Legends and Narratives from the Moose Cree language, as told by Gilbert Faries, Sophie Gunner, James Gunner, Hannah Loon and Ellen McLeodPosted: July 8, 2015
Legends and Narratives from the Moose Cree language, as told by Gilbert Faries, Sophie Gunner, James Gunner, Hannah Loon and Ellen McLeod: from recordings made in 1958, 1964 and 1965 in and around Moose Factory in Ontario, Canada
Why the squirrel has red eyes (Acicamoŝ wêhci-mihkwacâpit)
So then, the legend is told of why the squirrel has red eyes…
Once long ago when an animal was being sought to be leader in the woods, the squirrel thought that he should be foremost. Now then, when the other animals saw him, they began to make fun of him. And they ridiculed him, saying: “Be off with you! You’re too little. You’ll never be able to be master here in the woods, because you’re little.”
And so, since the squirrel hated it very much, he cried very hard. And he also rubbed at his eyes very hard, until he began to have entirely red eyes from crying so hard.
. . .
Why the loon’s feet are near the tail (Mwâkwa wêhc’-îšinâkwaniliki osita)
Now then, this again is the beginning of the legend about the loon, why this one’s feet look the way they do.
Once upon a time long ago, the beasts and the birds got together because they wanted to have a feast. And so, as they were there on the lake, in the course of the feasting, this loon began to flirt around with other birds. So then the rest of those birds weren’t pleased with the fact that this loon wanted to take away Shingibish’s wife.
And so, when being angry, Shingibish chased after this loon. And then, as the latter ran away, he kicked him very hard as he ran off. And he utterly knocked his feet back there, having crippled him. And ever since, that’s why the loon’s feet hang that way, right near his tail-end.
. . .
Why the bear has a short tail (Maskwa wêhci-tahkwâliwêt)
Now, this is the beginning of the legend about the bear, why his tail is short.
Once upon a time long ago he saw a fox that had a fish. And so at this the bear said: “How is it that you are able to catch fish?”
And so at this the fox replied: “It’s very easy when one wants to catch a fish. At that hole there in the river, in the ice, it’s just at that very spot that I dip my tail in. And then, as I feel a fish playing around with my tail, I suddenly give a jump. While he’s biting my tail I pull him to the surface…You can do it too, if you want to catch hold of him, if you want to catch a fish,” he said to the bear.
So then the bear thought, “Certainly, I’ll be able, too.”
So then he dipped his tail in, his long tail, that is. And then as he felt a fish playing with his tail, he didn’t yet give a jump.
“So wait a little, and many will be hanging on here and there,” thought the bear in his greedy desire, that is. He wanted a lot of fish.
And so, at last, as his tail began to freeze to the ice, he thought, “Now there are a lot of fish,” as he began to feel his tail heavy.
And then at that point when he gave a sudden jump, that’s the way he tore off his tail, since it had already been stuck to the ice.
. . .
A favourite dish from whitefish roe (Atihkamêk owâhkona ê-kîsisomihci)
Now for that fish which is called the whitefish, in processing its innards, called “liver-water”. When we catch a good number of whitefish we clean the innards and cook them. And we call it “liver-water”.
We squeeze out the whole of those innards. Then we put them in a frying pan and cook them. We cook them there a long, long time until they’re boiled completely dry, so they may come to a fry, so they become all brown. Then we put in a little flour. We mix it in a small dish, then we put them there in the “liver-water”, as we cook them. And they are very delicious.
And then also that other fish, the so-called red sucker, what’s called the roe there, we cut them open, as they have it. We cook those roe along with them. That “liver-water” is tastier though, as I make it, when we put the flour with it, we put a little flour in as we continually stir it. That’s what we do when we make that “liver-water”. We put in a little flour, that is, and we stir it in a small dish. It’s more delicious when it’s dressed that way, with a little flour put in it. And so red sucker roe also is sometimes put in it, and cooked along with it. And it’s more delicious when it’s dressed that way.
. . .
Snatch of a conversation: to go up-river or not? (Ayamihitowinišiš: n’tahikâtêkwê nêstapiko êkâ?)
“Are you decided, are we making up our mind…to go to the Indian Reservation right now? I don’t think we should. The weather’s too dirty. I think that the sky doesn’t look right.”
“Just as you please. You always seem to want to be the boss.”
