker.’ This explanation is meant to apply to the verb nêhiyawêw in Plains Cree.

ᓀᐦᐃᔭᐁᐧᐤ nêhiyawêw vai s/he speaks Cree

The idea behind this one is that the word would be based on the root nah-, meaning ‘favourable’ or ‘proper’ and a component referring to speech that is common to all dialects of Cree, ‑w. However, combining these components would yield *nahiwêw, a non-existent word, rather than nêhiyawêw. For this explanation to therefore make sense, we would first need to ignore the fact that the initial vowel of nêhiyawêw does not match the vowel in the root nah-. Additionally, we would need to ignore the whole middle section of the word! Fortunately, the actual derivation of this word is actually straightforward – it is composed of nêhiyaw and a component referring to speech that is common to all dialects of Cree, ‑w. The original meaning of this word is therefore quite clear.

ᓀᐦᐃᔭᐁᐧᐤ nêhiyawêw vai s/he speaks Cree [Old Cree nêhirawêw, ‘s/he speaks the language of the tribe’]

The real issue behind these folk etymologies is the difficulty people have of accepting that the word nêhiyaw in Plains Cree is really just a single word with a straightforward meaning. In fact, this word exists in most Cree dialects, but never with an initial component nêw-, meaning ‘four,’ as proposed by the first etymology, nor with the initial root nah– as in the second. The historical, cross-dialectal, and cross-linguistic data is amply clear about both the original form of the word and its meaning.

Folk etymologies are always quite interesting as they reveal ways in which people perceive certain aspects of the language they speak. There are many other folk etymologies in Cree, but this initial survey will hopefully have peaked your interest in the subject. Stay on the look out for interesting explanations of Cree words and feel free to share any you may have heard in the comments below!

Typing in Cree

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With the release of the Canada 150 Typeface in 2015 I decided to contact its designer, Raymond Larabie, about an error in the orientation of certain characters in its Cree syllabics. Fortunately, Mr. Larabie knew lots about typeface design and he soon realized the error resided with Unicode, the information technology standard for consistent encoding and representation of text in most of the world’s writing systems. He quickly contacted Debbie Anderson, Technical Director at Unicode, and together we worked to rectify the error for the release of Unicode 9.0.0.

Since then, default typefaces for syllabics, such as Euphemia, have yet to be updated and typing in syllabics continues to be frustrating, especially over the internet where the typeface is set in stone, so to speak. Thankfully, there are a number of typefaces designed by those in the know that avoid Unicode’s previous errors, my favourite being BJ Cree by Bill Jancewicz. When I switched to a Mac a number of years ago I appreciated that he had designed a keyboard that could easily be installed and used without Keyman, the cumbersome program used to type in syllabics on a PC and cellphones.

I immediately noticed a few differences between BJ Cree on my Mac, when compared to the PC version. For one, the W-series on the Mac consists of one Unicode character when compared to the PC version where the dot representing the W is a separate character from the syllable that follows. Naturally, this causes problems when searching for text that was originally composed on a PC, but this problem is more of a nuisance than a obstacle.

Two years ago, however, I noticed another mistake that would have gone unnoticed for years were it not for the fact that we had just published a pedagogical syllabics chart for Moose Cree. Only after printing the charts did I notice that the character representing RE pointed in the wrong direction, showing up as ᕂ (U+1542) instead of ᕃ (U+1543). This puzzled me at first and had me wondering if I had been using the wrong character all these years when writing by hand. My uncertainty lied in the fact that the R-series is rarely written as the sound does not exist in our dialect, so only words of foreign origin require it. However, a quick check in the the literature made it clear that the keyboard was wrong. Unfortunately, the syllabic charts had already been printed and all there was for me to do was to update the syllabics chart featured on this website.

For some reason I had not thought of contacting the designer of this typeface and keyboard. After all, I was right in the middle of my medical studies at the time. But as luck would have it, a casual conversation last week with Arden Ogg, Director and Chair of the Cree Literacy Network, led to her e-mailing Bill Jancewicz on the subject. A week and a half later, he informed me that he had corrected the keyboard error. However, upon testing it, another error that was noted to have inadvertently crept in. I informed Bill Jancewicz of the error and we discussed other changes that could be made to improve its function. I suggested a narrow no-break space (U+202F) could be added to keep grammatical and lexical preforms closer to their hosts. This suggestion resulted from a conversation Arden Ogg and I had had about how awkward large spaces look in syllabics when these are used between preforms and their hosts. Incredibly, Bill was gracious enough to include this narrow no-break space on the new keyboard and placed it on the dash key, which would normally be used when typing in the alphabetic orthography in these situations.

I would like to thank Bill Jancewicz for taking the time to correct the above mentioned error on his Mac keyboard and for including the narrow no-break space. Although modern technology still offers some resistance to the use of our written language, he is among those who make it possible for us to do so. I encourage all Cree speakers to get involved and to use the language as much as possible on modern media. The resistance we encounter today will eventually vanish as we progressively improve our tools.

For those interested in downloading Bill Jancewicz’s typeface and keyboards, they can be found here. Note that it may take a few days for the corrected version of his Mac keyboard to be uploaded.

Public service announcement about COVID-19 in Southern East Cree

Covid-19-ᐊᓂᒌ ᑳ ᓈᓈᑲᒋᐦᑖᑣᐤ ᐁ ᐃᔑ ᐱᒫᑎᓰᓈᓂᐎᔨᒡ ᐆᑕ ᑳᓇᑖ ᓈᓈᑲᒋᐦᑖᐗᒡ ᒣᒀᒡ ᐊᓂᔨᐤ ᐋᐦᑯᓯᐎᓂᔨᐤ ᐁ ᐃᔑᓂᐦᑳᒋᑳᑌᔨᒡ ᑯᕉᓈᕚᔾᕈᔅ (Coronavirus), ᔦᐦᔦᐙᔅᐱᓀᐎᓐ ᐁ ᐋᔕᐎ ᒦᔨᑐᓈᓂᐎᒡ ᑲᔭᐹ᙮ ᒌᔭᐙᐤ ᒫᒃ ᒋᑲ ᒌ ᐐᒋᐦᐃᐌᓈᐙᐤ ᒉᒌ ᓇᑳᐸᔨᒡ ᐊᓂᐦᐁ ᐋᐦᑯᓯᐎᓐ᙮

ᒉ ᒋᔥᑖᐹᐗᒋᑎᐦᒉᔦᒄ ᒥᐦᒉᑣᐤ᙮ ᐐ ᐅᔥᑐᑕᒣᑴ, ᒉ ᐅᔥᑐᑕᒣᒄ ᐊᓐᑌ ᒋᔅᐱᑐᓂᐙᐦᒡ᙮ ᒉ ᐌᐱᓇᒣᒄ ᐊᓂᐦᐁ ᐁ ᓰᓂᔅᒉᑯᒣᐙᒉᔦᒄ᙮ ᒉ ᒋᔥᑖᐹᐗᑖᔦᒄ ᒥᓯᐌ ᒉᒀᓐ ᐁ ᑖᐦᒋᓇᒣᒄ᙮ ᒉ ᑯᒋᐦᑖᔦᒄ ᓀᔥᑦ ᐁᑳ ᒉᒌ ᑖᐦᒋᓇᒫᑎᓱᔦᒄ ᐊᓐᑌ ᒋᔥᒌᔑᑯᐙᐦᒡ, ᒋᔅᑯᑎᐙᐦᒡ, ᓀᔥᑕᒥᒄ ᒋᑑᓂᐙᐦᒡ᙮

ᐁᑕᑕᐤ ᐐ ᒋᔅᒉᔨᐦᑕᒣᑴ ᐊᓂᐦᐁ ᐋᐦᑯᓯᐎᓐ, ᓇᑕᐙᐸᐦᑕᒧᒄ ᓀᔥᑕᒥᒄ ᑖᐦᑳᐱᐦᒉᓂᒉᒄ ᐊᓐᑌ 1-833-784-4397᙮

ᐁᑾᓐ ᐅᐐᐦᑕᒫᒉᐎᓐ ᑳᓇᑖ ᑎᐯᔨᐦᒋᒉᓯᐤ, 11 ᒥᑭᓯᐤ ᐲᓯᒽ᙮

This Government of Canada announcement was translated by Dr. Kevin Brousseau. To read this public announcement in other languages, click here.


Strengthening our Language & Culture Through Literacy

Keynote Address presented by Dr. Kevin Brousseau at the Cree School Board’s Annual General AssemblyFebruary 26, 2020

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ᑴᔾ, ᒋ ᐴᔔᐦᑳᑎᓈᐙᐤ ᒥᓯᐌ᙮

ᓃᔥᑕᒻ ᓂᐐ ᓇᓈᔅᑯᒫᐗᒡ ᐊᓂᒋ ᑳ ᓇᑐᒥᑣᐤ ᒉ ᐯᒋ ᐊᔭᒥᔮᓐ ᐆᑕ ᐊᓄᐦᒌᔥ᙮ ᐃᐦᑖᒉᓂᒡ ᐆᑕ ᐊᐌᓂᒋ ᐁᑳ ᐁ ᒋᔅᒉᔨᒥᑣᐤ ᐊᐌᓐ ᐃᔮᐎᔮᓐ᙮ ᐙᔂᓂᐲᐎᔨᓂᐤ ᓃᔾ, ᕕᓐ ᕉᓴᐤ ᓂᑦ ᐃᔑᓂᐦᑳᓱᓐ᙮ᑲᓈᔥ ᓀᔥᑦ ᒋᓐ ᓂᑑᑌᒪᒡ᙮ ᐊᐗᓯᑌ ᓃᔥᑕᓇᐤ ᐱᐳᓐ ᓂᑦ ᐋᐸᑎᓰᐦᑲᐦᑌᓐ ᒋᑦ ᐊᔭᒥᐎᓂᓇᐤ᙮ ᓂᔮᔭᓄ ᐱᐳᓐ ᒫᒃ ᐊᔅᐱᓐ ᓂᒌ ᐴᓂ ᐋᐸᑎᓰᓐ ᐆᑌ ᐅᒉᐳᑲᒨᐦᒡ ᒦᓐ ᒉ ᓇᑕᐎ ᐃᔅᑰᓕᐎᔮᓐ ᓇᑐᐦᑯᔨᓐ ᒉᒌ ᐃᑖᐸᑎᓰᔮᓐ᙮ ᐁᑾᓐ ᐊᓄᐦᒌᔥ ᐁ ᐃᑖᐸᑎᓰᔮᓐ ᐊᓐᑌ ᑎᒥᓐᔅ᙮ ᐊᓐᑌ ᒫᒃ ᓃᑳᓂᐦᒡ ᓂ ᐸᑯᓭᔨᐦᑌᓐ ᑳᐤ ᒉ ᐯᒋ ᒌᐌᔮᓐ ᐃᔨᓂᐤ ᐅᑌᓈᐦᒡ ᒉᒌ ᐋᐸᑎᓰᔮᓐ᙮

ᒉ ᐊᔭᒥᐦᐃᑕᑯᒡ ᒫᒃ ᐊᓄᐦᒌᔥ ᓂᑲ ᐌᒥᔥᑎᑰᔒᐎ ᐊᔭᒥᓐ ᐁᑕᑕᐤ ᒉᒌ ᐸᔭᐦᑌᐦᑖᑯᐦᐃᑎᓱᔮᓐ᙮ ᐁᑯᑌ᙮

As many of you know, my family and I lost our beloved matriarch this past year, my grandmother Mary Jane Kitchen. From a young age, I had been especially close to this grandmother as she would often spend time with us in our home along the highway between Senneterre and Val-d’Or. In fact, as a child I had always been close to both my grandmothers and the two of them have gifted me with many beautiful memories of my childhood. I can certainly say they’ve had a lasting impact on the development of my character and my values as a man today.

My late grandmother instilled in most of those who knew her a deep respect for our language and culture, and this is certainly the case for me as well. In fact, my main motivation for learning to speak our language, as many of you know I did not speak Cree as a child, was to be able to communicate in Cree with my Cree grandmother in the same way I could communicate in French with my French grandmother. I’m glad to say I achieved that goal.

My earliest memories of my late grandmother, surprisingly, were not of her setting snares, though there are certainly many of those memories. They also were not of her beading, though she certainly beaded on nearly a daily basis. My earliest memories were not of her ᐋᔭᐦᑯᓈᐤ, nor her ᓰᐹᔾ. In fact, my earliest memories of my late grandmother were of her reading. This is because my grandmother, who spoke only Cree, read on a daily basis, sometimes multiple times a day. I can still see her, every night before bed, pulling out her Bible or prayer book and reading. She would often sound out the syllabic characters for me as I sat next to her. In fact, this is how I learned how to read Cree before I even understood what I was reading. I can still remember telling her about this book I had found one day titled ᐸᐹᒧᐦᑌᐤ ᐁ ᐱᒥᐱᒋᑦ. This work of fiction, published in 1886, was a Moose Cree translation of John Bunyan’s 1678 book titled Pilgrim’s Progress. It was translated by Thomas Vincent, a Cree clergyman of the Church of England. What struck me about this memory was how my grandmother already knew of this book and had in fact read it as a young woman. She proceeded to tell me what it was about and explained how she managed to get her hands on a copy years ago and how her late brother had also read it.

But she was not the only one with a love of reading – my late great aunt Meliy-ânish Saganash once told me about how the men long ago would carry their prayer books in specially made book bags on hunting or trapping expeditions. They would bring the books along to have something to read during their breaks and evenings while on these long trips. Clearly, reading was appreciated by many in the older generations.

My own grandmother’s love of reading was likely transmitted to my mother. Although she reads in English, she does so every evening before bed and has done so for as long as I can remember. I can only imagine the number of books my mother has read in her lifetime, but it is likely only surpassed by the number of baby blankets she’s made over the years. I can tell you, however, that she would likely be unhappy were she unable to continue reading. In fact, she tells me her late father would discipline her by hiding her Archie comics as a young woman. Ever the joker, he once hid her books by tying them above her bed, which she only discovered when she lied down for sleep that evening.

As a result, I grew up in a home where books were present and reading was expected. As children, my mother would often read books to my siblings and I. She tells me how I once told her, at 3 or 4 years old, that I couldn’t wait to start reading on my own. I can now confirm that being an avid reader over the years has definitely been the key to my success. And I have passed on this love of reading to my own children.

But I mention these memories for another reason that I think is relevant to our present situation. You see, we often speak of our language and culture as things divorced from education, generally, and literacy, specifically. How many times have we heard this notion that our culture and language belong in the bush? Or that we have an oral tradition? Certainly those statements are correct, but they also imply a restricted perspective. If our culture and language belong in the bush, do they not also belong in our communities and in our schools? And if we have inherited an oral tradition, should we not write our thoughts down in Cree? It is almost as if we use these statements to permit the encroachment of non-Cree culture and language into our homes and communities. An equally correct statement that would be more expansive is that our culture and language belong wherever we are as Cree people, whether in the bush, in the community, in the office, in the school, or anywhere else we chose to be.

But more unsettling notions that surface from time to time are that the culture and language are partly responsible for the poor performance of students in our schools – that their presence in our schools somehow takes away from the rest of the curriculum. Consider a nation state such as India, where numerous languages are spoken, each with its own dialects. In this particular country, the linguistic curriculum teaches the local regional language, whether that be Punjabi, Gujrati, or Malayalam, but also teaches the national language, in this case Hindi, along with English as an international language. Presently, in Timmins, there are hundreds of international students attending the local college, most of them from India. How is it that these students arrive in this country speaking English, along with two other languages? Why are their schools successful at providing a trilingual education, yet we struggle with simply providing a high-quality bilingual environment?

I would advance that there are numerous factors involved, true, but that an important one is undoubtedly this restricted perspective we often endorse regarding our own language and culture. We often speak of these things as belonging to the bush, as I previously mentioned, but also as things that are frozen in time – things that do not, or should not, change.

Yet, by definition, all cultures and languages must change. They must adapt to changes in technology. They must adapt to changes in the economy. They must adapt to changing political systems. Yet even without all of these forces, cultures and languages do change from one generation to another as dictated by personal idiosyncrasies and human innovation. Our ancesters were certainly responsible for changes in our language and culture over the last few centuries of contact with European peoples.

The adoption of the gun, the outboard motor, cloth clothing, and glass beads are all examples of changes in technology that have become fully integrated into our culture. These examples of foreign technology all came to us through a realignment of our trading partners, from indigenous peoples in the south to European traders from across the ocean. Aside from technology, this change from the previous economic system led to many changes in our language. In addition to having to name new technology, such as the items I just mentioned, European words were also adopted and adapted into our language. Older greetings such as ᑴᔾ, a testament to our trade relationships with indigenous partners to the south prior to arrival of Europeans, were replaced along the coast by ᐙᒋᔦ, a word derived from an old British greeting, and near French communities by ᐴᔔ, derived from bonjour. Thus, we now greet one another with ᒋ ᐙᒋᔦᒥᑎᓐ or ᒋ ᐴᔔᐦᑳᑎᓐ, both words being ultimately derived from English and French, respectively. And as Europeans increasingly settled in these lands, so did our political system change, leading us also change the way we speak about governing ourselves in our own language. None of these changes to our culture and language come as any surprise to any of us today – we all accept these changes as part of who we are. In the same way, our ancestors embraced literacy – both reading and writing – to such an extent that it has been estimated that the overwhelming majority of the adult population in the pre-residential school era could read in Cree. How things have changed today.

