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 But the torch has now been replaced by the moon, which appears to be a better fit for the common, but erroneous, translation of ‘light on the water.’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



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.

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?

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

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᙮

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. 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, and maps also figure among the surviving examples of the historical language. While studying these priceless documents I cannot help but wonder who the indigenous 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 www.massinahigan.ca, a website conceptualized and built by John Bishop, Head of Toponymy for the Cree Nation Government and a good friend of mine.

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)


For over two thousand years the Our Father has enjoyed the distinction of being Christianity’s most venerated prayer. It is after all the only prayer Jesus would have taught his disciples, which is perhaps why reciting its words is the only ritual in which all believing Christians partake, despite the schismatic history of their religion.

When European Christians first reached the shores of this continent, they set about learning Cree to share the gospel with our people. Naturally, the Our Father was one of the first prayers taught and its numerous translations since the seventeenth century have also come to be venerated by Cree-speaking Christians. To this day its Cree translations are recited as opening and closing prayers at public assemblies and are taught to school children in Cree communities, much to the consternation of parents who expect a non-religious curriculum! But what exactly is the Our Father? What follows is a brief history of this timeless prayer and its translations into the Cree language, with a particular focus on John Horden’s translation, the version best known around the bay we call Wînipekw (James Bay).

The prayer commonly referred to as the Our Father is also known as the Lord’s Prayer and the Pater Noster. Two versions of the prayer are recorded in the Gospels, a short version in Luke and a longer one, considered the liturgical form, in Matthew. Although all churches are unanimous on this last point, Protestants tend to conclude the prayer with a doxology not endorsed by Catholics.

The Our Father would have originally been recited in Aramaic, the language Jesus presumably spoke (Aramaic was a Semitic language related to Hebrew and Arabic). Although Aramaic manuscripts of what would later become the New Testament have survived through the ages, the English translations of the prayer are not based on these, but rather on early Greek and Latin translations. Despite the numerous attempts at translating the prayer into English, one version stands out as the popular liturgical form (though not necessarily the most accurate). This popular version reads as follows:

Our Father who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come.
Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us,
and lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.

[Protestants then add the above mentioned doxology, as follows]

For thine is the kingdom,
the power, and the glory,
for ever and ever.

The earliest extant Cree translation of this timeless prayer was published in 1632 along with other short prayers and religious instructions attributed to the Jesuit Énemond Massé. His translation lacks the beauty of later attempts, but its introduction, however, would anticipate later translations. “Novtavynan ca tayen ouascoupetz,” Massé would write (the intrusive p might have erroneously crept in during the printing process). Indecipherable as his translation may initially seem, the introduction, when the spelling is standardized, becomes a clear Nôhtâwînân kâ ihtâyan waskohc.

Many missionaries would succeed Massé after his death in 1646. Their work among Cree-speaking peoples would have led them to produce various types of writings in the Cree language, many of which were undoubtedly religious in nature. Most of these, however, would have perished in a fire in 1699 in Chicoutimi. Consequently, the next extant Cree translation of the Our Father is found in a manuscript dated 1728 and attributed to the Jesuit Pierre-Michel Laure. Aided by a Cree-speaking woman named Pêšâpanohkwew, later baptized Marie, Laure would also compile an extensive French to Cree dictionary and various other Cree-language materials, some of which have unfortunately been lost. His translation of the Our Father would eventually be printed in 1767 in a religious book compiled by his successor, the Jesuit Jean-Baptiste de La Brosse. In this book, which is often credited as the first book printed in Canada, La Brosse would be the first to provide the prayer with a Cree name, “K’utshimaminau u-t-aiamiheuin,”  a translation of ‘our Lord’s prayer.’ Laure’s translation is notable in that it would continued to be printed into the mid-nineteenth century, being recited for over a century by eastern Cree-speaking peoples.