“Let it go at that. That’s what I think right now. I don’t very much relish the thought of travelling in dirty weather. It’s just that…although we only want to go this short distance. Never mind then, I may as well stop thinking about it.”
“If you’re satisfied at that, I don’t mind either.”
. . .
Mishchagalash, who is supposed to have died and then to have risen (Mišcâkalâš kâ-kî-nipikopanê, êko mâka kâ-kî-waniškâkopanê)
The twenty-first day of July…
Mishchagalash, as he was called, was very good at hunting. The people fought with each other and he too wrestled. The other person hollered: “Now these people are killing each other.” But ošâwasko, ošâwaskwapîway, laughed at it. He wrestled with Mishchagalash. But ošâwaskwapîway got very angry, being wrestled with there by Mishchagalash. His uncle, his uncle’s name, ošâwaskwapîway was his uncle’s name.
“I was only grabbed again and again, I felt just as if I were slashed,” he said as his uncle seized him and stopped him from fighting.
Now one day he went away by boat when they had finished wrestling. So then, this Mishchagalash, this very Mishchagalash said: “It would seem I had died.” So then he was confined.
“What is that? At last…it seems now I am awakening. It would seem I had died. Now I am getting up. The grass was yellow when I got up. When I had turned over I took my ghost-pipe and smoked. Then when I went home my mother knew me very well, since I had arrived in the morning. Now my mother saw me. My mother wept: “To be sure, I love my son very much. He was much given to hunting.”
It seems then that I started to go away by canoe, looking for deer.
My mother went down the bank in the distance, as she saw me as I came paddling, facing her. Now she came into sight, paddling towards me.
“It’s a stump which he’s bringing back.”
In my craft, in my canoe…I had put it in the bow of my canoe.
“It’s a buck deer, it seems, which he has killed.”
And now my mother knew that I was bringing food.
My mother wept: “No wonder, it’s my son for whom I was sorry when he died, because he was such a
. . .
A fight between a whiskey-jack and a mouse (Ê-mâšihitocik wîskacâniš nêsta mâka wâpikošiš)
Once again when we had been living somewhere in this area, we were at West River…
Now, at that time, we regularly used to have our tent out towards the sea, in the willows, more or less, as we killed foxes. Well then, once as I was sitting inside, a whiskey-jack was making an awful racket. “My! Whatever’s wrong with this whiskey-jack that he’s making this noise?” I thought. I looked around, finally. For a long time, at first though, I didn’t look. But at last I looked through a hole in the tent. From there I looked at him. The whiskey-jack was perched on a willow. I looked at him. “What’s wrong with this one who’s making this noise?” Suddenly there popped…a mouse slowly emerged at last, in the snow. It emerged from the snow.
At that point the whiskey-jack jumped at the mouse. He bit him in the neck. He flew away with him repeatedly.
The mouse got the better of him. He carried him off, again and again.
Then the mouse struggled as he carried him off again and again…to such an extent that he was quickly dropped as he struggled. Again and again the mouse fell away on the ground, on the snow. Then he quickly dug in the snow again. Then once more the whiskey-jack would watch the spot again. The whiskey-jack kept a look-out for him. But out came that mouse, again. I looked at him.
Now the whiskey-jack jumped at that mouse once again. He bit him in his neck. He dropped him again and again as he carried him off struggling, just biting him.
Now, once more, the mouse quickly took cover. Finally, he came out again. Now he landed. Now they had a tussle with each other, out in the open. Then they battled each other.
This whiskey-jack was not able to get the better of this mouse…
He was worsted by him. This whiskey-jack was making a dreadful lot of noise.
“Look now, whatever’s wrong with this fellow that he’s making such a racket?” I thought, as he made a noise like this [ imitative screech ]. That’s what the whiskey-jack said, because he was scared.
So at last I laughed really hard. The mouse bit away at the whiskey-jack. He was just standing on his hind legs. And then they were jumping at each other back and forth, and the whiskey-jack was jumping back and forth as he was getting the worst of it from that mouse. This whiskey-jack was helped a little by his wings, but to my mind the mouse was stronger as I looked at him. I couldn’t help but laugh hard as I watched them, to the point that I disturbed them while they were fighting with each other.
. . .
A conversation (Ayamihitowin): Hannah Loon and Ellen McLeod
H.L.: “Ellen, what happened to you folks while you were staying at Hannah Bay while you were living with your father as he was hunting?”