We would not be talking about strengthening our language and culture at this general assembly if we did not believe that their futures were uncertain. But the problem cannot be the culture, or the language itself, for both of these things have proven, over the last few centuries, to be perfectly adaptable to our ever-changing realities as Cree people. However, we must acknowledge that the integrity of our language and culture has suffered through the great social upheaval that began with the residential school system, where children were robbed of their traditional education in favour or an assimilatory agenda imposed by the Canadian government. As we all know too well, this tragedy did not leave us unscathed. But in the years that followed we nonetheless managed to empower ourselves as a distinct nation in order to forge through the colonial status quo that continues to fetter too many indigenous peoples in this country. In the process, we managed to establish our very own Cree School Board, a powerful entity with so much potential that unfortunately continues to be underestimated and underappreciated by many of our own people. This needs to change, for the Cree School Board will be the fulcrum of our future success or failure as a nation.

Despite this heavy burden, most of us also expect the Cree School Board to have a part to play in the transmission of our culture and language. In this regard, I believe too little attention has been placed on crafting a high-quality curriculum that leads to the acquisition of a Cree literacy that is on par with the education our students receive in English and French. But why so much talk about literacy? It’s quite simple really – in this era of information I believe literacy in English, French, and Cree will be that which will tip us towards success as individuals and collectively as a nation. Literacy will not solve anything in and of itself, but it will produce thoughtful and knowlegeable individuals who will. And although our culture, as any other culture, cannot be simply transmitted by the written word, so much of what is presently in danger of being lost can. Around the world, literacy is a key component of culture and language – why would it not be so for us as well?

I would like to emphasize that much has been done in the way of developing literacy in our language since we have taken control of our own education. The Cree Way Project, for which the late Annie Whiskeychan was known, did great strides at providing school children with reading material. Following that, numerous authors from every community have also contributed to the Cree School Board by writing their stories for students. A need for proper reference materials led to the production of dictionaries of our own dialects, a project that has spanned a few decades and which required the collaboration of speakers from many communities. Yet, despite all this effort the average child who makes it through our school system is not comfortably literate in Cree, and nowhere is this more apparent than on Facebook. Some may laugh, but I think we can safely say we have succeeded when our language starts taking precedence over English and French in public spheres, including social media.

Our culture and language are of utmost importance if we are to persist as a distinct nation. So let us not be discouraged! Each and every one of us can be an ambassador for the culture and language. And each and every one of us holds a piece of the solution. No one here knows every word in our language. No one knows every single ᐋᑕᔫᐦᑳᓐ. And no one knows every bit of local history or every single traditional skill, though some certainly seem to come close. Strengthening our culture and language, and transmitting it to the next generation, is something we must do together – for it is when they are experienced together, as families, as communities, and as a nation, that our culture and language mean the most.



Inspired by the the 3rd edition of A Dictionary of Moose Cree, “Wâpikwanîwan” is a drawing by Holly Pichette, the same artist responsible for the cover art of this dictionary. It was first posted on her Facebook media page in January of 2020 and is being shared here with her permission. 

ᑳ ᒥᓄᑌᐦᐁᑦ

Midnight Shine, a popular Cree band from northern Ontario, recently released a cover of Neil Young’s Heart of Gold, with a twist. Instead of singing the lyrics as they were written, the band instead offers a bilingual version, switching to Cree halfway through the song. The Cree lyrics, written in the dialect spoken in Attawapiskat, are provided below in syllabics. They begin around 2:17. Enjoy!

ᓂᐐ ᐱᒫᑎᓰᓐ
ᓂᐐ ᒦᓂᐙᓐ
ᓂ ᓈᓇᑕᐙᐸᒫᐤ ᑳ ᒥᓄᑌᐦᐁᑦ
ᒨᓇ ᓂᑮ ᐃᑣᓐ ᐆᐦᐅ ᑫᒀᓇ

ᐁ ᓈᓇᑕᐙᐸᒪᒃ ᑳ ᒥᓄᑌᐦᐁᑦ
ᐋᔕᔾ ᓂ ᑭᔐᓂᓃᐎᓐ
ᐁ ᓈᓇᑕᐙᐸᒪᒃ ᑳ ᒥᓄᑌᐦᐁᑦ
ᐋᔕᔾ ᓂ ᑭᔐᓂᓃᐎᓐ

Cree in Parliament

To kick off this International Year of Indigenous Languages congratulations are due to Priscilla Bosum of Oujé-Bougoumou for making history as the first East Cree interpreter in the House of Commons. This news comes amidst the second reading of C-91, the proposed Indigenous Languages Act.


Photo credit: Public Services and Procurement Canada (Facebook; Feb. 7, 2019)

ᒥᔑ ᒥᑭᓯᐤ

ᐌᔥᑲᒡ ᐃᓕᓕᐗᒃ ᒨᓚ ᐙᐲᐸᓇᒃ ᐁ ᑮᔑᑳᒃ, ᐱᑯ ᐁ ᑎᐱᔅᑳᒃ᙮ ᒣᒀᒡ ᒫᑲ ᐆᒪ ᐃᐦᑖᐸᓇᒃ ᒥᑭᓯᐗᒃ ᐁ ᒥᔑᑭᑎᒋᒃ᙮ ᐯᔭᒄ ᒫᑲ ᐊᐗ ᒥᑭᓯᐤ ᒨᓚ ᑫᒀᓐ ᒦᒋᐤ, ᐱᑯ ᐃᓕᓕᐗ᙮ ᒨᔕᒃ ᒫᑲ ᐁ ᑎᐱᔅᑳᒃ ᐸᐹᒥᓛᐤ ᐁ ᓈᓇᑕᐙᐸᒫᑦ ᐃᓕᓕᐗ ᑭᒋ ᒧᐙᑦ᙮ ᒨᔕᒃ ᒫᑲ ᐱᑯ ᐁ ᑎᐱᔅᑳᒃ ᐋᐸᑎᓰᐸᓇᒃ ᐃᓕᓕᐗᒃ᙮ ᒨᔕᒃ ᒫᑲ ᓴᑳᐦᒃ ᐸᐹᒧᐦᑌᐸᓇᒃ᙮ ᒨᓚ ᓀᔥᑕ ᐐᔅᑳᑦ ᐋᔕᐗᑳᓰᐸᓇᒃ ᓵᑲᐦᐃᑲᓐ ᐁ ᑎᐱᔅᑳᒃ᙮ ᑯᔥᑌᐗᒃ ᑭᒋ ᐙᐸᒥᑯᒋᒃ ᐆᐦᐃ ᒥᑭᓯᐗ᙮

ᐯᔭᒀᐤ ᒫᑲ ᐃᓕᓕᐤ ᐊᒥᔅᑾ ᑮ ᓇᑕᐎ ᓂᐸᐦᐁᐤ᙮ ᐯᔭᒄ ᒫᑲ ᐊᒥᔅᑾ ᐐᐗᔑᐤ᙮ ᐅᑎᐦᑕᒻ ᒫᑲ ᓵᑲᐦᐃᑲᓐ᙮ ᒨᓚ ᓈᔅᐱᒡ ᒥᔖᐤ ᐊᓂᒪ ᓵᑲᐦᐃᑲᓐ᙮ ᐁᑯ ᒫᑲ ᐊᐗ ᓈᐯᐤ ᑮ ᐋᔕᐗᑳᓯᐤ ᐊᓂᒪ ᓵᑲᐦᐃᑲᓐ᙮ ᒨᓚ ᒫᔥᑯᒡ ᓂᑲ ᐙᐸᒥᒄ ᒥᑭᓯᐤ, ᑮ ᐃᑌᓕᐦᑕᒻ᙮ ᒬᐦᒋ ᒫᑲ ᐋᐱᐦᑕᐤ ᐁ ᐃᐦᑖᑦ ᐁ ᐋᔕᐗᑳᓯᑦ ᒪᔅᑯᒦᐦᒃ ᐊᓂᒪ ᓵᑲᐦᐃᑲᓐ ᑫᒀᓐ ᐯᐦᑕᒻ ᑖᐱᔅᑰᒡ ᐁ ᓘᑎᐦᒃ ᐁ ᐃᑎᐦᑖᑾᐦᒃ᙮ ᐋᔕᔾ ᒫᑯᓂᑯᐤ ᒥᑭᓯᐗ᙮

ᐁᒀᓂ ᑳ ᐃᔑ ᑭᐦᒋᐎᓕᑯᑦ ᓈᔅᐱᒡ ᐙᓚᐤ᙮ ᐃᔅᐱ ᒫᑲ ᓈᔅᐱᒡ ᐙᓚᐤ ᐁᐦᑖᑦ ᑫᑲ ᐙᐸᐦᑕᒻ ᓈᔅᐱᒡ ᐁ ᐃᔥᐹᒃ ᐗᒋᔾ᙮ ᐁᑯ ᐊᐗ ᒥᑭᓯᐤ ᐐ ᐅᑖᒥᔑᒣᐤ ᐆᐦᐃ ᐃᓕᓕᐗ ᐊᓯᓃᐦᒃ᙮ ᐊᐗ ᒫᑲ ᓈᐯᐤ ᐊᔮᐸᓐ ᐅᑦ ᐁᔥᑲᓐ᙮ ᐁᐗᑴᓕᐤ ᒫᑲ ᐁ ᓇᑲᒋᐦᑎᑖᑦ ᐊᓯᓃᐦᒃ᙮ ᒨᓚ ᒫᑲ ᑮ ᐅᑖᒥᔑᒥᑯᐤ ᐆᐦᐃ ᒥᑭᓯᐗ᙮ ᑮ ᐅᑎᐦᒋᐎᓕᑯᐤ ᒫᑲ ᐗᒋᔥᑐᓂᐦᒃ᙮ ᐁᑯᑖᓂ ᑳ ᐸᑭᑎᓂᑯᑦ᙮ ᒨᓚ ᑮ ᐅᐦᒋ ᓂᐸᐦᐃᑯᐤ᙮ ᐁᑰᑕ ᒫᑲ ᐁᐦᑖᑦ ᐊᐗ ᓈᐯᐤ᙮

ᐯᔭᒄ ᒫᑲ ᐊᐗ ᒥᑭᓯᐤ ᐱᑯ ᒦᒋᒥᓕᐤ ᒦᒋᐤ, ᒨᔀ, ᐊᑎᐦᑾ ᒫᑲ᙮ ᐊᓐᑕ ᒫᑲ ᐁ ᑕᔒᐦᑫᑦ ᐊᐗ ᓈᐯᐤ ᐁᑯᑖᓂ ᐌᐦᒋ ᒦᒋᓱᑦ ᐁ ᐯᑖᓕᒋ ᒦᒋᒥᓖᐤ ᐆᐦᐃ ᒥᑭᓯᐗ᙮ ᐊᐗ ᒫᑲ ᒥᑭᓯᐤ ᐃᓕᓕᐗ ᑳ ᒧᐙᑦ ᑮᔖᔥᐱᓐ ᐁ ᐙᐸᐦᑕᐦᒃ ᒦᑭᐙᒻ ᐁᒀᓂ ᐁᔑ ᑭᐦᒋᐎᑖᑦ ᒥᓯᐌ ᑫᒀᓐ ᐊᓐᑕ ᐁ ᐲᐦᒋᐦᑎᐦᒃ᙮ ᐊᐗ ᒫᑲ ᓈᐯᐤ ᑳ ᐐᒋ ᑕᔒᐦᑫᒫᑦ ᒥᑭᓯᐗ ᐁᑯᑖᓂ ᐌᐦᑎᓇᐦᒃ ᑫ ᐋᐸᒋᐦᑖᑦ ᒥᓯᐌ ᑫᒀᓐ᙮

ᐃᐦᑖᐗᒃ ᒫᑲ ᐊᔭᐦᐋᔑᔕᒃ ᐊᓐᑕ ᐗᒋᔥᑐᓂᐦᒃ᙮ ᐆᑭ ᒫᑲ ᒥᑭᓯᐗᒃ ᒨᔕᒃ ᓂᐹᐗᒃ ᐁ ᑮᔑᑳᒃ ᒣᒀᒡ ᐁ ᑭᔖᔥᑌᒃ᙮ ᐊᐗ ᒫᑲ ᒥᑭᓯᐤ ᑳ ᐯᑖᑦ ᒦᑭᐙᒪ, ᓈᔅᐱᒡ ᒥᐦᒉᑦ ᑮ ᐯᑖᐤ ᐊᓐᑕ ᐗᔥᑾᔨ ᐊᐸᐦᒀᓇ᙮ ᐊᐗ ᒫᑲ ᓈᐯᐤ ᐊᓐᑕ ᑳ ᐃᐦᑖᑦ ᑮ ᒫᒋ ᐱᑭᔥᑭᐱᑕᒻ ᐊᓂᐦᐃ ᐗᔥᑾᔨ ᐊᐸᐦᒀᓇ᙮ ᑮ ᐱᔅᑯᐦᑎᑖᐤ ᒫᑲ ᐙᔅᑳ ᐊᓐᑕ ᐗᒋᔥᑐᓂᐦᒃ᙮ ᐁᑯ ᒫᑲ ᒣᒀᒡ ᐁ ᓂᐹᒋᒃ ᐆᑭ ᒥᑭᓯᐗᒃ ᒣᒀᒡ ᐁ ᑭᔖᔥᑌᒃ ᐁ ᑮᔑᑳᒃ, ᑮ ᓴᔅᑲᐦᐊᒻ ᐆᐦᐃ ᐗᔥᑾᔭ᙮ ᐆᑭ ᒫᑲ ᒥᑭᓯᐗᒃ ᐃᔅᐱ ᑫᔅᑫᓕᐦᑕᐦᑭᒃ ᐁ ᐸᓯᓱᒋᒃ ᐊᔮᐦᒋᐸᓕᐦᑣᐗᒃ ᐅᑕᐦᑲᑾᓂᐙᐗ᙮ ᐋᐦᒋᐱᑯ ᒫᑲ ᐸᓯᑌᐸᓕᐤ᙮ ᒥᓯᐌ ᒫᑲ ᑮ ᐃᔥᒀᓱᐗᒃ᙮ ᒥᓯᐌ ᑮ ᓂᐱᐗᒃ᙮ ᐊᐗ ᒫᑲ ᓈᐯᐤ ᑭ ᐱᑭᔥᑭᑲᐦᐌᐤ ᐆᐦᐃ ᒥᑭᓯᐗ᙮ ᓈᔅᐱᒡ ᑮ ᐊᔮᐱᔒᔑᐦᐁᐤ᙮ ᐁᐗᒀᓂ ᒫᑲ ᐁ ᑮᔑᑳᒃ ᑳ ᒫᒋ ᐊᔮᐱᔒᔑᒋᒃ ᒥᑭᓯᐗᒃ᙮

ᐊᐗ ᒫᑲ ᓈᐯᐤ ᑮ ᑯᒋᐦᑖᐤ ᑭᒋ ᓃᔖᐦᑕᐐᑦ ᐊᓐᑕ ᐅᐦᒋ᙮ ᒨᓚ ᒫᑲ ᑮ ᑲᔥᑭᐦᑖᐤ᙮ ᐆᒪ ᐗᒋᔾ ᓈᔅᐱᒡ ᑮ ᐃᔥᐹᐤ᙮ ᐯᔭᒄ ᒫᑲ ᐆᐦᐃ ᐊᔭᐦᐋᔑᔕ ᒨᓚ ᑮ ᐅᐦᒋ ᐱᓯᔅᑫᓕᒣᐤ᙮ ᑭ ᐗᓚᐐᐱᑕᒻ ᐱᑯ ᐅᑕᑭᔑᔾ᙮ ᐊᐗ ᒫᑲ ᓈᐯᐤ ᑮ ᐲᐦᑐᑫᐤ ᐊᓐᑕ ᒥᑭᓯᐗ ᐎᔭᐎᓖᐦᒃ᙮ ᑮ ᑭᐸᐦᐅᑎᓱᐤ ᒫᑲ ᐁᑯ ᒫᑲ ᑳ ᑏᐦᑏᐦᑎᐱᐸᓕᐦᐅᑦ ᐊᓐᑕ ᐁ ᐲᐦᒋᔑᐦᒃ᙮ ᐁᒀᓇ ᒫᑲ ᑳ ᐃᔑ ᐸᐦᑭᔑᐦᒃ ᐊᓐᑕ ᐅᐦᒋ ᐗᒌᐦᒃ᙮ ᒨᓚ ᒫᑲ ᑮ ᐅᐦᒋ ᐋᐦᑯᔑᓐ ᑳ ᐃᔥᒀ ᐸᐦᑭᔑᐦᒃ᙮ ᑮ ᐗᓚᐐᐤ ᐊᓐᑕ ᐅᐦᒋ᙮

