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?
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