E.M.: “Uh hmm.”
H.L.: “What had happened to you that led you to come when only you folks arrived?”
E.M.: “He wasn’t going to come at Christmas. But my older sister said to me, “Let’s go, you and me. Let’s follow our older brothers who are going away,” she said. So then I said to her: “Alright, let’s go. But let’s hurry and cook up some things first for our father before we leave,” I said to her. And we cooked for him. We did everything properly for him. Now then, we left to come. There was no axe there. There was only the big axe. With my older sister taking that one, we came away. By the time we were at Big Stone we had already caught up with them, including my older brother. “What’s wrong with you two?” he said. We didn’t speak to them. We hid from them [she laughs.]
“These people ought to have left to come anyway. Yes.”
“We slept there. We slept there, the two of us. By and by there, by and by we saw them there at Netitishi.”
“They had come away in advance.”
“And then my older brother said to me: “Where is your father?”
“We left him. He didn’t want to come away. He didn’t want to go to the settlement for Christmas. But we’ve left to come. I got a ride…she got a ride, though. But I wasn’t taken. I ran along.”
“Your older sister, Mary, was taken.”
“Only my older sister, Mary, was taken. I ran along. And he said: “Take that axe of theirs,” my older brother, Willie, was told. “Where are these two going?” “They’re off logging to Peehtawanagaw,” said Archibald [she laughs.]
“Just teasing you…”
“Because you two sure didn’t own an axe.”
“I ran along all the time. She was carried on the sled.
Finally, I saw a young fellow, James. He gave me a seat on his sled. We arrived here. On the second day my father suddenly arrived. He laughed, he laughed at us. We laughed too.”
“But what did James there say to you while you were tired, as he was hauling you?”
“Didn’t you…didn’t you have him as a boyfriend? There’s nothing wrong with that …!”
“That’s as much as I’m going to tell.”
“This is as much as I’ll tell you.”
“Not about that.”
“Then that’s the extent of your story.”
. . .
The above transcriptions are excerpts from Cree Legends and Narratives from the West Coast of James Bay (Âtalôhkâna nêsta tipâcimôwina), published by The University of Manitoba Press in 1995. The text is in several Cree variants, plus English translations. Edited and with a glossary by C. Douglas Ellis.
nôhtâwiy opîkiskwêwin – Father Tongue
I read about the –ikawi suffix
and the unspecified actor form,
wonder about the curiosities
of active or passive voice in Cree,
but mostly I yearn to learn
real Cree words, am eager to hear
nêhiyawêwin itwêwina in the air.
Want to hear your voice.
Food words like bread and tea
and water –
Words for tree and bud and leaf –
mistik, osimisk, êkwa nîpiy.
Seasonal words for winter, spring,
summer, and fall –
nîpin, êkwa takwâkin.
Weather words like snow and rain,
sunshine and wind –
mispon êkwa kimiwan,
wâsêskwan êkwa yôtin.
More food words like cookie,
tomato, and cheese –
Nature words for lake, mountain,
How to say picnic and camping –
papâ-mîcisowin êkwa kapêsiwin.
How we always picked bottles
when we went picnicking or camping –
How the sky is blue just now,
when it’s been grey for so long.
sîpihkonâkwan mêkwâc kîsik
mâka kinwês ê-kî-pihkonâkwahk.
I want to hear words for car and canoe
and toboggan and cradleboard –
sêhkêpayîs êkwa cîmân
napakitâpânâsk êkwa tihkinâkan.
Baby, boy, girl, man, and woman –
oskawâsis, nâpêsis, iskwêsis, nâpêw, êkwa iskwêw.
Kinship terms like mother and father –
nikâwiy êkwa nôhtâwiy.
Grandmother and grandfather –
nôhkom êkwa nimosôm.
My little siblings, sister and brother –
nîcisânak, nimis êkwa nistês.
Auntie and uncle –
nikâwis êkwa nôhcâwîs.
If only I had stopped long enough
to say “my girl” or “my boy” –
“nitânis” êkwa “nikosis”.
Words for old woman and old man –
nôcokwêsîs êkwa kisêyinîs.
Words for hard and soft,
loud and quiet –
ê-maskawâk êkwa ê-yôskâk
Words for the ground is hard –
the silence is loud –
your voice soft and quiet –
ê-miyotâmoyan êkwa ê-kâmwâtahk.