ᓈᔅᐱᒡ ᒫᑲ ᐙᓚᐤ ᐃᐦᑖᐤ ᐊᓐᑕ ᑳ ᑮ ᐅᐦᒋ ᑭᐦᒋᐎᓕᑯᑦ ᐆᐦᐃ ᒥᑭᓯᐗ᙮ ᑮ ᑯᒋᐦᑖᐤ ᒫᑲ ᑭᒋ ᑮᐌᑦ ᐅᑦ ᐊᔅᑮᐦᒃ᙮ ᐊᐗ ᒫᑲ ᓈᐯᐤ ᓈᔅᐱᒡ ᒥᐦᒉᑦ ᐲᑐᔥ ᐁ ᐃᔑᓈᑯᓯᓕᒋ ᐃᓕᓕᐗ ᑮ ᐙᐸᒣᐤ᙮ ᐊᐗ ᓈᐯᐤ ᐱᑯ ᑮ ᐯᔭᑯᐤ ᒬᐦᒋ ᐆᒪ ᐁ ᐃᔑᓈᑯᓯᑦ ᐊᓄᐦᒡ ᑳ ᐃᔑᓈᑯᓯᒋᒃ ᐃᓕᓕᐗᒃ᙮ ᒨᓚ ᐐᓚ ᐁᔥᑾ ᐃᔅᑴᐤ ᐃᐦᑖᐸᓐ ᐆᒪ ᐁ ᐃᔑᓈᑯᓯᑦ ᑳ ᐃᔑᓈᑯᓯᒋᒃ ᐊᓄᐦᒡ ᐃᔅᑴᐗᒃ᙮

ᐊᐗ ᒫᑲ ᓈᐯᐤ ᐃᔅᐱ ᐙᓚᐤ ᓇᐗᒡ ᑳ ᐯᒋ ᑮᐌᑦ ᐙᐸᐦᑕᒻ ᐁ ᓇᒣᐦᑖᓕᒋ ᐃᓕᓕᐗ᙮ ᐙᐸᐦᑕᒻ ᓈᔅᐱᒡ ᒥᐦᒉᑦ ᒦᒋᒥᓕᐤ ᐁ ᐲᐗᔥᑌᓕᒃ᙮ ᑮ ᑯᒋᐦᑖᐤ ᒫᑲ ᑭᒋ ᒦᒋᑦ ᐆᐦᐃ ᒦᒋᒪ᙮ ᒨᓚ ᑮ ᒦᒋᐤ᙮ ᒨᓚ ᐙᒋ ᒫᓂᔒᔥ ᒦᒋᒻ ᐃᔅᐳᑾᓐ, ᐋᔕᔾ ᐁᒋᑳᓂ ᑳ ᐃᔥᒀ ᐋᐸᑕᐦᒃ᙮ ᐆᑭ ᐃᓕᓕᐗᒃ ᑳ ᓇᒣᐦᑖᒋᒃ ᒨᓚ ᒦᒋᓱᐗᒃ, ᐱᑯ ᒥᓛᐦᑕᒶᒃ ᐁ ᒦᒋᓱᒋᒃ᙮ ᒨᓚ ᐅᒋᔥᑭᔑᐗᒃ, ᒥᒍᓂ ᐐᐦᑴᓯᐗᒃ᙮ ᐁᒀᓂ ᐌᐦᒋ ᐁᑳ ᒦᒋᓱᒋᒃ᙮ ᑫᑲ ᒫᑲ ᐊᐗ ᓈᐯᐤ ᐅᑎᐦᑌᐤ ᐆᐦᐃ ᐃᓕᓕᐗ᙮ ᐁᑯᑕ ᒫᑲ ᑳ ᑕᔒᐦᑫᑦ ᓇᑭᔅᑲᐤ᙮ ᐯᔭᒄ ᒫᑲ ᐊᐙᔑᔥ ᑮ ᑭᔅᑭᓇᐙᐸᒥᑯᐤ ᐁ ᒦᒋᓱᑦ᙮ ᐁᒀᓂ ᑳ ᐊᑎ ᓂᐱᑦ ᐊᓇ ᐊᐙᔑᔥ᙮ ᐊᐗ ᒫᑲ ᓈᐯᐤ ᐃᑌᐤ ᐆᐦᐃ ᐃᓕᓕᐗ, ᒫᐦᑎ ᑭᑲ ᑲᓇᐙᐸᒥᑎᓈᐙᐤ ᑖᓂ ᐁᔑᓈᑯᓯᔦᒄ, ᐃᑌᐤ᙮ ᐁᑯ ᑖᐺ ᒥᓯᐌ ᑮ ᑲᓇᐙᐸᒣᐤ᙮ ᒨᓚ ᐁᒋᑲ ᐅᒋᔥᑭᔑᐗᒃ ᐆᑭ ᐃᓕᓕᐗᒃ᙮ ᐁᒀᓂ ᐯᔭᑾᓐ ᓀᔥᑕ ᐃᔅᑴᐗᒃ, ᒥᒍᓂ ᐐᐦᑴᓯᐗᒃ᙮ ᐊᐗ ᒫᑲ ᓈᐯᐤ ᐃᑌᐤ, ᒪᔦᐎᑌ ᐅᔖᓂ ᐁᔑᓈᑯᓯᔦᒄ, ᐃᑌᐤ᙮ ᒫᒋᑲ ᓃᓚ ᐁᔑᓈᑯᓯᔮᓐ, ᐃᑌᐤ᙮ ᐙᐸᐦᑎᓓᐤ ᒫᑲ ᐅᒋᔥᑲ᙮ ᐁᑯ ᒥᓯᐌ ᐁᑕᔑᒋᒃ ᐆᑭ ᐃᓕᓕᐗᒃ ᓈᔅᐱᒡ ᐯᔓᒡ ᑲᓇᐙᐸᒣᐗᒃ ᐆᐦᐃ ᒥᒋᔥᑲ᙮ ᐁᑯ ᐯᔭᒄ ᐊᓐᑕ ᐁᑕᔑᒋᒃ ᐌᐦᒋ ᐃᑗᑦ, ᐁᐦᐁ ᑳ ᐊᓴᒧᓯᑦ, ᐃᑗᐤ᙮ ᐁᑯ ᐊᐗ ᓈᐯᐤ ᐃᑌᐤ ᐆᐦᐅ ᐃᓕᓕᐗ, ᑭᑲ ᐅᔑᐦᐃᑎᓈᐙᐤ, ᐃᑌᐤ᙮ ᐁᑯ ᐊᐗ ᓈᐯᐤ ᐅᑎᓇᒻ ᒨᐦᑯᒫᓐ ᐁᑯ ᒥᓯᐌ ᑮ ᒫᒋᔗᐤ ᐆᐦᐃ ᐃᓕᓕᐗ᙮ ᑫᑲ ᒫᑲ ᒥᐦᒉᑦ ᐁᑎ ᒫᒋᔣᑦ᙮ ᑫᑲ ᒨᓚ ᔕᐎᔑᑳᑫᐤ ᐅᒨᐦᑯᒫᓐ᙮ ᐁᑯ ᒫᑲ ᑮ ᑖᔑᐳᑖᐤ᙮ ᒨᓚ ᒫᑲ ᑭᔅᑫᓕᐦᑕᒻ ᓈᔅᐱᒡ ᐁ ᑳᔖᓕᒃ ᓃᔥᑕᒻ ᒫᑲ ᐁ ᒫᒋᔑᑳᑫᑦ ᑳ ᐃᔥᒀ ᑖᔑᐳᑖᑦ᙮ ᐌᓵ ᒥᔥᑕᐦᐃ ᑮ ᒫᒋᔗᐤ᙮ ᐁᐗᒀᓇ ᒫᑲ ᐃᔅᑴᐤ᙮ ᐁᐗᒀᓂ ᒫᑲ ᐁ ᑮᔑᑳᒃ ᑳ ᒫᒋ ᐸᓯᑎᔦᒋᒃ ᐃᓕᓕᐗᒃ ᓀᔥᑕ ᐃᔅᑴᐗᒃ᙮ ᐁᒀᓂᒪ ᑳ ᒫᒋ ᐃᔑᓇᑯᓯᒋᒃ ᐊᓄᐦᒡ ᑳ ᐃᔑᓇᑯᓯᒋᒃ᙮ ᐁᒀᓂ ᒫᑲ ᐊᓂᐦᐃ ᐁ ᑮ ᐅᔑᐦᐋᑦ ᐊᐗ ᓈᐯᐤ᙮ ᐁᑯ ᒦᓇ ᑳ ᐯᒋ ᑭᐦᑐᐦᑌᑦ᙮

ᑫᑲ ᒦᓇ ᐅᑎᐦᑌᐤ ᑯᑕᑭᔭ ᐃᓕᓕᐗ᙮ ᐆᑭ ᒫᑲ ᐃᓕᓕᐗᒃ ᑮ ᐅᓲᐗᒃ᙮ ᐸᑾᓀᐦᐊᒶᒃ ᒫᑲ ᐊᔅᑭᔾ ᐁᔑ ᑖᐱᐦᑎᑖᒋᒃ ᐅᓱᐙᐗ᙮ ᐊᐗ ᓈᐯᐤ ᒥᓯᐌ ᑮ ᑮᔥᑳᓗᐌᐦᐌᐤ ᐆᐦᐅ ᐃᓕᓕᐗ᙮ ᐁᒀᓂ ᒫᑲ ᐌᐦᒋ ᐁᑳ ᐅᓲᒋᒃ ᐃᓕᓕᐗᒃ᙮ ᐊᐗ ᓈᐯᐤ ᒦᓇ ᑮ ᐯᒋ ᑭᐦᑐᐦᑌᐤ᙮

ᑮ ᐅᑎᐦᑌᐤ ᑯᑕᑭᔭ ᐃᓕᓕᐗ᙮ ᐆᑭ ᒫᑲ ᐃᓕᓕᐗᒃ ᒨᓚ ᐙᐱᐗᒃ ᐁ ᑮᔑᑳᒃ᙮ ᐊᐗ ᓈᐯᐤ ᐃᑖᐱᐤ ᐲᐦᒋ ᐊᓐᑕ ᒦᑭᐙᒥᐦᒃ᙮ ᐊᐗ ᓈᐯᐤ ᐙᐸᐦᑕᒻ ᐊᔅᑭᐦᒄ ᓈᔅᐱᒡ ᒥᔥᑕᐦᐃ ᐱᒥᔾ ᐊᓐᑕ ᐁ ᐊᑯᐦᑎᐦᒃ᙮ ᐁᑯ ᐊᐗ ᓈᐯᐤ ᐲᐦᑐᑫᐤ ᐊᓂᒪ ᒦᑭᐙᒻ᙮ ᒦᒋᐤ ᐊᓂᒪ ᐱᒥᔾ ᐊᔅᑭᐦᑯᐦᒃ ᐅᐦᒋ᙮ ᐁᑯ ᐆᑭ ᐃᓕᓕᐗᒃ ᐁᑳ ᐁ ᐙᐱᒋᒃ ᑭᔅᑫᓕᐦᑕᒶᒃ ᐊᐌᓂᐦᑳᓐ ᐁ ᒦᒋᑦ ᐊᓂᒪ ᐱᒥᔾ᙮ ᐆᑭ ᒫᑲ ᐃᓕᓕᐗᒃ ᑮᓂᑳᓕᐗ ᐅᑑᔅᑾᓂᐙᐗ᙮ ᐁᐗᑯ ᒫᑲ ᐃᔮᐸᒋᐦᑖᒋᒃ ᐁ ᓂᐸᐦᑖᒋᒃ ᑫᒀᓐ᙮ ᐊᐗ ᒫᑲ ᓈᐯᐤ ᒪᓂᓇᒻ ᐊᓂᒪ ᑭᔥᑐᐦᑲᓐ, ᐌᐱᓇᒪᐌᐤ ᒫᑲ ᐆᐦᐃ ᐃᓕᓕᐗ᙮ ᐊᐗ ᒫᑲ ᐯᔭᒄ ᐃᓕᓕᐤ, ᐋᔕᔾ ᐊᐌᓂᐦᑳᓐ ᓂ ᒀᔥᑯᐦᑐᑖᒄ, ᐃᑌᓕᐦᑕᒻ᙮ ᐁᒀᓂ ᐁᔑ ᑕᐦᑲᐦᒋᑳᑫᑦ ᐊᓂᒪ ᐅᑑᔅᑾᓐ᙮ ᒬᐦᒋ ᒫᑲ ᐅᒡ ᐊᐙᔑᒥᔕ ᒦᔅᑯᐦᐌᐤ᙮ ᐁᒀᓂ ᐁ ᑮ ᓂᐸᐦᐋᑦ᙮ ᐊᐗ ᒫᑲ ᓈᐯᐤ ᐁᒀᓂ ᑳ ᐯᒋ ᑮᐌᑦ ᑮ ᐅᑎᐦᑕᒻ ᐅᑦ ᐊᔅᑭᔾ᙮

The above story is an âtayôhkân, a traditional Cree story. A shortened version of this story was first published in 1881 in Horden’s A Grammar of Cree Language under the name “An Indian’s Adventure.” A bilingual version of it was published here on June 24, 2015. This first published version is notable for lacking key parts of the story, which are included in the version presented above. The latter was collected by the linguist Truman Michelson in 1935 during his fieldwork in Moose Factory. He gathered the story in syllabics and attributed it to a certain Harvey Smallboy. This is its first publication (December 5, 2018).

The story’s syllabic orthography has been updated to include vowel lengths and aspirates. The whole was also read to Hilda Jeffries, a fluent Cree-speaking elder from Moose Factory, who approved of the reading and corroborated the story as one she was told by her late uncle when she was young. She recalls the giant birds being called miši-mikisiw, but was also familiar with their alternate name, mištasiw, which is the name used in the version from 1881.

Source: Cree notes and texts collected by Truman Michelson, 1935 Summer [NAA MS 3394, notebook 1, 2, &3, National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution]

What Cheers?

Most outsiders visiting Cree communities around Wînipekw (aka James Bay) have heard or have been taught the Cree salutation ‘wâciye’ without any mention of its origins or history. It may surprise many to know that this salutation is actually of English origin and that it has not always enjoyed such a widespread distribution. Its popularity has led to the decline of other salutations in the Cree language, leading even some young Cree people looking puzzled when they hear some of these other words. In this blogpost we will explore the history of Cree salutations.

The word ‘wâciye’ can be heard in all Cree communities around Wînipekw and is typically spelled in a variety of ways, depending on the type of orthography and dialect. In syllabics, it is spelled either ᐙᒋᔦ  or ᐙᒋᔮ, the latter being the dialectal form used in the northern east coast communities. Some may even spell it ᐙᒋᔮᐦ in the northern dialect, following a more recent trend of marking all final aspirations in Cree. Using the alphabet, the word may also be seen spelled as ‘wâchiye,’ ‘waachiye,’ ‘wâchiyâ,’ ‘wâchiyâh,’ ‘waachiyaa,’ or ‘waachiyaah.’ There are of course some flagrant misspellings, but these will be ignored for the purposes of this post.

The word itself is actually an English borrowing. Watkins, an Anglican missionary, wrote in his Cree dictionary of 1865 that “The expression, ‘what cheer?’ has been adopted by the Indians and is used both at meeting and at parting, answering in the former case to ‘how do you do?’ and in the latter ‘good bye.’ It is generally doubled, ‘what cheer? what cheer?'” He also wrote that the English expression is “the common seaman’s salutation” and that it had become “thoroughly naturalized into Cree.” He even provides us with the word’s plural form, ‘wâciyekw,’ spelling it “whatcheâk” in his dictionary.

The English expression “what cheer” appears to have a continued existence in English as well, albeit in contracted forms. The Oxford English Dictionary provides us with two entries, “wotcher” and “wotcha,” stating their etymologies as “late 19th century: corruption of what cheer?” The words are therein glossed as informal British greetings.

Interestingly, the use of this word in Cree, although entirely naturalized by the mid-19th century, has not always extended outside of the coastal communities. Inlanders can often recall the first time they heard the word, usually in the context of meeting coasters. The word appears to have begun spreading inland in the 1970s, a time of social upheaval as our people negotiated the JBNQA and eventually settled in our contemporary communities. For inlanders, the more popular salutation has been ‘kwey,’ not ‘wâciye.’

‘Kwey’ has generally enjoyed a much broader distribution than ‘wâciye,’ being used in Cree dialects such as Southern East Cree, Atikamekw, and Western Innu. Aside from Cree, the word is also used in the Anishinabe dialects spoken in Quebec, as well as in the Eastern Abenaki languages. This has led many to suggest it is a loadword from Anishinabe, but the fact remains that only the dialects spoken in the region that straddles the Ottawa river and Abitibi Lake use this term. Further west, the word is replaced by ‘aanii(n),’ literally meaning ‘how.’ This then begs the question, where does ‘kwey’ come from?

The earliest mention of ‘kwey’ in a Cree language document appears to be in Charles Arnaud’s 1856 manuscript dictionary of the dialect spoken at Essipit and Pessamit. Arnaud, an Oblate missionary, lists the word as “Bonjour Kuaï Kuaï.” Earlier manuscript dictionaries curiously omit the word, suggesting it may in fact have been borrowed from another language between the time of the early manuscript dictionaries and Arnaud’s time. In fact, the earliest textual examples we have of this word are from the Jesuit Relations, but they do not refer to the Cree language. Two such examples of the word show up in 1636, both reported by the Jesuit Jean de Brébeuf when speaking of the Wyandot people. Despite the loss of their language due to the epidemics, war, and relocation, their close relatives the Mohawk continue to use this word as a greeting in the community of Kahnawake. The word may therefore actually be a Iroquoian loanword that spread into Algonquian communities after the displacement of the Wyandot to Quebec City in the mid-17th century.

