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.

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