You always spoke so softly
like a steady rain on parched land.
Maybe that’s why you sound
so far away now –
kiyâwihtâkosin êkwa anohc.
Verbs for listening and persevering –
ê-nitohtawiyan êkwa ê-âhkamêyihtamohiyan,
and loving and raising children –
kiya êkwa nikâwînân
Words for birth and death and funeral –
êkwa kikî-âstêsinin kitaywêpiwinihk.
Verbs for kind and just
and humble and soft-spoken –
The verb for soft-hearted –
and how you had a soft spot
in your heart for all
Cree people –
Verbs for generous and caring –
ê-kî-sawêyimacik êkwa ê-kî-nâkatêyimacik.
Words for thoughtful and oh,
such good Cree speech –
Words for being so good
at so many things –
ê-kî-nahîyan mistahi kîkway.
Words for sadness and regret –
nipîkiskâtisin êkwa kikîsinâtêyihtamâtin.
Because sickness stole your speech
and I came too late to listen –
Yet now you’re whispering
and I’m listening –
mâka êkwa anohc âta ê-kîmwêyan
. . .
Like Bead on a String
Like an umbilical cord, the rainbow
connects sky to earth:
mother and child hold each other close.
tâpiskôc otisiyêyâpiy pîsimwêyâpiy
ê-itâpêkamohtât askîhk kîsikohk ohci
ê-âkwaskitinitocik awâsis êkwa okâwîmâw.
Like a rawhide rope, the vocal cords
secure the gift of story and song:
grandfather and grandchild hold each other close.
tâpiskôc pîsâkanâpiy pîkiskwêyâpîsa
ê-tipahpitahk miyikowisiwin âcimowin êkwa nikamowin
ê-âkwaskitinitocik mosôm êkwa ôsisima
Like a bead on a string, my great-grandmother
sits next to her kin just long enough
for me to reach for her hands.
tâpiskôc kâ-tâpisahoht mîkis, nitâniskotâpân
apîstawêw owâhkômâkana nahiyikohk
. . .
ihkatawâw ay-itwêhiwêw – The Marsh Sends a Message
Reeds breathe and I sense
that in this wet world
the breath utters a language
not yet lost, whispers words
not yet forgotten
cries a marsh message
that must be heard. âniskowaskwa
speak to me of kinosêw,
êkwa nipiy. Reeds
confident and eloquent
ê-sôhkêyimocik êkwa ê-nihtâwêcik
tell me a story
âniskowaskwa, fluid and flowing
a fluent kind of knowing,
whispering a story about this great land.
ê-kîmwêcik, ê-âtotahkik ôma kihci-askiy.
. . .
Naomi McIlwraith is an educator, poet, and essayist, with a mixed Cree, Ojibwe, Scottish, and English inheritance. Most recently at Grant MacEwan University in Edmonton, she has also held instructional positions at the University of Alberta and the King’s University College.
The poet here explores linguistic identity – loss and discovery, family history, belonging – as she experiments with two languages: Plains Cree (nêhiyawêwin) and English (âkayâsîmowin – “English” in Cree).
The poems above were selected from Kiyâm: Poems by Naomi McIlwraith,© 2012, and published by AU Press, Athabasca University, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.
. . . . .
Rita Bouvier ( Île-à-la-Crosse (Sakittawak), Saskatchewan )
that was a long time ago, and here we are today
that was a long time ago
and here we are today
the heart of the land beats
our children curious
as all children are
will ask the right questions
why does a nation take up arms
in a battle knowing it will lose?
knowing it will lose
the heart of the land beats
when the long night turns to day
remember, hope is the morning
a songbird’s prayer
. . .
I am created
(for my father, Emile)
I am created by a natural bond
between a man and a woman,
but this one, is forever two.
one is white, the Other, red.
a polarity of being, absorbed
as one. I am nature with clarity.
against my body, white rejects red
and red rejects white. instinctively,
I have learned to love – I have learned to live
though the politics of polarity
is never far away. still, I am
. . .
a spider tale
behind the shed
in the tall yellow grass
a cardboard box
is my make-believe home
no one can see me
but I can see
my auntie Albertine
is washing clothes today
and needs the power
of my long arms
and lanky legs
to haul pails and pails
of water from the lake
as she searches for me
mumbles something about
kihtimigan – that lazy one
walks back inside the house
and out again
calling my name
when I appear
out of nowhere
she looks relieved to see me
“nitânis, tânitê oma î kîtotîyin?”