So if both ‘wâciye’ and ‘kwey’ are loan words, what was the original Cree salutation? The Plains Cree dialect appears to have preserved the original word, spelled “atamiskawêw” in Arok Wolvengrey’s dictionary of Plains Cree, published in 2011. Being a verb, it can be translated as ‘he or she greets him or her.’ In fact, the word is present in literary sources from dialects spoken around Wînipekw in the mid-19th century, including Bible translations and even Watkins’ dictionary mentioned above. It also shows up in early manuscript dictionaries, including one from the 1680s, compiled by Antoine Silvy, a Jesuit stationed in the Saguenay region who is also known for having travelled all the way to the region of present day Waskaganish. In the Jesuit Bonaventure Fabvre’s dictionary from the 1690s, the phrase “kit atamiskâtin” is found, followed by the gloss “je te salue.” This then appears to have been a widespread expression that has fallen out of use as ‘wâciye’ and ‘kwey’ increasingly gain popularity. But they are not the only words used nowadays.

ᑮ ᐊᑕᒥᔅᑲᐌᐤ

Luke 1:40, “And entered into the house of Zacharias, and saluted Elisabeth.” (1876, Moose Cree translation)

In Southern East Cree and certain Innu dialects, the French word ‘bonjour’ has been adopted and is pronounced as ‘pôšow.’ Depending on the orthography used, it can also be seen spelled as ‘pûshû,’ ‘puushuu,’ or ‘pushu.’ This salutation has also been turned into verbs that replace the original word mentioned above. In Southern East Cree the verb is ‘pôšôhkawew’ while in the Innu dialects it is ‘pushukateu.’ These words generally mean ‘he or she greets him or her,’ but are sometimes interpreted as referring to handshaking, which has always been part of the traditional Cree salutation. In the same way, ‘wâciye’ has also been turned into a verb of the same meaning along the coast of Wînipekw. Here the verb is ‘wâciyemew.’

Whether one uses ‘wâciye,’ ‘kwey,’ or ‘pôšow,’ one should understand that all three of these loanwords are now part and parcel of the Cree language. They are not English, Wyandot, or French words anymore when pronounced in the Cree manner. In fact, the ability to accommodate loanwords, to a certain extent, is a sign of linguistic vitality. The English language would not be what it is today without its plethora of loanwords, including words of Algonquian origin such as ‘skunk,’ ‘toboggan,’ ‘moccasin,’ and ‘pow-wow.’ What is most important is that we simply continue speaking our language. And with that, I salute you all with a wâciye, kwey, and pôšow!

Otters & Clouds

Today, on a popular social media site, a picture of a cloud seen over Waswanipi was posted. The comment accompanying the picture read, “Hmmm, more weird looking clouds.” Here is the picture.


“Hmmm, more weird looking clouds,” by Nadia Happyjack Cooper. Shared here with permission.

Granted, these clouds do look kind of weird, they are quite common. In the field of meteorology, this type of cloud is called by the Latin term altocumulus undulatus.

When faced with the need for highly specific words, the English language often depends on Latin. The Cree language, on the other hand, is properly equipped to describe highly detailed features of the natural world, including clouds. This is largely due to a grammatical feature called polysynthesis, which I spoke at length about in an earlier post. In the Cree language of Waswanipi, the altocumulus undulatus cloud is known by the following term:


This word is a beautiful example of polysynthesis, so let us break it down. The word ᐸᐦᑯᓈᒋᑴᐗᔅᑾᓐ is an inanimate intransitive verb (i.e., a VII) that features two medials built on the stem of a transitive animate verb (i.e., a VTA). The stem on which the word is built is the following:


This stem means, “to skin an animal.” To that stem a medial is attached, referring to the animal being skinned. In the case, the animal is an otter and the medial is as follows:


This medial is derived, through a normal process of medial derivation, from the noun ᓂᒋᒄ. Together, these two components form a new stem, meaning “to skin an otter.” The stem is as follows:


To this stem, another medial is attached. This one means “cloud” and has the following form:


This medial is derived from the noun ᐗᔅᒄ, a word that is now obsolete in Waswanipi. This medial, however, cannot form a new stem without the addition of a final. The final here adds no meaning to the word, but rather helps form a VII verb. The final is the following:


Together, these components come to mean “there is an otter-skinning cloud.” This may be a strange description for anyone not accustomed to seeing otters being skinned, but for those who have the choice of word immediately becomes obvious.

When skinning an otter with a bone scraper, the skinner will simultaneously strike the subcutaneous tissues while pulling the skin away from the area being struck. Doing so repeatedly creates a lumpy texture in the otter’s fat, reminiscent of the aforementioned cloud.

While many of us nowadays tend to imagine puppies and kittens in the shapes of clouds, evidently hunters and trappers see things quite differently! So the next time you see an altocumulus undulatus you can help keep a beautiful and meaningful word in use by calling it what our people have called it for centuries, ᐸᐦᑯᓈᒋᑴᐗᔅᑾᓐ.

ᓂᔥᑌᔅ ᒞᓐ

ᒋ ᓂᐹᓐ ᐋ, ᒋ ᓂᐹᓐ ᐋ
ᓂᔥᑌᔅ ᒞᓐ, ᓂᔥᑌᔅ ᒞᓐ
ᒉᒋᔐᐹ ᒪᑗᐦᑎᓐ, ᒉᒋᔐᐹ ᒪᑗᐦᑎᓐ
ᑎᓐᒃ ᑖᓐᒃ ᑣᓐᒃ

Syllabics Chart

I designed the following chart as a tool to learn how to convert the Cree alphabet into syllabics, and vice versa. Aside from a few important changes, it is based on traditional syllabics charts. This version features the letters used in the standard alphabetic orthography and the syllabics used in the eastern syllabic orthographies. The terms cardinal and ordinal refer here to the orientation of the individual syllabic characters. They are included here as a pedagogical tool, in line with my use of these terms in the syllabics lessons published on this blog. The third category, listed here as supplemental, groups together characters that were originally designed to represent sounds from non-Cree languages, as when transcribing English names.

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Note that the long vowels require diacritics in both orthographies to distinguish them from their corresponding short vowels, making the conversion from one orthography to the other effortless. Also note that the long vowel e does not require a diacritic as it does not have to be distinguished from a corresponding short vowel. This simplifies any orthographic conversion as its corresponding syllabic series has traditionally forgone the use of a diacritic as well.

A feature of the alphabetic orthography is that it is not based on English or French phonetics. Rather, it is based on the actual sound structure of the Cree language. As such, every Cree sound is represented by only one letter, making the conversion from the alphabet to syllabics that much easier. For example, the Cree sound variously pronounced as /tsh/, dzh/, /ts/ or even /tz/ is always represented by the single letter c rather than the awkward and variable use of tsh, ts, tch, ch, g, and even j, all of which derive from English and French phonetics. Similarly, the Cree long vowel pronounced as /i:/ is written as ī (or alternatively î), rather than using the English based e, eeea, or even ii. As a final example, the Cree sound that varies between /k/ and /g/ is always spelled as k, rather than drawing from English phonetics and misleadingly using k and g for what is really only one sound in Cree. A word, therefore, commonly written as meegwetch, meegwech, miigwetch, or even miigwech, is consistently written as mīkwec in the Cree alphabet and ᒦᑴᒡ in syllabics.

Spelling in a consistent manner is an important requirement for literacy. Not doing so creates barriers for language learners and hinders the progression of literacy for a language that is already at risk of being lost in many communities across Cree country. For those wishing to learn how to read and write in syllabics, lessons can be found here.

A Cree Knock-knock Joke

The creativity of children never ceases to amaze me. Linguistically, they find ways to play with the languages they speak that make us laugh while simultaneously saying much about where they are from. Here’s a funny example I once overheard from young children playing together in my home.

Knock knock!
 Who’s there?
 Scooby-doo who?
Enh! You just said “doo who!”

Sadly, the comedic value of this joke only reaches the few Cree communities where doo who, properly spelled tôhow or ᑑᐦᐅᐤ, is known. I also expect some of these kids would have been scolded by their parents for using a word that refers to male genitalia. As a linguist, however, I could not help but laugh at what was a great example of humorous code-switching!

Polysynthesis & the Longest Cree Word Ever

The Cree language can be likened to the world’s most mechanically intricate clocks that, despite their innumerable moving parts, display time using only two or three hands. Similarly, our beautiful language is built on a rich, but incredibly complex, grammatical structure, and yet boasts only a simple repertoire of vowels and consonants. In this way, our language sounds deceptively simple, but its grammar has thwarted many in their attempts to learn to speak it.

Certainly, numerous factors aside from grammar conspire against the would-be Cree speakers. Inconsistent orthographies, sparse learning materials, dialectal differences, and even idiolectal preferences are complicit. But there is one grammatical feature that is so unfamiliar to speakers of European languages that it usually escapes their attention, only to repeatedly frustrate their efforts at speaking with any degree of fluency. This feature is called polysynthesis.

Polysynthesis is the process of stringing together many morphemes, or word-parts, into long words that would be typically expressed as sentences in non-polysynthetic languages. What better way then to illustrate this process than by presenting here what many say is the longest Cree word ever?

The word you are about to see was posted on a social media page dedicated to the Cree language. It is allegedly known by many elderly people in communities along the east coast of James Bay and is here presented in the northern dialect. Prepare to run out of breath trying to read this aloud.

ᒌ ᐅᑳᔅᒋᓈᐧᐋᐦᔮᐧᐋᓂᐧᐃᑎᐦᑭᐙᑭᓂᐎᐦᑖᐙᑯᐱᓐ

It was evident from the comment section on this social media site that this word stumped many Cree-speakers. So by way of illustration, let us break this word down to reveal its actual meaning. While doing so, the grammatical process of polysynthesis will be made abundantly clear.

The length of this Cree word can be partially explained by its inflexions. In other words, it is a verb that has been conjugated by the addition of a prefix and a suffix. The prefix is here separated by a space, but some people prefer to place it next to the word, making it appear even longer. The inflexions in this word are highlighted here for your convenience.


The prefix here is a simple past tense marker (some would argue it is a perfective aspect marker, but we can overlook this for the sake of simplicity). The suffix here is a third person plural dubitative preterit marker. It conveys an event involving a group of people that we infer to have occurred, but did not witness ourselves.

Another segment in this word is a derivational morpheme that conveys a passive voice. A passive voice is used in verbs where the subject undergoes the action of the verb. In English, the passive voice would be used to say things like “he is seen” or “she is appreciated.” The passive is highlighted here in blue.


This passive voice tells us that that something is being done to this group of people. In other words, they are not active participants in this event, but rather, recipients. Let’s keep working at this word!

The next segment is a derivational morpheme that contains both a prefix and a suffix which conveys the meaning of providing something for others. It is here highlighted in red.


So we now know that something was provided for a group of people in the past, but the speaker only infers this information as he or she was not a witness to the event. A little more work and we shall soon find out what they received!

The following segment is a derivational morpheme that literally means “pack,” “bag,” or “container.” It is here highlighted in green.


The speaker is therefore telling us that it is inferred that a group of people in the past received a package containing something. Shall we keep going?

The morpheme referring to the contents of the package is underlined below.


This morpheme can also exist as a word on its own, as follows:


This word means “spatchcocked grouse.” But even it itself is a word composed of smaller parts! In fact, it is a compound consisting of a suffix referring to grouse and an initial segment that literally refers to game split open from the back and deboned for smoking or grilling. On its own, it is used to refer to fish, but with the suffix it comes to refer to grouse. Here is the root of it all, the word that refers to fish split from the back for smoking or roasting:


It would be remiss of me not to mention that even this word is a noun derived from an initial verb composed of two parts, but I digress too much. Let us return then to the original word now that we have broken it down into its different segments.


This Cree word can be translated as follows (the translation is colour coded to match the associated parts of the Cree word):

They were presumably given a package of spatchcocked grouse.

As has been shown, this one Cree word (two if we consider the prefix a separate word) requires the use of nine English words to be properly translated. This then illustrates beautifully what polysynthesis means. It is so foreign to English-speakers that it must be explicitly explained if they ever wish to acquire any fluency in the Cree language. But do not despair! The Cree language obeys strict rules that allow speakers to formulate these kinds of words. With a bit of practice, one can learn how to do so and amaze fellow Cree-speakers! Perhaps then, a longer word could even be composed to earn the title of the longest Cree word ever.


Geraldine Govender: Heritage Award for Excellence


On February 23 in Toronto, Geraldine Govender accepted the Lieutenant Governor’s Ontario Heritage Award for Excellence in Conservation for her role in making the Moose Cree dictionary possible. As the director for the Department of Language & Culture at Moose Cree First Nation, Geraldine’s role in building support for the local language revitalization project has been crucial for keeping the dictionary project going.

Geraldine took to social media that day to acknowledge her nomination by Stan Kapashesit and to thank all those involved in the production of this important work on the Cree language.

A third edition of the Dictionary of Moose Cree is presently being prepared. Contributors to the dictionary project since 2012 are listed below:

Kevin Brousseau
Vincent Collette (contributor to the first edition)

Expert Speakers:
Clarence Cheechoo
Susan Cheechoo
William Cheechoo
Agnes Corston
Hilda Jeffries
Gertie Johnstone
Eva Lazarus
Mary Linklater
Jane Louttit (1922-2013)
Eleanor McLeod
Stella McLeod
Caroline Trapper (1929-2017)
Daisy Turner (1918-2017)
George Quachegan


The following blogpost was originally published on October 13, 2014 on another blog of mine. Save for a few typographical modifications, the post is presented here in its original form.

Only recently have I noticed how Waswanipi’s community emblem was changed from its original design. This must have happened years ago, but somehow it managed to escape my attention. I can distinctly remember the original emblem from my youth, with its torch suspended over the water. But the torch has now been replaced by the moon, which appears to be a better fit for the common, but erroneous, translation of ‘light on the water.’ For those not familiar with the design of the original emblem, here it is on a pin.


The above emblem evidently pointed to the meaning of the name, which must have naturally been understood by those who designed it. The name, spelled Wâswânipiy using a standard orthography, literally translates into ‘torch-fishing lake,’ in reference to a traditional method of luring fish with light, hence the central position of the torch in the community’s emblem. The meaning, however, has largely faded into obscurity as the practice it describes was abandoned, probably in favour of more productive harvesting methods. Already a distant memory in the minds of elders in the 1970s, the practice of fishing by torchlight was eventually forgotten by the community who instead adopted a simplified “light on the water” translation for the community’s name. The result is a new emblem where the moon figures centrally over a lake, obscuring the original meaning of the name.


The word wâswânipiy is composed of wâswân, meaning ‘torch-fishing place’ and …piy, a contracted form of nipiy used in reference to lakes (examples include mašcekopiy, ‘a pond surrounded by muskeg’ and amiskopiy, ‘a beaver pond’). Wâswân is itself a noun derived from the verb stem wâswe-, meaning ‘to fish by torchlight using a leister.’ In the not-so-distant past, this traditional fishing method was common throughout Cree country. The word is recorded as early as the late 1600s in manuscript dictionaries of the Cree language compiled by Jesuits Antoine Silvy and Bonaventure Fabvre. In the early 1700s, the Jesuit Pierre-Michel Laure again notes the word, translating it as ‘je vais au flambeau pêcher…’ But it is the Jesuit Paul LeJeune’s description from the Relations in the earlier 1600s that deserve attention. The following is a translation of LeJeune’s description, taken from page 311 of volume 6 of the Thwaites edition of the Relations.

This harpoon fishing is usually done only at night. Two Savages enter a canoe,—one at the stern, who handles the oars, and the other at the bow, who, by the light of a bark torch fastened to the prow of his boat, looks around searchingly for the prey, floating gently along the shores of this great river. When he sees an Eel, he thrusts his harpoon down, without loosening his hold of it, pierces it in the manner I have described, then throws it into his canoe. There are certain ones who will take three hundred in one night, and even more, sometimes very few. It is wonderful how many of these fish are found in this great river, in the months of September and October; and this immediately in front of the settlement of our French, some of whom, having lived several years in this country, have become as expert as the Savages in this art.

Aside from his questionable use of the word ‘Savages,’ LeJeune’s description beautifully details the performance of this nocturnal harvest, which Paul Kane captures on canvas in 1845.

Paul Kane

‘Fishing by Torch Light’ is an 1845 oil-on-paper sketch by Paul Kane (1810-1871).

While fishing with leisters is a tradition that has continued into modern times, the practice of doing so at night using torches has been lost in Waswanipi, as in most of Cree country. There are regions, however, where the practice has been remembered, and others where the practice has continued. In fact, the online Innu Dictionary continues to list vocabulary associated with the activity. In 1995, our relatives in what is now called Labrador took some students out on the land to experience our traditional culture. Included was torch-fishing with leisters. The following is a photograph of the students learning this age-old tradition.

Nutshimiu Atusseun Program: students salmon spearing at Tshenuamiu River 1995. Photo: Anthony Jenkinson

Nutshimiu Atusseun Program: students salmon spearing at Tshenuamiu River 1995. Photo: Anthony Jenkinson

This picture perfectly illustrates the meaning of Wâswânipiy, a lake where our people fished with leisters by torchlight. With the growing interest in our traditional culture, now might be the time to reintroduce this tradition. Either way, putting the torch back on the community’s emblem would be a good start!

