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.