“my daughter, where in the world have you been?”
I tell her –
I was here all along
what I don’t tell her is
that I have been spinning tales
trying to understand
the possibility of…
myself as a spider
travelling here and there
with disturbing speed
my preoccupation with food
my home a web
so intricate and fragile
yet strong as sinew
today I remembered
not as sure footed
as I would like to be
someone calling my name
I lost my footing
. . .
we say we want it all
we fight amongst ourselves
jealous, one of us is standing.
there are no celebrations
for brave deeds among the chaos, instead
we joing the banner call for rights
forgetting an idea from the past –
responsibility. we join the march
for freedom, forgetting an idea
from the past – peace keeping.
we say we want, want it all
a piece of the action we know destroys
our home – our relations with each other
we are mired so deep, drowning
in our own thinking, thinking
we too could have it all, if only…
if only we could see ourselves
Riel is dead, and I am alive
I listen passively while strangers
claim monopoly of the truth.
one claims Riel is hero
while the other insists Riel was mad.
I can feel a tension rising, a sterile talk
presenting the life of a living people,
sometime in eighteen eighty five.
now, some time in nineteen ninety five
a celebration of some odd sort.
I want to scream. listen you idiots,
Riel is dead! and I am alive!
instead, I sit there mute and voiceless.
the truth unravelling, as academics
parade their lines, and cultural imperialists
wave their flags. this time the gatling gun
is academic discourse, followed
by a weak response of political rhetoric.
all mumbo-jumbo for a past that is
irreconcilable. this much I know
when I remember – I remember
my mother – her hands tender, to touch
my grandmother – her eyes, blue, the sky
my great grandmother – a story, a star gazer
who could read plants, animals and the sky.
. . .
that’s three for you
a young man came to me one day wanting
to understand me – the distance between
separate worlds, his and mine, his and mine.
surely, he begged, we could forsake the past
for the future, yours and mine, yours and mine.
I listened intently trying to find
the right words to say, to reassure him
my intentions, telling my story – the same.
I told him perhaps the past remembered
holds our future, yours and mine, yours and mine.
I wish it was easy to forget
as it is writing this poem for you.
I wish I could believe, I wish we could
break this damn cycle of separate worlds.
I wish I wish I wish. that’s three for you.
. . .
last night at Lydia’s
Celtic toe-tapping fiddle
Red River jigging rhythm
runs in my veins
a surge like lightning
in the mix tonight.
ohhhh, it feels good
to be alive
plaid shirted, tight blue jeans
good-looking, knows it kind-a-man
you hurt my eyes
pony-tailed, dark skinned
women in arm kind-a-man
your hurt my eyes
you hurt my eyes
muscle busting, v-necked
silver buckled kind-a-man
you hurt my eyes
cool leathered, scotch-sipping
you hurt my eyes
you hurt my eyes
you – you – you –
holding my hand kind-a-man
ohhhh, you hurt my eyes
hand on hand
we made a pact but you were only three.
I was so much older I should have known
better. I promised then to take care of you
as long as my hands were bigger than yours.
in return, you promised to take care of
me, when your hands would grow bigger than mine.
today, you came to me wanting to measure
your hand against mine; I said, go away
your hands growing way, way too fast for me.
just then, a thick fog descended across
the street. you ran into it curious
unafraid, unaware you were disappearing
with every step you took. I ran after you
trying as best as I could to hold on
with you in sight, letting go at each step.
hand on hand we made a pact, you were three.
. . .
wordsongs of a warrior
what is poetry? how do I explain
this affliction to my mother
in the language she understands,
words strung together, woven
pieces of memory, naming
and telling the truth in a way
that dances, swings and sways
why the subject of my poetry
is sometimes difficult to deliver
why my subjects are terrorized
even controversial, why
the subjects are the essence
of my own being – close to the bone.
kahkiyaw ay’sînôwak kici for all human beings
ta sohkihtama kipimâsonaw to give strength on this journey
kitahtawî ayis êkwa one of these days, for sure now
kam’skâtonanaw we will find each other
. . .
when the silence breaks
I am a reluctant speaker
violence not just a physical thing.
words are one thing
I can hold them in my hand
later embroider them
like you do fine silk
on white deer hide
if I want.
but dead silence
that’s another matter
there is nothing to hold on to
like the falling
before you awaken.