A Glossary for Torch-Fishing

anihtokan. noun (inanimate); the barbed point of a leister

anihtoy. noun (animate); a leister

anihtoyâhtikw. noun (inanimate); the wooden handle of a leister

tahkamew. verb (transitive, animate); s/he spears it

wâswâkan. noun (inanimate); a torch used for night-fishing

wâswâkanaškway. noun (inanimate); a birchbark torch used for night-fishing

wâswân. noun (inanimate); place where people fish by torchlight using leisters

Wâswânipiy. place name; lake where people fish by torchlight using leisters

wâswâniwiw. verb (intransitive, inanimate); people are fishing by torchlight using leisters

wâswetotawew. verb (transitive, animate); s/he harvests it by torchlight using a leister

wâswew. verb (intransitive, animate); s/he fishes by torchlight using a leister


Kôhkom vs Nôhkom

I recently came across a post on social media encouraging people to teach their kids to say nôhkom, rather than kôhkom, when addressing their grandmothers. Similarly, nimošôm was encouraged, rather than cimošôm, when addresing their grandfathers. But is this, in fact, correct? If so, where does this use of kôhkom and cimošôm come from and why do people perpetuate their incorrect usage?

The crux of the matter here is the historical loss of the vocative case in most Cree dialects. While it is preserved in the old written documents and recordings, the majority of Cree speakers today do not make use of a vocative case – it is one of many grammatical details lost in the Cree language of the post-residential school era. As such, a few monolingual elders today preserve a small number of vocative case examples, but they are the exceptions that prove the rule.

So what exactly is a vocative case? The vocative case is the form a noun takes when it is used in addressing a person. In Cree, the vocative case is formed in various ways, depending on what type of noun is being used and whether it is singular or plural. Plural vocative cases are the simplest. These are formed by the addition of the suffix …tikw. When addressing a group of men, the vocative form is therefore nâpetikw. When address a group of people, the form is iyinîtikw. When addressing a group of children, one would say awâšišitikw.

This brings us now to the more complex singular forms. There are generally two ways to form the singular vocative case, though the singular is further complicated by a number of exceptions. Let’s first look at the first vocative form.

For all nouns ending in a w, the vocative case is formed by dropping the w and replacing it by an h. If one were addressing a man, the form would therefore be nâpeh. When addressing a woman, the equivalent form would be iskweh.

The second form is used for nouns that end in a consonant other than w. For these nouns, the vocative suffix …eh is used. The timeless example here is of Cahkâpeš addressing his sister as nimišeh! [Note here that the proper form is nimiseh, but Cahkâpeš is said to speak like a child and therefore changes every t to c and every s to š.] When addressing one’s paternal uncle, one would say nôhkomiseh! When addressing one’s maternal uncle, one would say nisiseh!

Finally there are the exceptions. The two most common examples here are the words for mother and father. If one wanted to say, “my mother” in Cree, the proper form is nikâwiy [not mâmâ!]. The vocative form, however, is nekâh. Similarly, if one wanted to say, “my father,” the proper form is nôhtâwiy [not pâpâ!]. The vocative form here is nôhtâh. These forms are common enough that most elderly speakers today would recognize them.

This then brings us back to the kôhkom versus nôhkom discussion. People are right in saying that nôhkom means, “my grandmother.” But they are unfortunately wrong in suggesting that this form is correct vocatively. To suggest replacing kôhkom by nôhkom when addressing one’s grandmother would, in fact, represent a case of hypercorrection. In other words, our lack of familiarity with a particular form, in this case the original vocative form, is misleading us into thinking that the simple possessive form should serve as the vocative. In this particular instance, the correct vocative form is nôhkow, pronounced /nuuhkuu/.

But what about the vocative form for grandfather? In this case, my own research and discussions with elders did not reveal any other form besides nimošôm, which raises the question as to whether the word can serve as a recipient to the vocative suffix …eh. My inclination would be to say yes, but this is something I cannot confirm.

So where did our vocative use of the kôhkom and cimošôm come from? People are correct in saying these forms are the second person singular possessive forms. In other words, these mean “your grandmother” and “your grandfather,” respectively. My inclination is to say these are forms that have come to be used as vocatives when children repeat after their parents. For example, imagine a parent telling their young child to tell their grandmother they love her. A parent might say, “”Ci sâcihitin” iš kôhkom!” Imagine a child then walking up to their grandmother and repeating what they were told, saying, “ci sâcihitin kôhkom.” In this way,  a possessive form becomes incorrectly used as a vocative form. Of course, we would then expect the child to learn the proper form, but this kind of error is common in other languages. Consider the French language, for example, and how the words oncle and tante are often replaced by mononcle and matante. Even though these two forms literally mean, “my uncle” and “my aunt,” this would not prevent someone from saying something like “ton mononcle” and “ta matante.”

As a result of the widespread use of kôhkom as a vocative, people have come to use côhkom, pronounced /chuuhkum/, as the second person singular possessive form. This form is typically produced by a young speaker that has yet to figure out the exceptions to palatalization, a topic perhaps for another blogpost. However, in this case, the form has become generalized as a way of distinguishing it from kôhkom.

As a result, what we then have a kind of domino effect, where one form takes the place of another as the original vocative, nôhkow, is lost.

côhkom → kôhkom → nôhkow

Since we have broached the topic of childish forms, let us finish with a brief word about  these. Childish forms are words or conjugations typically used by children, who abandon the forms as they mature and acquire adult language. Alas, many childish forms have become the norm in the speech of post-residential school generations, including my own speech. Examples of childish conjugations include saying things like kâ wâpamâyâhc rather than kâ wâpamaciht or kâ wâpamikoyâhc, instead of kâ wâpamiyamihtExamples of childish words in my dialect include saying niwî šîšîn rather than niwî šicin, niwî kwâkwân instead of niwî minihkwen, or niwî pepen for niwî nipân.

Of particular interest to this discussion is the existence of two childish vocative forms for “grandmother” and “grandfather.” For “grandmother,” there is the vocative form kôkow,  pronounced /kuukuu/, while for grandfather the form is môcow, pronounced /muuchuu/. These forms tend to be used in coastal communities.

So let us wrap things up. People are, in fact, correct in pointing out that kôhkom and cimošôm are being incorrectly used as vocatives, but the story is far from simple. There is a whole class of word forms called the vocative case that has generally gone into disuse, except in the speech of some monolingual elders. Short of convincing everyone to start using vocatives again, regular possessive forms will probably continue being used incorrectly as vocatives. This raises an important question – at what point does one accept that these errors are in fact merely examples of language change?

ᓂᐐ ᓇᔅᑯᒫᐤ Florrie Mark-Stewart ᑳ ᐯᒋ ᐊᔭᒥᐦᐃᑦ ᒉᒋᔐᑉ ᑳ ᑖᐦᑳᐱᐦᒉᓇᒪᐗᒃ᙮ ᒨᔥ ᓂ ᐯᒋ ᐐᒋᐦᐃᒄ ᐁ ᑲᑴᒋᒪᒃ ᒫᓐᐦ ᒉᒀᔨᐤᐦ᙮ ᓂᐸ ᓇᔅᑯᒫᐤ ᐌᔥᑕᐐᔾ ᓂᑳᐎᔾ ᐁ ᐯᒋ ᐐᐦᑕᒪᐎᑦ ᑖᓐ ᐁᑌᔨᐦᑕᐦᒃ ᐆᔨᐤ ᑳ ᒪᓯᓇᐦᐊᒧᒃ᙮

Moose Factory Cree: In Memory of Daisy Turner

image description

As the days grew shorter this year, almost symbolically it seemed, our nation saw the passing of Daisy Turner, a woman whose contribution to our language was known largely from the publication of her Moose Factory Cree in 1974. One year shy of becoming a centenarian, Daisy Turner had spent the last couple of years of her life in a elders’ home in Timmins, only to briefly return home to Moosonee before ‘going to sleep,’ as we sometimes say in Cree.

While preparing the second edition of the Dictionary of Moose Cree, published in 2015, I decided I should try to meet Daisy. My opportunity came when, heading home from Moose Factory, I had a few hours to spend in Moosonee before my plane landed.

Daisy greeted me at her beautiful home and cleared the kitchen table. She brought out her Moose Factory Cree and told me all about its origins. She then generously entertained my thoughts and answered some questions about the local dialect as we discussed the publication of the new dictionary, a project she supported wholeheartedly. What touched me most about our exchange, however, was her personal account of learning the language.

Moose Factory Cree

Published in 1974 by the now defunct Highway Book Shop

As she related during our conversation, Daisy had not acquired the Cree language in her own home. Speaking Cree, she told me, was not encouraged by her parents, both of whom were Cree-speakers, but who were also wemištikôšîhkân. This word, which literally means ‘made European,’ is how people of biracial parenting (and their children) are referred to in Cree.

The wemištikôšîhkân typically occupied a higher social status in the world of the fur trade, partly due to their ability to act as intermediaries between our people and Europeans. And while a man of biracial parenting might reasonably be expected to work at the trading post, speaking both Cree and English, and potentially marrying a Cree woman, a woman of similar parenting was often expected to approximate the European woman, speaking English, and marrying White, so to speak, if possible.

Such stories are common in our communities, but Daisy had a different idea in mind. She could not stand the idea of not being able to speak Cree. As she put it, she would leave her part of the village to visit the tents occupied by Cree families summering on the island. And while her friends were busy playing, she explained how she would often sit with their monolingual Cree elders and revel in their stories as she gradually acquired the language.


Moose Factory in 1935 – Daisy would have been 17 years old back then

This is what makes Daisy’s story so interesting and inspiring. In a world where the state of our language is increasingly precarious, a world saturated by English that continuously insinuates the demise of our language, Daisy’s story reminds us that if we care enough to make the effort we can make a difference. After all, Daisy not only learned to speak Cree, but helped countless people by using her language skills to interpret for them during their encounters with medical professionals. And then of course there is her little book. Published in 1974, it joins the Cree Way Project in marking the 1970s as the beginning of our locally driven efforts to publish in our own language.

Daisy’s contribution to the Dictionary of Moose Cree can be counted as 615 entries, but her legacy as a Cree woman cannot be measured.

Sleep well Daisy, your rest is well-deserved.



The chars belong to a genus of fish known by the Latin name, Salvelinus. Three species of char are indigenous to Cree country – the arctic char, the brook trout, and the lake trout. Of the three, the lake trout is the largest, with the heaviest recorded catch weighing in at 102 lbs. But it is also notable for another reason – it is the only fish indigenous to Cree country who’s scientific name is Cree!

The lake trout’s binomial is Salvelinus namaycush. The first part identifies it as a member of the genus of chars, but the second part is actually a Cree borrowing. Namaycush, or rather namekos (following a Cree orthography), is one of two names used for this fish in Cree communities around Wînipek(the body of water otherwise known as James Bay). Its other Cree name consists of three closely related variants mainly used in coastal communities, namely kôkamew, kôkames, and kôkamekw.

The names of many American animals and fish are in fact borrowings from indigenous American languages, but few have been assigned an indigenous scientific name. Pointing out the lake trout’s binomial to Cree-speaking school children will surely make these budding scientists proud!

Lost in Translation: Prostate Exams


Since I began medical school, every module has inspired me to investigate anatomical and medical vocabulary in Cree. Given that we have been learning about the genitourinary system these days, I’ve been calling elders weekly with questions. Recently, while speaking to a septuagenarian from Moose Factory, I decided to ask him about prostate exams. Clearly aware of the subject, he chose to relate a story about his late father.

“A doctor used to come here long ago,” he said. “I guess people weren’t too fond of him – you could tell by the name they gave him,” he added.

Of course I asked him to continue and he said, laughingly, “My father used to call that doctor ᑳ ᓂᐦᑖ ᐴᐦᒋᑎᔦᓂᑫᑦ.” Of course I broke out laughing as well, but he had some advice for me. If I wanted to avoid being named in such a fashion, I should remain wary of appearing too zealous about things like prostate exams!

ᐴᑑ ᑳ ᒌ ᐃᔑᓂᐦᑳᑖᑲᓂᐎᑦ ᓈᐯᔑᔥ

ᐗᔭᐐᑎᒥᐦᒡ ᐁ ᒌ ᒣᑕᐌᔨᑯᐸᓀ ᐅᑯᓯᓴ ᐊᓂᐦᐁ ᐃᔅᑴᐤ, ᒌ ᐴᒣᐦᐁᑯᐸᓐ ᒉ ᐯᒋ ᒌᐌᔨᒡᐦ᙮ ᒌ ᐯᐦᑖᑯᓯᐤ ᒫᒃ ᐁ ᑌᑆᑖᑦ ᐊᓂᑌ ᐗᔭᐐᑎᒥᐦᒡ, ᑑ! ᐁᑯᓐ ᒫᒃ ᑳ ᐃᔑᓂᐦᑳᑖᑦ ᐅᑯᓯᓴ – ᐁ ᒌ ᐴᒐᐎᔑᔑᔨᒡᐦ ᑲᔭᐹ᙮ ᑑ ᐋᔥᑕᒻ! ᑑ ᐋᔥᑕᒻ! ᐁ ᒪᑗ ᑌᑆᑖᑦ᙮

ᓂᒧᔔᒻ ᒫᒃ ᑳ ᐐᑕᐱᒫᑯᐸᓀ ᓅᐦᑯᒻᐦ ᒌ ᐯᐦᑕᐌᐤ ᐊᓂᔨᐤᐦ ᐃᔅᑴᐤᐦ ᐁ ᒪᑗ ᑌᐺᔨᒡᐦ᙮ ᐁ ᐹᐦᐱᑦ ᒫᒃ ᒌ ᐃᑌᐤ ᐊᓂᔨᐤᐦ ᓅᐦᑯᒻᐦ, ᒉᒀᔨᐤ ᐊᓂᔨᐤ ᑳ ᐴᑕᐙᔥᑕᓂᔨᒡ?

ᐁ ᐅᐦᒋ ᐊᔭᒥᐦᑖᓂᐗᐦᒃ ᒪᓯᓇᐦᐃᑲᓐ


ᐊᔅᑮᐎ ᑲᑫᐦᑖᐌᓕᐦᑕᒨᐎᓕᓕᐤ: ᑖᓐᑌ ᓃᔥᑕᒻ ᑳ ᐅᐦᒋ ᐊᔮᔭᓐ ᐆᒪ ᐐᐗᔑᐎᓐ?

ᒃᕆᔅᑎᔭᓐ: ᐁ ᐊᔭᒥᐦᑖᔮᓐ ᐆᒪ ᒪᓯᓇᐦᐃᑲᓐ ᑳ ᑕᐦᑯᓇᒫᓐ᙮

ᐊᔅᑮᐎ ᑲᑫᐦᑖᐌᓕᐦᑕᒨᐎᓕᓕᐤ: ᐁᒀᓂ ᑳ ᐃᑌᓕᐦᑕᒫᓐ; ᓀᔥᑕ ᑭᑮ ᐃᐦᑎᓐ ᑖᐱᔅᑰᒡ ᑯᑕᑭᔭᒃ ᑳ ᓖᓚᒥᓰᒋᒃ ᐃᓕᓕᐗᒃ, ᐁ ᐸᐱᓯᔅᑫᓕᐦᑕᐦᑭᒃ ᐊᓂᐦᐃ ᑫᒀᓇ ᐅᓵᒻ ᑳ ᐋᓕᒪᓂᓕᑭ, ᓭᓯᑯᒡ ᐸᐦᑭᔑᓋᒃ ᐗᐙᓀᓕᐦᑕᒧᐎᓂᐦᒃ: ᐊᓂᐦᐃ ᐗᐙᓀᓕᐦᑕᒧᐎᓇ ᓇᒪᐐᓚ ᐱᑯ ᓖᓚᒥᐦᐃᑯᐗᒃ ᐃᓕᓕᐗᒃ, ᑖᐱᔅᑰᒡ ᑮᓚ ᑳ ᑑᑖᑯᔭᓐ, ᒫᑲ ᐃᔅᐸᐦᐃᑐᐗᒃ ᐁ ᐃᔑ ᐋᓕᒣᓕᐦᑖᑾᓂᓕᒃ ᑭᒋ ᒥᔅᑲᐦᑭᒃ ᐊᓂᒪ ᐁᑳ ᑳ ᑭᔅᑫᓕᐦᑕᐦᑭᒃ᙮

ᐅᐸᐹᒧᐦᑌᐤ ᐁ ᐱᒥᐱᒋᑦ
ᑳ ᑴᔅᑲᓯᓇᐦᐃᑫᑦ ᑖᒪᔅ ᕕᓐᓯᓐᑦ, 1886

Syllabics and the Unicode Consortium

When the Canadian government announced the release of the Canada 150 Typeface last year, I was immensely pleased to read that it would support Cree syllabics. In our communities, however, it is common knowledge that syllabic typefaces based on the Unicode Standard contain a number of errors in the sh-series that make typing in Cree quite a hassle. Fonts designed either locally or by linguists in the know have been used for years to circumvent this problem, but this requires that one manually change the font selected whenever typing in syllabics. Therefore, with the release of Canada 150, I immediately wanted to verify its Cree syllabics to see if the errors had been corrected.