As Cree country became increasingly accessible to foreigners in the nineteenth century, missionaries from various churches would start drawing our people into distinctive denominations. Anglicans, Methodists, and Catholics would all be involved, many of their missionaries providing new translations of the Our Father. The Oblate Flavien Durocher would publish his version in 1848, which would become the standard form in the eastern regions of Cree country into the twentieth-century. His translation would be republished in 1889 by the Oblate Charles Arnaud in his book of prayers. In the west, Jean-Baptiste Thibault would publish his translation in 1855. His would also become a standard that would be republished by Albert Lacombe, an Oblate who would also compile an extensive dictionary and grammar of the Cree language.

Protestant denominations would become increasingly active in the nineteenth century. The first Anglican translation of the Our Father can be attributed to the James Hunter and his wife Jean Ross, the latter of whom had learned to speak Cree as a child. The prayer would have first been included in their translation of the Gospel of Matthew, published in 1853. It would then be republished in their translation of the Book of Common Prayer in 1855 and would go on to become the inspiration for successive protestant translations of the prayer in the western regions of Cree country. The version of the Our Father in the New Testament in Western Cree (2000) would largely be based on the couple’s initial translation. Being a protestant version, its version and all subsequent protestant translations would naturally include the doxology absent from earlier Catholic translations.

In the central regions of Cree country, around the bay we call Wînipekw, a contemporary of James Hunter would also endeavour to communicate the gospel to our people using the written word. The Anglican John Horden, known to Cree people as John Moosonee to this day, would eventually produce numerous publications in the Cree language, including a grammar. Horden’s translation of the Our Father into the local dialect would be published in 1859 as part of his translation of the Book of Common Prayer. It would first be published in the western syllabics style and it reads as follows:

ᓄᑖᐎᓈᐣ, ᑭᒋᑭᔑᑯᐠ ᑳ ᐃᑖᔭᐣ,
ᑲᐟᑕ ᐎ ᒥᓗ ᒥᑐᓀᓕᒋᑳᑌᐤ ᑭᐟ ᐃᔑᓂᑳᓱᐎᐣ᙮
ᑭᐟ ᐅᑭᒫᐎᐎᐣ ᑲᐟᑕ ᐎ ᐅᑎᒋᐸᓕᐤ᙮
ᐁ ᐃᔑ ᓇᑕᐌᓕᑕᒪᐣ ᑲᐟᑕ ᐎ ᑐᒋᑳᑌᐤ ᐅᑕ ᐊᐢᑮᐠ, ᑖᐱᐢᑯᐨ ᑭᒋᑭᔑᑯᐠ᙮
ᒥᓕᓈᐣ ᐊᓄᐨ ᑳ ᑭᔑᑳᐠ ᑫ ᐅᐟᒋ ᐱᒫᑎᓯᔮᐠ᙮
ᐌᐯᓕᑕᒪᐎᓈᐣ ᒫᑲ ᓂ ᐗᓂᑎᐎᓂᓈᓇ,
ᐁ ᐃᔑ ᐌᐯᓕᑕᒪᐗᑭᒋᒃ ᐊᓂᑭ ᑳ ᐗᓂᑐᑕᐎᔭᒥᒋᒃ᙮
ᓀᐡᑕ ᒫᑲ ᐁᑳ ᐎᓚ ᐃᑐᑕᐁᓈᐣ ᑫ ᐃᔑ ᑲᑴᒋᐃᑳᐎᔮᐠ;
ᒥᑖᑴᓇᒪᐎᓈᐣ ᒫᑲ ᒪᒋ ᑫᒀᓇ:
ᐌᓴ ᑭᓚ ᑭᐟ ᐋᔮᐣ ᑭᒋ ᐅᑭᒫᐎᐎᐣ,
ᓀᐡᑕ ᓱᑳᑎᓯᐎᐣ, ᓀᐡᑕ ᒫᒥᒋᒥᑳᐎᐣ,
ᑳᑭᑫ ᓀᐡᑕ ᑳᑭᑫ᙮