I imagine it this way, simply
one of these days now
when the silence breaks
the deer will stop in their tracks
pausing eyes wide
the wolverine will roll over and over
on the hillside, and
you will hear my voice
as if for the first time
distant and then melodic
and you will recognize it
as your very own.
. . .
a ritual for goodbye
(in memory of Albertine)
walking the shoreline
this crisp spring morning
in our matching
red-line rubber boots
my cousin and I
the days gone by
I remember first
one early spring
the water so low
we could get
from one island
to the next
our clothes piled high
over our heads
she remembers then
no human debris
like there is now
just the odd
piece of driftwood
she reminded me
we wondered then
where it came from
a guessing game
walking the shoreline
this crisp spring morning
our walk is certain
to what we know best
this shoreline, this bond,
we don’t speak of the fact
that our aunt is dying
. . .
when I came to your grave site
late last fall, a chill in the air,
I was feeling sorry for myself.
I came looking for a sign
one might say it was –
guidance on earthly matters.
lifting my face skyward
I found nothing but blue sky.
I searched the horizon,
it was then I discovered
a la Bouleau in the distance.
I smiled, recalling
that walk we took
through the new cemetery
on a break from city life.
you didn’t want to be buried
near the saints anyway,
roped in, in a chain-link fence.
you were pointing out,
as if it were a daily business
family plots here and there.
best of all, you claimed
you had selected the ideal plot
for yourself and your family,
a la Bouleau in the distance.
. . .
All poems © Rita Bouvier – from her Thistledown Press collection entitled Papîyâhtak. In the Cree language Papîyâhtak means: to act in a thoughtful way, a respectful way, a joyful way, a balanced way.
Rita Bouvier is a journeyer who searches along the way. Her poems are unafraid to take chances; they are complex in emotion, unsparing in intellect. Papîyâhtak includes a number of poems written for actors in The Batoche Musical which was conceived and developed by a theatre and writers’ collective and performed at Back to Batoche Days in Batoche, Saskatchewan. The poem That was a long time ago, and we are here today was inspired by an essay written by South African anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko.
. . .
Gabriel Dumont (1837 – 1906) was a leader of the Métis people in what is now the province of Saskatchewan. It was Dumont who brought the exiled Louis Riel (1844 – 1885) back to Canada to pressure Canadian authorities to recognize the Métis as a Nation. Sharpshooter with a rifle, Dumont was Riel’s chief right-hand man and he led the Métis forces in the North-West Resistance (or Rebellion – as Ottawa-centric history books described it) of 1885.
Louis Riel was one of the towering Hero figures of Canadian history. For more on Riel – and a letter/poem he wrote to Sir John A. Macdonald, his ideological opposite – (along with a letter/poem addressed to Macdonald by contemporary Métis poet Marilyn Dumont) – click the following ZP link for January 11th, 2012:
. . . . .
Cree Elder Harry Blackbird
(born in the 1920s at Waterhen Lake First Nation,
roots in Makwa Sahgaiehcan (Loon Lake) First Nation, Saskatchewan, Canada)
Pêyakwâw êsa mîna ê-nanipât awa pêyak kisîyiniw, kâ-pawâtât onôtokwêma ê-pê-kiyokâkot. nikotwâsik askîy aspin ê-kî-nakataskîyit. êkwa ôma êkwa otahcahkwa kâ- pê-kiyokêyit. mitoni pîkwêyihtam êsa awa kisiyiniw, êkwa ôma ê-kamwâcipayit, ê- simatapit. nohtê-kiskêyihtam ôma, tânêhki kâ-pê-itohtêyit.
Mâci-pîkiskwêyiwa êsa ê-itikot, “ê-pê-itisahot ôma Mâmawi-ohtâwîmâw ta-pê- wihtamâtân kîkway. ana ohci oskinikîs kâ-kî-nakataskît ôta namôya kayâs.