Sadly, the errors had not been rectified and this prompted me to contact the designer of the typeface, Raymond Larabie. He was surprised to hear that the Unicode Standard contained such errors and immediately offered to help get the message across to the Unicode Consortium. We worked together to identify the erroneous glyphs and sent them examples of how the glyphs should be oriented. Eventually, the consortium replied and paid the matter the attention it deserved. A few months and emails later, the Unicode Consortium informed us that they had published a new errata notice to publicize the corrections that will take effect with the release of the Unicode Standard 9.0.

Barriers related to the use of our language need to be identified and removed if our language is to survive its uncertain future and perhaps even thrive once again. A font related problem might not seem that significant, but this little hassle has served as a disincentive for many people who would have otherwise embraced pairing our language with modern technology. I would therefore like to acknowledge and thank Debbie Anderson, Unicode Technical Director, and Raymond Larabie for their assistance in solving this problem.

It will take a while for typefaces to catch up with the corrections. In the meantime, those wishing to type in Cree can download and install the BJCree typeset provided freely here. It can be used on word processors, but not on social media. For the latter, we will simply have to be patient as we wait for the world to catch up to the Unicode Standard 9.0.

The errors and corrections can be seen below in the consortium’s latest errata notice.

Errata Unicode

Rapping in Cree

N’we Jinan, stylized from niwîcinân/ᓂᐐᒋᓈᓐ, meaning ‘we live (in a certain place)’, is a music initiative that provides a platform for Indigenous artists throughout Canada. Having gained in popularity since the release of their 2014 compilation album, they have since produced songs and albums for a variety of Indigenous artists, many of them Cree youth from the east coast of James Bay.

What caught my ear recently was a verse from their latest song. This verse, a rap by Gary Jolly from Nemaska, is performed entirely in Cree. Although he wouldn’t be the first to attempt such a feat, he certainly gets credit for exhibiting a style and cadence appropriate to the genre.

It should be noted that his rap features many contractions typical of the East Cree dialect as spoken by youth in Nemiska and can therefore be quite difficult to follow if one is not accustomed to it. As such, I have transcribed the lyrics below the video for those interested in seeing what he is saying. Enjoy!

ᒬᐦᒡ ᐁᑳ ᒥᑐᓐ ᐁ ᐱᓯᔅᑳᑎᑲᐎᔮᓐ ᐁ ᐃᑌᔨᐦᑕᒫᓐ
ᓲᐦᒃ ᒫᒃ ᓂᑲ ᑯᒋᐦᑖᓐ ᐆᑕᐦ ᐊᔅᒌᐦᒡ ᒉ ᐱᒧᐦᑌᔮᓐ
ᐊᓄᐦᒌᔥ ᒋᑲ ᐯᐦᑕᐎᓈᐙᐤ ᐁ ᐊᔮᔑᐦᑴᔮᐦᒡ
ᒬᐦᒡ ᐊᓐᑌ ᐁ ᐗᓂᔑᓂᔮᐦᒡ ᑖᓐ ᐁᔑᓈᑯᓯᔮᐦᒡ ᐁ ᐅᔥᒋᓃᒌᐎᔮᐦᒡ
ᒥᒄ ᓂᑖᐺᐦᑌᓐ ᐯᔭᑯ ᒌᔑᑳᐤ ᒉ ᐸᓯᑰᑣᐤ
ᒨᔾ ᓂᐐ ᐙᐸᐦᑌᓐ ᓇᑕᐐᔨᔾ ᐁ ᐃᔑ ᐱᒫᑎᓰᑣᐤ
ᒉ ᓂᐦᑖᐎᒋᑣᐤ ᐁ ᓃᑳᓂᔥᑲᐙᑣᐤ ᐅᔥᒋᓃᒋᐤᐦ ᑲᔦ ᐐᔭᐙᐤ
ᒉ ᑑᑕᐦᒀᐤ ᑖᓐ ᑳ ᐃᑕᔓᒥᑯᑣᐤ ᒋᔐᒪᓂᑑᐦ

Reading Syllabics: Lesson 3


Lesson 3

Ordinal Characters

In this lesson you will learn how to read five more sets of syllabic characters along with their superscript counterparts. You will also learn how to read new words as you work your way through the lesson. Are you ready?


The first character of this lesson is pronounced like the ke in skeleton, never like the ke in kelp or the ge in get. This is what it looks like:

Memorize its shape as you repeat its sound, paying close attention to the direction in which it points. Let’s now move on to the next character.

This character has the same shape as the first character, but it points in a different direction. This one is pronounced like the ki in skit or the kee in skeet, never like the ki in kit or the kee in keep.  Memorize its shape as you repeat its sound, paying close attention to the direction in which it points. When a fuller or longer vowel sound is required, a dot is place above this character, for example:

Accompanied by a dot, this character now sounds like the ki in skied, never like the key in keyed. The next character also shares the same shape as the first two characters, but again this one points in another direction.

This character is pronounced like the coo in scoop, never like the coo in coot. Its vowel sound may also be pronounced closer to the one in book. Once again, to achieve a fuller or longer sound, a dot is placed above the vowel.

Accompanied by the overhead dot, it now sounds like the choo in school. Memorize its shape as you repeat its sound, again paying attention to the direction in which it points. Only one  character left in this set!

ᑲ ᑳ

The plain form on the left is pronounced like the cu in scuttle or the ca in scat. The dotted one on the right has a fuller and longer sound, courtesy of the overhead dot. This one sounds like the ca in scab. Memorize the shape and the direction in which this last character points. You have now learned a complete set!

ᑫ       ᑭ       ᑯ       ᑲ

By now you have surely noticed that this set of characters does not point in the four cardinal directions the way the characters from the last two lessons do. Instead, this set of characters is rotated so that its round head is placed in one of four corners, each associated with its own vowel.  Top-left is associated with the vowel E; top-right with the vowel I; bottom-left with O; and bottom-right with A.  Since the characters point, more or less, in the ordinal (or intercardinal) directions as opposed to the cardinal directions, characters that obey this pattern are called ordinal characters. Here is a mnemonic device to help you remember the directions and their associated vowels. We will build on this mnemonic as we learn more character sets.

ᑫ ᑭ
ᑯ ᑲ

Now that you have learned a first set of ordinal characters the following sets will be a breeze. Here is the first character of the next set:

This character sounds like the ge of gem. Notice how this character’s head is located in the top-left corner? Do you see how a pattern is emerging? Keep in mind directions in which the characters of the first set point as you learn this set.

ᒉ ᒋ ᒍ ᒐ

Take your time to memorize this shape and the four directions in which it points. Listen to the audio track as many times as you need to help you remember the vowels associated with its four directions. You have now learn two sets of ordinal characters:

ᒉ    ᒋ
ᑫ ᑭ
ᑯ ᑲ
ᒍ    ᒐ

You are now ready to learn a third set of ordinal characters. The following character sounds like the me in medical. Can you predict the direction in which it points? That is correct! It will point to the top-left corner. Here is the character:

Take your time to memorize this shape. The next three characters of this set will follow the predictable pattern of the two previous sets. Here is the full set.

ᒣ ᒥ ᒧ ᒪ

Take your time to memorize this set and the four directions to which it points. Listen to the audio track as many times as you need to help you remember the vowels associated with its four directions. You have now learn three sets of ordinal characters:

ᒣ       ᒥ
ᒉ    ᒋ
ᑫ ᑭ
ᑯ ᑲ
ᒍ    ᒐ
ᒧ       ᒪ

By now you have memorized the four ordinal directions and their associated vowels. The next two sets follow the same pattern, but their shapes can be a little tricky to learn. That is because they are the same shapes as the first two sets learned above, except that they lie horizontally instead of vertically. Here is the first set. It represents the consonant otherwise known as N in English, matched of course with the four vowels as usual.

ᓀ ᓂ ᓄ ᓇ

Notice how this set has the same shape as the first set of this lesson. For this set, however, it is the tail that points in the four expected directions. Pay close attention to the difference between the two sets and listen to the audio track as needed to help you remember the vowels associated with their four directions.

You are now ready to learn the last set of this lesson. Notice how the shape of this set is identical to the second set learned above, except that the characters are laid horizontally as opposed to vertically. Once again, the tail of this character will point to the four directions, not the head.  This set represents the consonant otherwise known as L in English. Note, however, that its sound is closer to the French or Spanish L, rather than the English L.

ᓓ ᓕ ᓗ ᓚ

Note that this last set is not used much outside of the Moose Cree dialect. It represents an older sound that, save for a few words, has been replaced by a Y-sound in the dialects spoken along the east coast of James Bay. Although dialects other than Moose Cree have also preserved this sound, they do not use the syllabic spelling system. You will therefore not encounter this set of characters very often, but it nonetheless represents a Cree sound that has to be learned!

We can now update our mnemonic to represent the five character sets you have learned and the directions in which they point.

ᓓ            ᓕ
ᓀ         ᓂ
ᒣ       ᒥ
ᒉ    ᒋ
ᑫ ᑭ
ᑯ ᑲ
ᒍ    ᒐ
ᒧ       ᒪ
ᓄ         ᓇ
ᓗ            ᓚ

Now, let’s practice reading a few words!

1. A young child who is hurt may complain of having a…


2. A word that means “baby”


3. The baby will often ask for its…


4. The baby wants to sleep and says…


5. The baby wants its mommy and cries out…


6. “This English word was not used long ago,” complains the grandmother. She corrects the baby by teaching him to say…


7. The grandmother’s name is Mary, but everybody calls her…


You’ve learned five new sets and already are reading a bunch of new words! Let’s keep going, shall we?

You may have noticed how the above sets all feature syllables containing a consonant sound along with a vowel sound. In order to write a consonant sound without any accompanying vowel, the last character of any set is spelled as a superscript symbol. Notice how these superscript characters are identical to the last character of the sets you’ve just learned.

ᑫ, ᑭ, ᑯ, ᑲ, ᒃ
ᒉ, ᒋ, ᒍ, ᒐ, ᒡ
ᒣ, ᒥ, ᒧ, ᒪ, ᒻ
ᓀ, ᓂ, ᓄ, ᓇ, ᓐ
ᓓ, ᓕ, ᓗ, ᓚ, ᓪ

In addition to these basic consonants, there are two more superscript consonants to learn. Some Cree words preserve a kind of W-sound after a final consonant. This sound is only heard at the end of certain words and only following the consonants  ᒃ and  ᒻ. To write this sound following these consonants we write  ᒄ and  ᒽ instead of ᒃ and  ᒻ.  Notice how these two superscript characters are based on  the larger ᑯ and  characters. These special superscript finals are important to capture the right pronunciation. But they are also important to distinguish certain words such as:

ᒉᒃ           ᒉᒄ
[eventually]     [which?]

Remember that when a dot precedes a character that is composed of a consonantal sound followed by a vowel sound, the W is pronounced between the consonant and vowel. Read the following words to reinforce this concept. Translations will help guide your pronunciation if you are unsure of your reading.

ᓂᒌ ᑴᑎᐲᓐ!    ᒬᐦᒡ      ᒸᒄ
[I capsized!]   [like]   [a loon]

In this lesson, you have learned to read five sets of characters. You’ve learned that these sets of characters all pattern according to the ordinal or intercardinal directions and that the vowels associated with these directions remain constant from one set to the next. Having learned all this has allowed you to read the following words:

ᓂᒌ ᑴᑎᐲᓐ

And many more!

VTI – Conjuct Subjunctive (Relational)


1s ᑲᓇᐙᐸᐦᑕᒧᑫ
2s ᑲᓇᐙᐸᐦᑕᒧᑌ
3s ᑲᓇᐙᐸᐦᑕᒸᑌ

1p ᑲᓇᐙᐸᐦᑕᒧᒋᐦᑌ
21 ᑲᓇᐙᐸᐦᑕᒧᐦᑫ
2p ᑲᓇᐙᐸᐦᑕᒬᑴ
3p ᑲᓇᐙᐸᐦᑕᒸᑣᐌᓂᒡ

Note: Neighbouring East Cree dialects feature …ᒧᒉ as the 1st person form instead of the …ᒧᑫ form found here. In this respect, the Waswanipi form agrees with the neighbouring Atikamekw dialect, and also with the Moose Cree dialect spoken to the west, where the form is the non-contracted equivalent,  …ᒶᑫ.

VTI – Conjuct Indicative (Relational)


1s ᐁ ᑲᓇᐙᐸᐦᑕᒧᒃ
2s ᐁ ᑲᓇᐙᐸᐦᑕᒧᑦ
3s ᐁ ᑲᓇᐙᐸᐦᑕᒸᑦ

1p ᐁ ᑲᓇᐙᐸᐦᑕᒧᒋᐦᑦ
21 ᐁ ᑲᓇᐙᐸᐦᑕᒧᐦᒄ
2p ᐁ ᑲᓇᐙᐸᐦᑕᒬᒄ
3p ᐁ ᑲᓇᐙᐸᐦᑕᒸᑣᐤ

Note: Neighbouring East Cree dialects feature …ᒧᒡ as the 1st person form instead of the …ᒧᒃ form found here. In this respect, the Waswanipi form agrees with the neighbouring Atikamekw dialect, and also with the Moose Cree dialect spoken to the west, where the form is the non-contracted equivalent,  …ᒶᒃ.

Cree Notions of Manhood

ᓂᒌ ᑖᐦᑳᐱᐦᒉᓇᒪᐙᐤ ᐅᑖᑯᔒᐦᒡ ᒋᔐᐃᔨᓂᐤ ᐊᓂᑌ ᑳ ᐐᒋᑦ ᒨᓱᓃᐎ ᒥᓂᔥᑎᑯᐦᒡ ᐁ ᐐ ᑲᑴᒋᒪᒃ ᒉᒀᓂᐦᐃ ᑳ ᒫᒥᑐᓀᔨᐦᑕᒧᒃ᙮ ᒣᒀᒡ ᑳ ᐊᔭᒥᐦᐃᑐᔮᐦᒡ ᒌ ᒋᐦᑖᑐᑕᒻ ᐌᔥᑲᒡ ᑳᒌ ᐃᑖᑲᓂᐎᔨᒡᐦ ᓈᐯᐤᐦ ᐅᔥᑲᒡ ᐁ ᐅᐦᑖᐐᒫᐎᔨᒡᐦ᙮

ᑭ ᑭᔅᑫᓕᐦᑌᓐ ᓈ ᑖᓂ ᐁᑖᑲᓂᐎᑦ ᓈᐯᐤ ᐅᔥᑲᒡ ᐁ ᐅᐦᑖᐐᒫᐎᑦ ᐁ ᐅᑯᓯᓯᑦ ᒫᑲ? ᓂᒌ ᑲᑴᒋᒥᒄ᙮

ᓇᒪᐐᔾ᙮ ᓂᒌ ᐃᑖᐤ ᐁ ᓇᔥᑴᐗᔑᐦᐊᒃ᙮

ᒨᓚ ᐁᔥᑾ ᑭ ᓈᐯᐎᓐ! ᐃᑖᑲᓂᐎᐤ᙮ ᓂᒌ ᐃᑎᒄ ᐊᓂᐦᐁ ᒋᔐᐃᔨᓂᐤ᙮

ᐁᒄ ᑳ ᑲᑴᒋᒪᒃ, ᑖᓐ ᒫᒃ ᐁᑖᑲᓂᐎᑦ ᐐᔾ ᐅᔥᑲᒡ ᐁ ᐅᑖᓂᓯᑦ?

ᐋᔕᔾ ᒫᑲ ᑭ ᓈᐯᐎᓐ! ᒌ ᐃᑗᐤ ᐁ ᐹᐦᐱᑦ᙮



I went snaring this past weekend and noticed this bird watching me. Its name in Cree is ᒣᒣᐤ (memew). In English it is called the Pileated woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus).

What Profits a Man?

ᐌᓴ ᑫᒀᓕᐤ ᑫ ᐅᐦᑎᓯᑦ ᐃᓕᓕᐤ, ᐋᑕ ᒥᓯᐌ ᐊᔅᑮᓕᐤ ᑫ ᑲᔥᑭᐦᑖᑴ, ᑮᔥᐱᓐ ᑫ ᐗᓂᐦᐋᑴ ᐅᑦ ᐊᐦᒑᐦᑾ?

For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?

– Mark 8:36

An Oral Tradition with a Written Past

Pierre-Michel Laure (1731)

Map of Cree country made by the Jesuit Pierre-Michel Laure in 1731

As a child I couldn’t help but notice that my grandmother read a certain book every night before bed. You see, I loved books – dictionaries in particular – and would spend countless hours staring at their contents, much of which was cryptic to my young mind. So seeing my grandmother settling into bed one evening, I climbed up next to her in hopes that she would pull that book out and read.

She did, of course, but not before leafing through the pages to show me every little flower, leaf, and picture she’d inserted at random places to adorn this object that was obviously much more than a simple book to her. As she replaced the picture of an unknown relative, she finally began reading.

I sat next to her as she sounded out each arcane symbol in a reverential tone. It sounded so strange to my young ears. I had heard her speak Cree before – it was, after all, the only language I ever heard her speak. But this was different. It was Cree, but different.

What exactly made it different would eventually become abundantly clear. She was reading the New Testament, a book translated into our language over 140 years ago by Bishop John Horden, whom my grandmother always called John Moosonee, and his unnamed associates. My grandmother sounded different as she read from the New Testament simply because it had been translated into a dialect spoken over 140 years ago at Moosonee – quite a stretch from the Waswanipi dialect she spoke in the 1980s.