Horden would eventually endeavour to simplify the syllabic spelling system and subsequent reprints of his works would all feature what is now called eastern syllabics. Aside from a change in orthography, his subsequent version of the prayer, published within his 1876 translation of the New Testament, would also feature a few lexical changes, improving the beauty of the translation. He would, however, take a literal approach to its translation, which would have him favour the word ‘debts’ to ‘trespasses,’ resulting in a replacement of “ ᐗᓂᑎᐎᓂᓈᓇ” and “ ᐗᓂᑐᑕᐎᔭᒥᒋᒃ” by “ ᒪᓯᓇᐃᑲᓂᓈᓇ” and “ ᒪᓯᓇᐃᑫᑐᑕᐎᔭᒥᒋᒃ,” respectively. The translation from Matthew 6:9-13 thus reads as follows:

ᓄᑖᐎᓈᓐ ᑭᒋᑭᔑᑯᒃ ᑳ ᐃᑖᔭᓐ
ᑲᑕ ᐎ ᐸᓓᑫᓕᒋᑳᑌᐤ ᑭᑦ ᐃᔑᓂᑳᓱᐎᓐ᙮
ᑭᑦ ᐅᑭᒫᐎᐎᓐ ᑲᑕ ᐎ ᐅᑎᒋᐸᓕᐤ᙮
ᐁ ᐃᑌᓕᑕᒪᓐ ᑲᑕ ᐎ ᑐᒋᑳᑌᐤ ᐅᑕ ᐊᔅᑮᒃ ᑖᐱᔅᑯᒡ ᑭᒋᑭᔑᑯᒄ᙮
ᒥᓕᓈᓐ ᐊᓄᒡ ᑳ ᑭᔑᑳᒃ ᑫ ᐅᒋ ᐱᒫᑎᓯᔮᒃ᙮
ᐌᐯᓕᑕᒪᐎᓈᓐ ᒫᑲ ᓂ ᒪᓯᓇᐃᑲᓂᓈᓇ,
ᐁ ᐃᔑ ᐌᐯᓕᑕᒪᐗᑭᒋᒃ ᐊᓂᑭ ᑳ ᒪᓯᓇᐃᑫᑐᑕᐎᔭᒥᒋᒃ᙮
ᐁᑳᐎᓚ ᒫᑲ ᐃᑐᑕᐃᓈᓐ ᑫ ᐃᔑ ᑲᑴᒋᐃᑲᐎᔮᒃ,
ᒫᑲ ᒥᑖᑴᓇᒪᐎᓈᓐ ᒪᒋ ᑫᒀᓇ:
ᐌᓴ ᑭᓚ ᑭ ᑎᐱᓚᐌᐎᓯᓐ ᐅᑭᒪᐎᐎᓐ,
ᓀᔥᑕ ᑲᔥᑭᐅᐎᓐ, ᓀᔥᑕ ᑭᔥᑌᓕᑖᑯᓯᐎᓐ,

Horden’s 1889 edition of the Book of Common Prayer would feature yet more changes to the Our Father. His last modifications to the doxology were retained, but the literal translation of ‘debts’ was reverted to his original translation of ‘trespasses.’ Curiously, Horden changes his translation of ‘hallowed be thy name’ for a third time, finally settling on ᑲᑕ ᐎ ᑭᔅᑌᓕᒋᑳᑌᐤ ᑭᑦ ᐃᔑᓂᑳᓱᐎᓐ. This third version of the prayer reads as follows:

ᓄᑕᐎᓈᓐ ᑭᒋᑭᔑᑯᒃ ᑳ ᐃᑖᔭᓐ,
ᑲᑕ ᐎ ᑭᔅᑌᓕᒋᑳᑌᐤ ᑭᑦ ᐃᔑᓂᑳᓱᐎᓐ᙮
ᑭᑦ ᐅᑭᒫᐎᐎᓐ ᑲᑕ ᐎ ᐅᑎᒋᐸᓕᐤ᙮
ᑭᑦ ᐃᑌᓕᑕᒧᐎᓐ ᑲᑕ ᐎ ᑐᒋᑳᑌᐤ ᐅᑕ ᐊᔅᑮᒃ ᑖᐱᔅᑯᒡ ᑭᒋᑭᔑᑯᒃ᙮
ᒥᓕᓈᓐ ᐊᓄᒡ ᑳ ᑭᔑᑳᒃ ᑫ ᐅᒋ ᐱᒫᑎᓯᔮᒃ᙮
ᐌᐯᓕᑕᒪᐎᓈᓐ ᒫᑲ ᓂ ᐗᓂᑎᐎᓂᓈᓇ,
ᐁ ᐃᔑ ᐌᐯᓕᑕᒪᐗᑭᒋᒃ ᐊᓂᑭ ᑳ ᐗᓂᑐᑕᐎᔭᒥᒋᒃ᙮
ᐁᑳᐎᓚ ᒫᑲ ᐃᑐᑕᐃᓈᓐ ᑫ ᐃᔑ ᑲᑴᒋᐃᑲᐎᔮᒃ;
ᒫᑲ ᒥᑖᑴᓇᒪᐎᓈᓐ ᒪᒋ ᑫᒀᓇ:
ᐌᓴ ᑭᓚ ᑭ ᑎᐱᓚᐌᐎᓯᓐ ᐅᑭᒫᐎᐎᓐ,
ᓀᔥᑕ ᑲᔥᑭᐅᐎᓐ, ᓀᔥᑕ ᑭᔅᑌᓕᑖᑯᓯᐎᓐ,
ᑳᑭᑫ ᓀᔥᑕ ᑳᑭᑫ᙮

Horden’s third translation of the Our Father would eventually be adapted to the dialects spoken around Chisasibi  by the W.G. Walton. Walton’s translation would be printed in 1907 in his Portions of the Book of Common Prayer, edited and reprinted in 1943. The latter reads as follows:

ᓄᑖᐎᓈᓐ ᒋᒋᒋᔑᑯᒡ ᐋᑖᔭᓐ,
ᑲᑕ ᐎ ᒋᔅᑖᔨᑖᑲᓂᐎᐤ ᒋᑦ ᐃᔑᓂᑳᓱᐎᓐ᙮
ᒋ ᒋᒋᐅᒋᒪᐎᐎᓐ ᑲᑕ ᐅᑎᒋᐸᔨᐤ᙮
ᒋᑦ ᐃᑖᔨᑕᒧᐎᓐ ᑲᑕ ᑐᑖᑲᓂᐎᐤ, ᐅᑕ ᐊᔅᒋᒡ ᒧᔮᒻ ᒋᒋᒋᔑᑯᒡ᙮
ᒥᔨᓈᓐ ᐋᓄᒡ ᑳᔑᑳᒡ ᒑ ᐅᒋ ᐱᒫᑎᓯᔮᒡ᙮
ᐙᐹᔨᑕᒪᐎᓈᓐ ᒫᑲ ᓂ ᐗᓈᔨᑎᐎᓂᓈᓇ,
ᒧᔮᒻ ᐋ ᐃᔑ ᐙᐹᔨᑕᒪᐗᒋᒡ ᐊᓐᒡ ᑳ ᐗᓂᑐᑕᐎᔭᒥᒡ᙮
ᐋᑳᐎᔭ ᒫᑲ ᐃᑐᑕᐃᓈᓐ ᐊᑕ ᒑ ᑲᒀᒋᐃᑲᐎᔮᒡ,
ᒥᑯ ᒥᑖᒀᓇᒪᐎᓈᓐ ᐊᓐ ᑳ ᒫᔮᑕᒡ᙮
ᐙᓴ ᒋᔭ ᒋ ᑎᐱᔭᐙᐎᓯᓐ ᒋᒋᐅᒋᒫᐎᐎᓐ,
ᑲᔭ ᑲᔅᒋᐅᐎᓐ, ᑲᔭ ᒋᔅᑖᔨᑖᑯᓯᐎᓐ, ᒧᔥ ᑳᒋᒡ᙮