Ispî kâ-takohtêt ôtê ahcahk-askîhk, pê-nakiskâk oskâpêwisa ê-kiskinohtahikot ê- wêhcasiniyik mêskanaw. pêyakwâyak anita, nîswâyak paski-môniyâw ôma mêskanaw nistam anima kihciniskêhk k-êsi-paskêmok mêskanaw, êyako pimitisahamwak. êyako mîna mitoni miywâsin ta-pimitisahamihk. piyisk kêtahtawê k-ôtihtahkik ita ê-ayâwiht tâskôc ê-wâ-wîkihk. sêmâk ôhi wîci-oskâya pêyakwan ê-ispihcisiyit, kâ-pê-nakiskâkot, êkoni ôhi osk-âya mêtoni nanâkatohkâtik.
Kâ-mâci-pîkiskwâtikot ôhi oskâya ê-nêhiyawêyit. mâka namôya nisitohtawêw awa oskinikîs tânisi ê-itwêyit âta wîsta ê-nêhiyawêt. ahpô mîna apihkêw tâskôc mâna ôki nêhiyawak mitoni kâ-pimitisahakik onêhiyâwininiwâw. pîkwêyihtam ê-wanihkêt awa oskinîkîs. âsamîna sipwêhtahik oskâpêwisa kotak êkwa anima mêskanaw ita kâ-kî- ohtohtêcik.
Êyako mîna ôma mêskanaw miywâsin êkwa wêhcasin ta-pimitisahamihk. otihtamwak wâskahikana ita câh-cîki ê-wâh-wîkihk. âsamîna êkota kotaka osk-âya pê- nakiskâk mâka êkwa ôki oskâyak namôya cîki pê-nâtik, wâhyawês ohci osâpamik, ê- pômênâkosicik ê-kanawâpamâcik ôhi oskinîkîsa ê-nêhiyâwinâkosiyit. nanitohtawêw ê- kîmôci-pîkiskwêyit. âtiht piko kîkway kâh-kahcicihtam. êkoni êkwa nisitohtawêw oskâya osâm piko ê-âkayâsîmocik, mâka namôya tâpwê cîkêyimik k-îsi-waskawîyit. mâmisihow, ê-pa-pêyakot ê-nitaw-mâmitonêyihtahk tânêhki êkâ nânitaw kâ-kî-wîcihiwêt.
Âsamîna êkota ohci sipwêhtahik oskâpêwisa awa oskinîkîs, mâka êkwa êkotê nakatik ita kâ-nîso-paskêmoniyiki mêskanawa, otahcahkwa ê-wanisiniyit mîna ê- papâmâcihoyit êkotê nâyiwâc osâm êkâ ê-ohci-kiskinohamâsot mîna êkâ ohci- wawîyêstahk onêhiyâwiwin mêkwâc ôta askîhk ê-pimâtisit.”
“Hâw, kisêyiniw”, itwêw awa nôtokwêw, “otahcahkwa pwâmayî-sipwêhtêt kâwi kiya êkwa piko ta-wihtamawacik, mîna t-âcimostawacik osk-âyak ôma âcimowin k-ôh-pê- itisahokawiyân ta-pê-wihtamâtân.”
“The Cree Way”: a teaching story told by Cree Elder Harry Blackbird
Translation into English by Mary Anne Martell
One day while sleeping, an elderly man was awakened by his deceased wife of six years. She came in spirit form. The elderly man had mixed feelings about this visit but nevertheless managed to remain calm and sat up curious wondering why she had come to visit him.
She began to speak, “Listen very carefully… I have been sent by the Creator to tell you about a boy who passed away recently.
Upon entering the spirit world he was greeted by an Oskapêwis (Helper) who led the young man down an easy road to follow. At a certain point the road forked going in two directions. They first traveled down the road to the right. This road was also easy to follow. After walking for some time they came to a village. A number of young people about the same age as the youth came running towards him. The group of young people stopped to observe the new boy who’d been brought to them by the Oskapêwis.
The young people then began to speak in the language of his ancestry – Nêhiyawêwin (the Cree language). Unfortunately the young man could not make out what they were saying even though he was of the same nation; Nêhiyaw. He even had the two long braids of hair, common trademarks for Nêhiyawak who were following the Nêhiyawin (Cree worldview) way. Confused and feeling lost, the young man was quickly whisked away by the Oskapêwis towards the other road at the fork.