NT John Horden

The book my grandmother read on most nights before bed

Though there were obvious dialectal differences, I was never made to think that this was a different language. In fact, the thought that the written form could sound so different from our spoken language would plant a small seed in my young mind that later grew into an interest in the history of our language. It was only a matter of time before I realized I could combine this interest with my love of dictionaries into a lifelong obsession with lexicography.

Over the years this obsession has had me seek out any written source on our language I could find, but historical sources in particular have always captured my attention. There is something fascinating about the existence of Cree-language documents written centuries ago – and these aren’t only religious texts. While the latter are obviously quite numerous, word lists, dictionaries, grammars, letters, and maps also figure among the surviving examples of the historical language. While studying these priceless documents I cannot help but wonder who the Cree-speaking informants were. While the historical narrative has provided us with a few names and stories, like that of Pešâpanohkwew – the woman responsible for Pierre-Michel Laure’s 1726 dictionary – most have not been named, let alone thanked, for their assistance.

Regardless, many historical documents have survived and now have their own stories to tell. Their original religious and colonial purposes may have been insidious,  but their continued existence will determine whether or not we chose to redeem them for our own purposes. I certainly have found much joy in studying their contents, almost religiously, reminiscent of my grandmother’s daily reading of the John Moosonee’s New Testament.

For those interested, historical documents relating to the Cree language can be viewed online at, a website conceptualized and built by John Bishop, Head of Toponymy for the Cree Nation Government and a good friend of mine.

ᑳ ᓇᐸᑌᒑᐱᑦ


ᑳ ᓇᐸᑌᒑᐱᑦ ᐙᐙᔥᑫᔑᐤ ᒌ ᓇᑕᐎ ᒦᒋᓱᐤ ᐊᓂᑌ ᓈᓯᐯᑎᒥᐦᒡ᙮ ᐊᓂᑌ ᒫᒃ ᒌ ᐃᔑᑳᐸᐎᐤ ᒉᒌ ᐃᑖᐱᑦ ᐊᔅᒌᐦᒡ ᐃᑌᐦᒉ ᒉᒃ ᓈᒋᔫᔥᑖᑯᑌ ᓇᑕᐗᐦᐅᓯᐤᐦ᙮ ᐁ ᐯᒋ ᓈᑕᑳᒣᔮᔑᔨᑣᐤᐦ ᒫᒃ ᓇᑕᐗᐦᐅᓯᐤᐦ ᒌ ᐙᐸᒥᑯᐤ ᐁᒄ ᑳ ᐹᔅᒋᓱᑯᑦ᙮ ᑆᒧᔥ ᒫᒃ ᑳ ᐸᒋᑕᑖᒧᑦ ᐙᐙᔥᑫᔑᐤ ᒌ ᐃᑌᔨᐦᑕᒻ, ᐁᒄ ᐌᓵ! ᒥᒄ ᐊᓂᑌ ᐊᔅᒌᐦᒡ ᐅᐦᒋ ᓂᒌ ᑯᔅᐸᓃᔥᑕᐙᐗᒡ ᒉ ᐯᒋ ᓈᔑᑣᐤ ᓇᑕᐗᐦᐅᓯᐗᒡ᙮ ᓇᒪᐐᔾ ᒫᒃ ᒥᑐᓐ ᓅᐦᒋ ᐃᑌᔨᐦᑌᓐ ᒉ ᐯᒋ ᓈᑕᐦᐅᑣᐤ ᐊᓂᑌ ᓂᐲᐦᒡ ᐅᐦᒋ᙮ ᑖᐺ ᒫᒃ ᓃᔾ ᑳ ᐗᓂ ᑑᑖᑎᓱᔮᓐ!

The is a Southern East Cree translation of The One-eyed Stag, a fable of Aesop (Perry Index #75). This version is based on S. A. Handford’s English translation, published in 1954.

The Jimiken Report


Lawrence Jimiken, 1949-2015 (photo by Mélanie Chaplier at Old Nemaska, July 2010)

Anyone who ever had anything to do in Nemaska would probably have had the good fortune of having to speak to Lawrence Jimiken. This walking encyclopedia, as many people described him, would often be an intermediary between Nemaska and the outside world as he graciously shared his time and thoughts with anyone who needed him. Those who may never have met him in person nonetheless benefitted from his role as our nation’s Chief Electoral Officer, a position he held for many years that had him assuring the democratic process was respected during elections. Lawrence benefitted our people in many ways. In fact, he even contributed to our knowledge of the Cree language. This being a blog on the Cree language, I thought I’d honour his memory by sharing the little I know about this contribution of his.


Lawrence Jimiken, 1949-2015 (photo by Patricia Raynault-Desgagné, August 2014)

Pedagogical materials for teaching the Cree language were basically non-existent in the 1970s before the establishment of the Cree School Board. In 1973, an enterprising school principal in Waskaganish, John Murdoch, decided to do something about this. Along with Gertie Murdoch, he started what became known as the Cree Way Project in an attempt to address this lack of pedagogical materials. The scope of the project was impressive. Within a few years, hundreds of booklets dealing with numerous topics were written by people from various Cree communities. One of the well-known contributors to this project is the late Annie Whiskeychan. A lesser-known contributor is Lawrence Jimiken.

The Jimiken Report on Cree Geographic Terms would be published in 1974 by the Cree Way Project. Authored by Lawrence with the assistance of Peter Denny, a linguist that specializes in Algonquian languages, the Jimiken Report would introduce students to the complex morphological structure of Cree geographic terminology. The report presents vocabulary associated with land forms spelled according to their underlying morphology rather than their pronunciation. This practice is a vital key to teaching the Cree language and should naturally form the foundation of any standard Cree orthography. Despite being ahead of its time in this respect, however, we continue to endorse orthographic practices based on phonetic spellings that occasionally obscure the meanings of words.

Patricia Raynault-Desgagné was one of the lucky southerners who benefitted from Lawrence’s endearing ways (July 2011)

The format in which the vocabulary is presented is also of immense pedagogical value. Lexical roots are listed first, followed by a series of word endings consisting of verbal medials, finals, and inflexions. The goal is to visually demonstrate to the student the various combinatorial possibilities of the Cree language. On page 5, for example, we find the lexical root ᐱᔅᒄ followed by a series of word endings with which it can be combined:

ᐱᔅᒄᐋᑯᓇᑳᐤ [a bump in snow]

ᐋᐱᔅᑳᐤ [bump of rock (rocky place)]

ᐊᑎᓈᐤ [high hill (quite high)]

ᓯᒀᐤ [bump in the ice]

ᐋᐗᐦᑳᐤ [bump in sandy place]

Awareness of this combinatorial feature of the Cree language is crucial to acquiring strong language skills. To help students acquire this awareness, the report would propose various exercises for teachers to use or adapt. Unfortunately, our local schools have yet to adopt an effective curriculum for teaching the Cree language and insightful details of the Jimiken Report remain largely ignored, 41 years after its release.

Our collective ability to recognize, acknowledge, and utilize the contributions of intelligent and industrious Cree individuals will be the key to moving our nation forward in future years. Lawrence was one of those individuals. Let’s all cherish his memory and honour him by recognizing, acknowledging, and utilizing his useful contributions as we assiduously work at building our Cree nation.

ᒋ ᓇᓈᔅᑯᒥᑎᓈᓐ Lawrence!

Lawrence Jimiken, 1949-2015 (photo by Patricia Raynault-Desgagné, July 2011)

The Roc


Ililiw nîpâ-kîwekopan e kî natawešket sâkahikanihk. Mitâwakâm pimâtakâskôpan. Ot eškan piminikâtahamokopan.
ᐃᓕᓕᐤ ᓃᐹ ᑮᐌᑯᐸᓐ ᐁ ᑮ ᓇᑕᐌᔥᑫᑦ ᓵᑲᐦᐃᑲᓂᐦᒃ᙮ ᒥᑖᐗᑳᒻ ᐱᒫᑕᑳᔅᑰᐸᓐ᙮ ᐅᑦ ᐁᔥᑲᓐ ᐱᒥᓂᑳᑕᐦᐊᒧᑯᐸᓐ᙮
The man must have been heading home at night after hunting beaver on the lake.  He was walking out on the ice and would have been carrying his chisel over his shoulder.

Mištasiwa mâka kî ohpaholikow. Kî wâpamew kotakiya ililiwa e wâštahowelici, eko mâka e iši-tepwet, “Mištasiw ni pimaholikw kîlawâw kâ wâštahoweyekw!”
ᒥᔥᑕᓯᐗ ᒫᑲ ᑮ ᐅᐦᐸᐦᐅᓕᑯᐤ᙮ ᑮ ᐙᐸᒣᐤ ᑯᑕᑭᔭ ᐃᓕᓕᐗ ᐁ ᐙᔥᑕᐦᐅᐌᓕᒋ, ᐁᑯ ᒫᑲ ᐁ ᐃᔑ ᑌᐺᑦ, ᒥᔥᑕᓯᐤ ᓂ ᐱᒪᐦᐅᓕᒄ ᑮᓚᐙᐤ ᑳ ᐙᔥᑕᐦᐅᐌᔦᒄ!
That’s when the Roc plucked him from the ground. Seeing men waving he cries out, “You who are waving! The Roc has taken me!”

Nâspic mâka e išpâpiskâlik kî iši-pakitaholikow ita e iši-itašelici.
ᓈᔅᐱᒡ ᒫᑲ ᐁ ᐃᔥᐹᐱᔅᑳᓕᒃ ᑮ ᐃᔑ ᐸᑭᑕᐦᐅᓕᑯᐤ ᐃᑕ ᐁ ᐃᔑ ᐃᑕᔐᓕᒋ᙮
It dropped him in a high rocky place where it brooded.

Môšak mâka kihcilâw Mištasiw e natawahot. Misiwe mâka tôwihkâna petaholew, atihkwa nešta môswa.
ᒨᔕᒃ ᒫᑲ ᑭᐦᒋᓛᐤ ᒥᔥᑕᓯᐤ ᐁ ᓇᑕᐗᐦᐅᑦ᙮ ᒥᓯᐌ ᒫᑲ ᑑᐎᐦᑳᓇ ᐯᑕᐦᐅᓓᐤ, ᐊᑎᐦᑾ ᓀᔥᑕ ᒨᔀ᙮
Now, the Roc would constantly fly off to hunt. It would bring back all kinds of animals, caribou and moose.

Ana ililiw nâspic kî nanâhîhkawew mištašîšiša e ašamât wacištonihk e ihtâlici. Misiwe kekwâliw tôtamawew.
ᐊᓇ ᐃᓕᓕᐤ ᓈᔅᐱᒡ ᑮ ᓇᓈᐦᐄᐦᑲᐌᐤ ᒥᔥᑕᔒᔑᔕ ᐁ ᐊᔕᒫᑦ ᐗᒋᔥᑐᓂᐦᒃ ᐁ ᐃᐦᑖᓕᒋ᙮ ᒥᓯᐌ ᑫᒀᓕᐤ ᑑᑕᒪᐌᐤ᙮
The man really took care of the young rocs as he fed them in their nest. He did everything for them.

Keka mihcetw waškwaya petahotâw Mištasiw. Eko ana ililiw pâsipitahk e wacištonihkawât mištasiwa.
ᑫᑲ ᒥᐦᒉᑦ ᐗᔥᑾᔭ ᐯᑕᐦᐅᑖᐤ ᒥᔥᑕᓯᐤ᙮ ᐁᑯ ᐊᓇ ᐃᓕᓕᐤ ᐹᓯᐱᑕᐦᒃ ᐁ ᐗᒋᔥᑐᓂᐦᑲᐙᑦ ᒥᔥᑕᓯᐗ᙮
By and by the Roc brings back much birch bark, which the man rips to pieces as he makes their nest.

Nâspic kispakihkwašikopan Mištasiw e nipât. šay mâka wawânelihtam ililiw ke tôtahk. Itelihtam, “Nika wî kakwe-nipahâwak. Mâhti! Nika saskahwâwak mekwâc e nipâcik waškwâhk e pimišihkik.” Keka peyakwâw mekwâc e nipâlici kî saskahwew eko wetatâmahwât ot eškan ohci. Misiwe mâka kî nipahew.
ᓈᔅᐱᒡ ᑭᔅᐸᑭᐦᑾᔑᑯᐸᓐ ᒥᔥᑕᓯᐤ ᐁ ᓂᐹᑦ᙮ ᐋᔕᔾ ᒫᑲ ᐗᐙᓀᓕᐦᑕᒻ ᐃᓕᓕᐤ ᑫ ᑑᑕᐦᒃ᙮ ᐃᑌᓕᐦᑕᒻ, ᓂᑲ ᐐ ᑲᑴ ᓂᐸᐦᐋᐗᒃ᙮ ᒫᐦᑎ, ᓂᑲ ᓴᔅᑲᐦᐙᐗᒃ ᒣᒀᒡ ᐁ ᓂᐹᒋᒃ ᐗᔥᒀᐦᒃ ᐁ ᐱᒥᔑᐦᑭᒃ! ᑫᑲ ᐯᔭᒀᐤ ᒣᒀᒡ ᐁ ᓂᐹᓕᒋ ᑮ ᓴᔅᑲᐦᐌᐤ ᐁᑯ ᐌᑕᑖᒪᐦᐙᑦ ᐅᑦ ᐁᔥᑲᓐ ᐅᐦᒋ᙮ ᒥᓯᐌ ᒫᑲ ᑮ ᓂᐸᐦᐁᐤ᙮
The Roc must have passed out hard when it slept. Now the man is already at a loss for what to do. He thinks to himself, “I’m going to have to try to kill them. Let me see, I’ll light them up as they lie asleep in the birch bark!” In due course, one day as they slept, the man lit them on fire and beat them with his chisel. He killed them all.

Eko mâka etelihtahk, “Tânte kê kî kîweyân?” Peyakw mâka mištašîšiša ospiskwanâliw e šîkwâhkahtelik pîhcišimolow. Eko tiyîhtipipalihot nâspic e išpâpiskâlik ohci. Keka kipihcipaliw. Walawîw. Itâpiw. Akâwâc tepâpahtam askîliw. Tâpiskôc aštâhkonak e aspišimonihkâniwahk išinâkwan e išinâkosicik mištikwak.
ᐁᑯ ᒫᑲ ᐁᑌᓕᐦᑕᒃ, ᑖᓐᑌ ᑫ ᑮ ᑮᐌᔮᓐ? ᐯᔭᒄ ᒫᑲ ᒥᔥᑕᔒᔑᔕ ᐅᔅᐱᔅᑾᓈᓕᐤ ᐁ ᔒᒀᐦᑲᐦᑌᓕᒃ ᐲᐦᒋᔑᒧᓗᐤ᙮ ᐁᑯ ᑎᔩᐦᑎᐱᐸᓕᐦᐅᑦ ᓈᔅᐱᒡ ᐁ ᐃᔥᐹᐱᔅᑳᓕᒃ ᐅᐦᒋ᙮ ᑫᑲ ᑭᐱᐦᒋᐸᓕᐤ᙮ ᐗᓚᐐᐤ᙮ ᐃᑖᐱᐤ᙮ ᐊᑳᐙᒡ ᑌᐹᐸᐦᑕᒻ ᐊᔅᑮᓕᐤ᙮ ᑖᐱᔅᑰᒡ ᐊᔥᑖᐦᑯᓇᒃ ᐁ ᐊᔅᐱᔑᒧᓂᐦᑳᓂᐗᐦᒃ ᐃᔑᓈᑾᓐ ᐁ ᐃᔑᓈᑯᓯᒋᒃ ᒥᔥᑎᑾᒃ᙮
He then thinks to himself, “How will I manage to get home?” Of the little rocs’ incinerated bodies, only their backs remained. Squeezing himself into one of these backs, he rolls himself down from that high rocky place. Eventually he stops rolling. He climbs out. He looks around. He can barely see the earth. The trees (look so small) they resemble a litter of boughs.

Eko mîna tiyîhtipipalihot. Mîna kipihcipaliw. Ewako ôma askiy.
ᐁᑯ ᒦᓇ ᑎᔩᐦᑎᐱᐸᓕᐦᐅᑦ᙮ ᒦᓇ ᑭᐱᐦᒋᐸᓕᐤ᙮ ᐁᐗᑯ ᐆᒪ ᐊᔅᑮ᙮
So he rolls himself down again and again he stops. This then is the earth.

Eko welawît. Eko miyâcît. Ililiwa otihtew ekâ e nihtâ-mîcisolici, piko e milâhtamilici. Ekwâni e tôtamilici e mîcisolici. Kî ašamikow mâka. Eko mâka peyakw ot awâšimišiliwa kâ kiskinawâpamikot e mîcisot.
ᐁᑯ ᐌᓚᐐᑦ᙮ ᐁᑯ ᒥᔮᒌᑦ᙮ ᐃᓕᓕᐗ ᐅᑎᐦᑌᐤ ᐁᑳ ᐁ ᓂᐦᑖ ᒦᒋᓱᓕᒋ, ᐱᑯ ᐁ ᒥᓛᐦᑕᒥᓕᒋ᙮ ᐁᒀᓂ ᐁ ᑑᑕᒥᓕᒋ ᐁ ᒦᒋᓱᓕᒋ᙮ ᑮ ᐊᔕᒥᑯᐤ ᒫᑲ᙮ ᐁᑯ ᒫᑲ ᐯᔭᒄ ᐅᑦ ᐊᐙᔑᒥᔑᓕᐗ ᑳ ᑭᔅᑭᓇᐙᐸᒥᑯᑦ ᐁ ᒦᒋᓱᑦ᙮
So he gets out and then starts off. He reaches a group of people that do not know how to eat for real – they only smell. That’s how they eat. So they fed him and one of their children learned how to eat by watching him.