While Walton’s translations would become the standard recited form for Cree-speaking peoples around Chisasibi, Horden’s translations would continue to be the standard from the west coast of the bay to Mistissini well into the late twentieth century, despite the fact that the dialects spoken in the east are quite divergent from the more conservative dialect featured in Horden’s translations. This problem would eventually lead to the retranslation of the New Testament into the local dialect, which was published in 2001 and naturally included a new version of the Our Father. While this modern translation is commendable for being easier for local speakers to read, some expert speakers took issue with its inconsistent orthography, the colloquial feel of its vocabulary, and its tendency of being wordy. Its version of the Our Father is clearly influenced by Horden’s, but departs considerably from it, being neither a dialectal adaptation of it nor a literal translation of any known English version. This perhaps explains why Horden’s translation continues to be used by some speakers performing opening and closing prayers in public forums. This new translation, from Matthew, reads as follows:

ᓅᐦᑖᐐᓈᓐ ᑭᐦᒋᑮᔑᑯᐦᒡ ᑳ ᐃᐦᑖᔨᓐ,
ᓂᑕᔨᒥᐦᐋᓈᓐ ᒋᑎᔑᓂᐦᑳᓱᐎᓐ ᒉᒌ ᒋᔅᒉᔨᐦᑖᑯᓅᐦᒡ ᐁ ᒋᔅᑌᔨᐦᑖᑯᐦᒡ᙮
ᓂᑕᔨᒥᐦᐋᓈᓐ ᑲᔦ ᒎᒋᒫᐎᓐ ᒉ ᐅᑎᐦᒋᐸᔨᐦᒡ,
ᑲᔦ ᒋᑎᑌᔨᐦᑕᒧᐎᓐ ᒉᒌ ᐃᐦᑑᑖᑲᓅᐦᒡ ᐅᑕᐦ ᐊᔅᒌᐦᒡ ᒧᔮᒻ ᐁ ᐃᔑ ᐃᐦᑑᑖᑲᓅᐦᒡ ᐊᓂᑌ ᑭᐦᒋᑮᔑᑯᐦᒡ᙮
ᒦᓈᓐ ᐋᐃᐦᑯᓈᐤ ᐊᓄᐦᒌᔥ ᑳ ᒌᔑᑳᒡ ᑖᓐ ᐁ ᐃᔑ ᓂᑐᐌᔨᒪᒋᐦᑦ᙮
ᐌᐯᔨᐦᑕᒨᓈᓐ ᓂᒪᒋᐦᑣᐎᓈᓐᐦ
ᒧᔮᒻ ᑖᓐ ᑳ ᐃᔑ ᐌᐯᔨᐦᑕᒧᐗᒋᐦᑣᐤ ᐊᓂᒌ ᑳ ᐗᓂᑑᑑᔨᒥᐦᑣᐤ᙮
ᐁᑳᐐ ᒫᒃ ᐃᑐᐦᑕᐦᐄᓈᓐ ᐊᓂᑌ ᒉᒌ ᑲᑴᒋᐦᐄᑯᔮᐦᒡ᙮
ᐯᒋ ᑲᓄᐌᔨᒥᓈᓐ ᑖᓐ ᐙ ᐃᔑ ᑲᑴᒋᐦᐄᑯᔮᐦᒡ ᒪᒋᒪᓂᑑ᙮
ᐌᔥ ᒋᔭ ᒋᑎᐱᔦᐅᓯᔨᓐ ᒎᒋᒫᐎᓐ
ᑲᔦ ᒋᔭ ᒋᑕᔮᓐ ᓲᐦᑳᑎᓰᐎᓐ ᑲᔦ ᒋᔅᑌᔨᐦᑖᑯᓱᐎᓐ
ᑳᒋᒉ ᑲᔦ ᑳᒋᒉ᙮