This new road was also easy to follow. They came upon a cluster of houses and another group of young people came towards him. Only this time these youth kept their distance with disappointment written all over their faces upon viewing his Aboriginal features. Listening to their conversation as they whispered among themselves, the young man could only make out a few words. He was able to understand these youth because they spoke English, but they obviously weren’t interested in this new boy by their behaviour. He felt betrayed, alone and wondered why he didn’t fit in.
The Oskapêwis once again whisked him away and this time left the young man at the fork of the road. His spirit is lost and wandering now because while alive he hadn’t learned to find his way.”
“Now, my husband,” the deceased wife’s spirit added just before she vanished, “it is up to you to make certain that young Indian children are told this story I have been sent here to tell you.”
. . . . .
Top photograph: Napéu (Man)_Cree_1926 photograph by Edward Curtis
Middle photograph: Louis Nomee, Kalispel, Montana_photograph by Richard T. Lewis_1940s
Bottom photograph: An Elder congratulates a boy upon his completion of Grade 6 at an Awasis Day event in Edmonton, Alberta_June 2005.
They spoke of the time
beings broke the stillness of water
retreating from the pollution
that rested on the skin of days
kî-mistâpâwêhisocik, they drowned themselves
and the water became still
I went to a place to rest
and lay in the remnants of thunder
I collapsed in ripped and dried hollow earth
a fugitive of spent moments
which had outgrown their divinity
The old ones spoke of how the beings dug into the earth,
to retreat from the pollution on the skin of the earth
the old ones spoke of wîhtikow
who hunted dreamers, under thick, dark, coarse sun
took their prey in
like the wind of trains
draws us to the tracks
and pulls the light from the sky
only cluttered cover, electric neon
makes my steps heavy
pass abandoned house
no longer covered by glass
emptied of people
burned out black hollow
has also known
the fire of wîhtikow
bingo caller gives false hope
circle the wagons of families
cops who drive brothers
to cold places
in the grey, concrete forest
body heavy wooden
black circling round
crow crowned head
claws extended, cutting
wrapped into horizon
feet on hands
abrupt blood pecks
expired fright scarecrow
hands fling free
legs fall hard
extend relaxed hand
away from crows
black crow crying
plaid crumpled and folded
hidden patterns of fabric
clung around his arms
his brown, storied hands
with lines of memory
which marked events
stories, and words
reached for the chewing tobacco
which slid through the
spaces of his mouth
and with the taste of tobacco
through his tongue
which created words
moving through the room
I remember the open windows
and brown, wet roads
cars and trucks
would pull up
and people would fill the windows
with colours and movement
familiar faces and rhythms
I remember the sound of his voice
of his laugh
the eternal song
up through his mouth
and layers of memory
to the photographs
bringing old ones alive
I remember kôkôcîs
words came from him like water
formed from the shallow fog
of the early spring afternoon
the room held his voice
the voice of others
the fold of eternity
were held in
his textured voice
the once called kôkôcîs,
was my living link
to eternity and relatives
* wîhtikow — a being who consumes other beings – greedy, like a vampire
** kôkôcîs — the name of the poet’s great-grandfather
Neal McLeod is Cree (having grown up on the James Smith reserve in Saskatchewan), and Swedish, having had the fortunate opportunity to study abroad at the Swedish Art Academy at Umeå. He has exhibited art work throughout Canada including at the 2005 exhibition au fil de mes jours (in my lifetime) at Le Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec – remounted at the Museum of Civilization in 2007. In addition to being a painter he is also a curator: his latest project was as co-curator of the exhibition James Henderson: The Man who Paints the Old Men which was organized by the Mendel Art Gallery in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.
Neal’s first book of poetry, entitled Songs to Kill a Wîhtikow, was nominated for several Saskatchewan book awards including book of the year in 2005. It was nominated for book of the year at the Anskohk McNally Aboriginal Literature Awards, and won poetry book of the year by unanimous decision of the jurors. In 2007 Neal published Cree Narrative Memory which was also nominated for book of the year at the Anskohk McNally Aboriginal Literature Awards. In the fall of 2008 he published his second book of poetry entitled Gabriel’s Beach.
Neal is currently editing a volume entitled Indigenous Poetics. In addition he is working on the following books: Dreaming Blue Horses – a novel, a collection of humour short stories entitled Neechi Hustle, 100 Days of Cree, a biography of Noel Starblanket, and a book of poetry called Casting Spells of Neechery. He teaches Indigenous Studies at Trent University in Peterborough, Ontario.