Mîna mâka wetihtât aweliwa – ewakwânihi wîwa. Namawîla mâka ohci kiskelimikow wîwa wîla e âwit. Ôma mâka kî itew, “Nîla ô kâ kî kihtaholit Mištasiw!”
ᒦᓇ ᒫᑲ ᐌᑎᐦᑖᑦ ᐊᐌᓕᐗ – ᐁᐗᒀᓂᐦᐃ ᐐᐗ᙮ ᓇᒪᐐᓚ ᒫᑲ ᐅᐦᒋ ᑭᔅᑫᓕᒥᑯᐤ ᐐᐗ ᐐᓚ ᐁ ᐋᐎᑦ᙮ ᐆᒪ ᒫᑲ ᑮ ᐃᑌᐤ, ᓃᓚ ᐆ ᑳ ᑮ ᑭᐦᑕᐦᐅᓕᑦ ᒥᔥᑕᓯᐤ!
Again he reaches someone, this one is his wife. She does not know however that it is him (he must have been unrecognizable by then). So he says to her, “I am the one that was taken by the Roc!”

This story was first published in 1881 in Horden’s A Grammar of Cree Language under the name “An Indian’s Adventure.” Although it was first published in an Anglican alphabetic orthography and provided with an interlinear translation, Horden described it as a story first “written by a native in the syllabic characters…” that was included in the grammar so language learners could get a sense of “the Cree idiom and the arrangement of words in sentences.” As a traditional story originally written by a native Moose Cree-speaker in the late 1800s, it is perhaps one of the earliest examples of a genuine Cree language âtayôhkân. In this blogpost, the alphabetic orthography has been modernized and provided with its equivalent in syllabics. The story was also retranslated into English for the benefit of non-Cree speakers. Finally, a few minor adjustments and corrections were made to the text to facilitate its reading. This story was published on this blog on June 24, 2015.

Reading Syllabics: Lesson 2


Lesson 2

Cardinal Characters

In this lesson you will learn how to read two characters along with their superscript counterparts. You will also learn how to read new words as you work your way through the lesson. Are you ready?


The first character of this lesson is pronounced like the pe in sped, never like the pe in pet or the be in bed. This is what it looks like:

As you can see, what would take a consonant and a vowel in English is expressed as one character in Cree. Memorize its shape as you repeat its sound, paying close attention to the direction in which it points. Let’s now move on to the next character.

This character has the same shape as the first character, but it points in a different direction. This one is pronounced like the pi in spit or the pea in speak. Memorize its shape as you repeat its sound, paying close attention to the direction in which it points. When a fuller or longer vowel sound is required, a dot is place above this character, for example:

Accompanied by a dot, this character now sounds like the pee in speed. The next character also shares the same shape as the first two characters, but again this one points in another direction.

This character is pronounced like the poo in spook. Its vowel sound may also be pronounced closer to the one in book. Once again, to achieve a fuller or longer sound, a dot is placed above the vowel.

Accompanied by the overhead dot, it now sounds like the poo in spoon. Memorize its shape as you repeat its sound, again paying attention to the direction in which it points. Only one character left!

ᐸ ᐹ

The plain form on the left is pronounced like the pu in sputter or the pa in spat. The dotted one on the right has a fuller and longer sound, courtesy of the overhead dot. This one sounds like the pa in spam. Memorize the shape and the direction in which this last character points. You have now learned a complete set!

ᐯ       ᐱ       ᐳ       ᐸ

As you may have noticed, there are quite a few similarities between the above set and the one you’ve learned in lesson 1. For starters, both sets contain a single shape that can point in four different directions to indicate four different vowels.

This is crucial to understand!

The Cree syllabary may not contain many different shapes, but each one can be rotated in one of four directions. Once you’ve memorized the directions and their associated vowels, the rest is a piece of cake! For both sets you’ve just learn, the vowels are associated with the four cardinal directions. Here is a mnemonic device to help you remember the directions and their associated vowels.

ᐊ ᐸ ᐳ ᐅ

Now that you’ve learned two full sets and the directions in which they point, this third set below will be a breeze. Here is the first character of this set:

This character sounds like the tea of instead, never like the te in Ted or the dea in dead. Notice how this character points downwards? Do you see how a pattern is emerging? Think of the directions in which the characters of the first two sets point as you learn the following third set.

ᑌ ᑎ ᑐ ᑕ

Take your time to memorize this shape and the four directions in which it points. Listen to the audio track as many times as you need to help you remember the vowels associated with its four directions. You have now learned all the cardinal characters, meaning those that point in the four cardinal directions! Here they are assembled in the mnemonic device seen above.

ᐊ ᐸ ᑕ ᑐ ᐳ ᐅ

Remember that fuller or longer vowels can be indicated on the last three members of each of these three sets using an overhead dot. A final w indicated by the superscript circle may also follow any of these characters.

Now, let’s practice reading a few words!

1. This first one is a small creature that lives in wet places, can you make out its name?


2. This next one is how a child would talk about sleeping. Can you figure it out?


3. What would you tell a child who is standing on his chair?


4. If you don’t want someone to leave without you, what might you say?


You’ve only learned two new shapes and already you’re reading a bunch of new words! Let’s keep going, shall we?

You may have noticed how the above sets all feature syllables containing a consonant sound along with a vowel sound. In order to write a consonant sound without any accompanying vowel, the last character of any set is spelled as a superscript symbol. Notice how these superscript characters are identical to the last character of the sets you’ve just learned.

ᐯ, ᐱ, ᐳ, ᐸ, ᑉ
ᑌ, ᑎ, ᑐ, ᑕ, ᑦ

Here are two words that you can now read that make use of these smaller consonantal symbols. The first one means when he is laughing and the second one means around.

ᐁ ᐹᐦᐱᑦ

There remains one final symbol to review – the initial dot seen in lesson 1. As you may recall, placing this dot in front of a character produces an initial w. This poses no problem for the vowel set learned in lesson 1 since the w simply precedes any of the vowels that follow it. But what about the sets you’ve learned in the above lesson?

When a dot precedes a character that is composed of a consonantal sound followed by a vowel sound, the w is pronounced between the consonant and vowel. The following word means he is telling the truth. Try to read it to understand how the initial dot indicates that a vowel is pronounced within a syllable.


In this lesson, you have learned to read ten characters, eight of which represented a combination of a consonant sound and a vowel sound, and two of which were plain consonants. You’ve also learned that the vowels associated with these characters can be lengthened by the addition of an overhead dot. You’ve seen how the final superscript circle indicates that a w is pronounced after the character and you’ve also seen how an initial dot indicates that a w must be pronounced between the consonant sound and the vowel sound associated with each character. More importantly, you’ve learned that the three first sets of characters all pattern according to the cardinal directions and that the vowels associated with these directions remain constant from one set to the next. Having learned all this has allowed you to read the following words:

ᐁ ᐊᐱᑦ
ᐁ ᐹᐦᐱᑦ

And many more!

Reading Syllabics: Lesson 1


Many go through life never knowing how to read in Cree, some having assumed that syllabics must be too difficult to acquire. Nothing can be further from the truth! Syllabics are an intuitive writing system that can be acquired with little effort, so long as that effort be consistent. Once acquired, a whole new world opens up to the reader. Aside from being able to read signs, posters, and pamphlets in one’s community, a wide set of Cree books will suddenly be accessible. Cree language books display a wide range of topics including cooking, education, harvesting the land, history, religion, and sacred stories. Of course, a whole set of posts on this very blog will also become intelligible. But most importantly, having learned how to read, one may eventually learn how to write – and we are in desperate need of writers! Cree literacy is a skill that can enrich one’s life immensely. So without further ado, shall we begin?

Lesson 1


In this lesson you will learn how to read the four basic vowels and how these may be marked for length. You will also learn how w‘s  and h‘s are indicated. By the end of the lesson you will be able to read a few basic, but important, Cree words! Try to memorize the individual characters and the first few words presented in this lesson.

This first character sounds like the e in bed. Memorize its shape as you repeat its sound, paying close attention to the direction in which it points. You’ve now learned to read your first Cree word, a conjunction that can be translated as that, when, or as.

This second character sounds like the h in ahead. Memorize its shape. You’ve now learned two characters that together allow you to read a second Cree word, an exclamation that means yes.


The next character looks exactly like the first one above, except that it points upwards instead of downwards.

This character has two sounds. Although it usually sounds like the i in bit, when it occurs at the beginning of a word or after the character  it will sound like the the ea in beat. Memorize its shape while paying close attention to the direction in which it points. You’ve now learned a character that allows you to read another Cree word, an exclamation that also means yes, but that is only used in northern dialects.


When a fuller or longer vowel sound is required, a dot is place above this character.

Accompanied by a dot, this vowel now sounds like the ea in bead. Notice how the ea in bead is pronounced longer than the ea in beat. You’ve now learned how to read two vowels and one consonant. You also know that a dot above a vowel indicates a longer vowel. Let’s move on!

The above character can be pronounced like the oo in book or the oo in boot. As with the previous character, the second sound will usually be heard at the beginning of a word or after an . Memorize this vowel while paying close attention to the direction in which it points.

Once again, to achieve a fuller or longer sound, a dot is placed above the vowel. Accompanied by this dot, the vowel now sounds like the oo in brood. Notice how the oo in brood sounds longer than the oo in boot. This is now the fourth Cree word you’ve learned to read! This dotted character, as you have probably guessed, means this one. Having learned the above characters, you can now also read a variant of this word, spelled as follows:


Only one vowel left to learn! Here it is followed by its dotted counterpart:

ᐊ ᐋ

The character on the left can be pronounced like the u in cup or like the a in cap. Its dotted counterpart will be pronounced like the a in cab. Notice how the a in cab is longer than the a in cap. Alone, this dotted vowel is a marker for yes/no questions. You can now read the following question, meaning Is it this one?

ᐆ ᐋ?

Of course, if the answer is affirmative, you can now read it, too!


You’ve now learned to read the four Cree vowels, three of which can be lengthened by the addition of an overhead dot. You’ve also learned one consonant. Together, these characters have already allowed you to read quite a few Cree words. It is crucial that you pay close attention to the direction in which these vowel characters point. These characters are traditionally memorized in the following order:

ᐁ       ᐃ       ᐅ       ᐊ

As you may have noticed, only the last three characters can be accompanied by the overhead dot. Another dot, however, can precede any of the above characters to indicate a preceding w.

ᐌ       ᐎ       ᐒ       ᐗ

The last three characters can simultaneously take an overhead dot, indicating a long vowel, and a preceding dot, indicating a preceding w. Knowing this will allow you to read two more Cree words: , a marker of volition that precedes verbs; and , a common response when someone has called your name or when you’ve misheard something directed at you.

We end our lesson with one final character, the final w. This character is written as a superscript circle following another character. Notice where it is placed in the following word.


The above word contains the overhead dot to indicate a long vowel and also contains both the preceding w, indicated by an initial dot, and a final w, indicated by a final superscript circle. This word, which you are now able to read, means egg. You can now also read this final word of encouragement!


In this lesson, you have learned to read seven characters – four basic vowels and one consonant. You have also learned how three of the vowel characters are lengthened by the addition of an overhead dot. Finally, you’ve learned how to read preceding w‘s, indicated by a preceding dot, and final w‘s, indicated by the final superscript circle. Having learned these basic symbols has allowed you to read the following words:


… ᐋ?

Believe it or not, this will have been the most difficult lesson to learn! In the following lessons you will learn the other consonantal characters, all of which obey the possible combinations presented above. It is therefore crucial to properly assimilate the information presented above. Read through the lesson multiple times if need be and practice writing the characters out. You can also draw a chart to memorize the directions in which the vowels point or even use cue cards to help you memorize them along with the nine words above.

Practice makes perfect!

ᐋᐱᑯᔒᔥ ᑳ ᐐᐦᑯᒋᐦᐋᑦ ᒥᔑᐱᔑᐤᐦ


ᒌ ᐹᔑᑖᐦᑕᐐᔥᑖᑯᐤ ᐋᐱᑯᔒᔕ ᒥᔑᐱᔑᐤ ᒣᒀᒡ ᐁ ᓂᐹᑦ᙮ ᐁ ᐗᐌᔅᐹᐌᔥᑳᑯᑦ ᒫᒃ ᒌ ᑳᐦᒋᑎᓀᐤ ᐁ ᐐ ᒧᐙᑦ᙮ ᒌ ᓇᑐᒥᑯᐤ ᒫᒃ ᐊᓂᔨᐤᐦ ᐋᐱᑯᔒᔕ ᐁᑳ ᒉ ᓂᐸᐦᐋᑦ᙮ ᐁᑳ ᒫᒃ ᓂᐸᐦᐋᑌ ᒌ ᐊᔓᑕᒫᑯᐤ ᒦᔥᑯᒡ ᒉ ᐐᒋᐦᐃᑯᑦ ᐊᓂᑌ ᓃᑳᓂᐦᒡ᙮ ᒌ ᐅᔑᓇᐌᐤ ᒥᒄ ᐊᓂᐦᐁ ᒥᔑᐱᔑᐤ, ᐁᒄ ᑳ ᐸᒋᑎᓈᑦ᙮ ᐹᑎᒫᔒᔥ ᒫᒃ ᒌ ᑳᐦᒋᑎᓂᑯᐤ ᐃᔨᓂᐤᐦ ᐊᓂᐦᐁ ᒥᔑᐱᔑᐤ ᐁᒄ ᑳ ᒫᐦᑯᐱᑎᑯᑦ ᐊᓂᑌ ᒥᔥᑎᑯᐦᒡ᙮ ᐃᔥᑯᑕᒃ ᑳ ᐯᐦᑕᐙᑦ ᐋᐱᑯᔒᔥ ᐁ ᒨᔅᑰᐦᐱᓀᔨᒡᐦ ᐊᓂᔨᐤᐦ ᒥᔑᐱᔑᐤᐦ, ᒌ ᓈᒋᐸᐦᐁᐤ ᒉ ᐸᔅᑲᐦᑕᒸᑦ ᐊᓂᔨᐤᐦ ᐊᐱᓯᔨᐤ ᒉᒌ ᐐᐦᑯᒋᐦᐋᑦ᙮ ᒋᒌ ᐅᔑᓇᐎᓐ ᐊᓄᐦᒌᐦᑳᓐ ᐁ ᒌ ᐃᑌᔨᒥᔭᓐ ᒉᔥᑎᓈᔥ ᐁᑳ ᒉ ᐅᐦᒋ ᐐᒋᐦᐃᑖᓐ, ᒌ ᐃᑌᐤ, ᐊᓄᐦᒌᔥ ᒫᒃ ᒋ ᒋᔅᒉᔨᐦᑌᓐ ᐋᑕ ᐁ ᐋᐱᑯᔒᔑᐎᔮᓐ ᔮᐱᒡ ᒋᑲ ᒌ ᐐᒋᐦᐃᑎᓐ

The above is a Southern East Cree translation of The Lion and the Mouse, a fable of Aesop (Perry Index #150). This version is based on S. A. Handford’s English translation, published in 1954.

ᓃᔑᑣᐌᓂᒡ ᐲᓯᒧᒡ


ᐯᔭᒀᐤ ᐁ ᓃᐱᓂᔨᒡ ᒌ ᒥᔻᑕᒧᒡ ᒥᓯᐌ ᐊᐌᓰᓴᒡ ᐁ ᓃᔓᑳᐸᐎᔨᑣᐤᐦ ᐲᓯᒶ᙮ ᑌᐦᑌᐗᒡ ᐌᔥᑕᐐᔭᐙᐤ ᒌ ᒥᔻᑕᒧᒡ᙮ ᐯᔭᒄ ᒫᒃ ᐁ ᑕᔑᑣᐤ ᒌ ᐃᑗᐤ, ᒋ ᒌᔥᑴᓈᐙᐤ ᐋ? ᒉᒀᓐ ᐌᐦᒋ ᒥᔻᑕᒣᒄ? ᐋᔥ ᑌᐯᔨᐦᑖᑯᓯᐤ ᐯᔭᒄ ᐲᓯᒽ ᒉᒌ ᐹᐦᒀᓴᐦᒃ ᑳ ᐊᔑᔥᒌᐙᑲᒫᔑᔨᒀᐤᐦ᙮ ᐐᒋᒫᑌ ᒫᒃ ᐃᔅᑴᐤᐦ ᐁᒄ ᐅᑕᐙᔑᒥᔑᑣᐌᓂᒡ, ᓈᔥᑖᐺ ᒋᑲ ᒪᒋᐸᔨᓈᓇᐤ!

The above is a Southern East Cree translation of The Frog and the Sun, a fable of Aesop (Perry Index #314). This version is based on S. A. Handford’s English translation, published in 1954.