In 2007 the New Testament was again translated into Cree, this time in the dialect spoken at Kawawachikamach. While this translation is clearly influenced by the 2001 translation mentioned above, it is less wordy and has retained more vocabulary from Horden’s later translations. It also features a local style of syllabics where long vowels and aspirates are unmarked. From the Book of Matthew, this translation reads as follows:

ᓄᑕᐎᓇᓐ ᒋᒋᒋᓯᑯᒡ ᐊ ᑕᔨᓐ,
ᓂᑦ ᐊᔭᒥᐊᓇᓐ ᒋᑦ ᐃᓯᓂᑾᓱᐅᓐ ᐊ ᐸᔭᒋᓯᒥᑲᒡ ᒐᒋ ᒋᔅᑕᔨᑕᑯᑕᑭᓄᐅᒡ᙮
ᒋᒋᓴᐅᒋᒪᐅᓐ ᒋᑭ ᐎ ᐅᑎᒋᐱᔪᐤ,
ᒋᑦ ᐃᑕᔨᑎᒧᐅᓐ ᒋᑭ ᐎ ᐃᑐᑕᑭᓄᐤ ᐅᑕ ᐊᔅᒋᒡ ᒧᔭᒻ ᒋᒋᒋᓯᑯᒡ᙮
ᒥᔨᓇᓐ ᐊᓄᒡ ᐊ ᒋᓯᑲᒡ ᐸᒂᓯᑭᓐ ᒐᐅᒋ ᐱᒪᑎᓯᔭᒡ᙮
ᐛᐸᔨᑎᒧᐅᓇᓐ ᓂᒥᒋᑥᐅᓇᓇ
ᐛᔅ ᑭᔭ ᓂᔭᓐ ᓂ ᐛᐸᔨᑎᒧᐅᓇᓐ ᒥᓯᐛ ᐊᐛᓐ ᑲ ᒥᒋᑐᑐᔨᒥᑦ᙮
ᐊᑲᐎᔾ ᒪᒃ ᐃᑐᑕᐃᓇᓐ ᐊᓐᑕ ᒐᒋ ᐃᓯ ᑯᒂᒋᐃᑯᔭᒡ᙮
ᒥᒄ ᐸᒋ ᒥᑕᒂᓇᒧᐅᓇᓐ ᐊᓐ ᑲ ᒪᔭᑕᒡ᙮
ᐛᔅ ᒋᔾ ᒋ ᑎᐱᔨᐛᐅᓯᓐ ᐅᒋᒪᐅᓐ
ᑭᔭ ᑭᔅᒋᐅᓐ ᑭᔭ ᒋᔅᑕᔨᑕᑯᓱᐅᓐ
ᒧᔅ ᑲᒋᒡ, ᐊᒥᓐ᙮

Horden’s translations of the Our Father are still recited to this day and continue to influence contemporary translations. Their popularity can probably be attributed to a number of factors, one of which is certainly the timeless appeal of the prayer itself. However, Horden’s later versions were also eloquently translated. This points to the likely possibility that he benefited from the support of his local assistants, all of which were native Cree speakers. But Horden’s translations, important as they may be, are but a few out of the countless versions of the Our Father that have been translated into the Cree language since the early seventeenth century. In fact, even though the majority of these translations can be attributed to foreigners who were neither Cree nor native speakers of the Cree language, every one of them benefited in some way from the help of Cree speakers themselves. And while competing churches and dialects have made it so there are nearly as many Cree version of the Our Father as there are English versions, Cree-speaking Christians can find comfort in the knowledge that the recital of this prayer is the one ritual they can all agree upon.