Neon Cree in Winnipeg: Joi T. Arcand

Joi Arcand’s Cree language installations in the form of business signage are not new (you can read more about an earlier one here), but her current work, showcased in the “Insurgence/Resurgence” installation currently on display at the at the Winnipeg Art Gallery comes with a great line:

‘The language wasn’t lost — it was taken. And we’re here to take it back.’

While I’m enjoying the coverage, I’m intrigued that there is no indication at all (in the written version of the story) of what the syllabics actually say. As Joi explains in the video, she hopes to challenge people to learn a bit for themselves.

View the video here:

In SRO transliteration, her neon sign reads ninohtê nêhiyawan: “I want to speak Cree”. I’m looking forward to struggling to decode all of the text on the Winnipeg Art Gallery’s enormous Tyndall stone staircase.


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Public Art in Saskatoon: sîpiy mîna kîsik

This new work in neon is the creation of Cree artists Joseph Naytowhow, Kenneth T. Williams and lead artist Tony Stallard. It presents the words sîpiy mîna kîsik, meaning river and sky, in syllabics. It is scheduled to be displayed for the next three years, but there is a chance it could become a permanent installation.

Read the whole story from this link at MBC radio:


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Billy Joe Laboucan: Cooperation Bush-style

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Thanks to Billy Joe Laboucan for letting me share this great little story. Mary Cardinal Collins calls it a great example of “mâmawohkamâtow sakâwiyiniw style” (cooperation, bush-(people)-style). And it would make a great story for kids. (Now, if he’d only record himself telling it again in Cree!)

One time when we traveling along in our wagon and a team of horses. The wagon was loaded down with us kids sitting on blankets in the back and mom and dad on the front seat, and dogs were tied behind with a couple of dogs running loose. They were dad’s hunters, a header and heeler.
Dad always had his 30-30 close at hand, leaning to his left on the corner of the wagon box; and luckily too, cuz’ a mule deer doe ran right across the wagon road in front of the horses. He handed the lines to my mom, picked up the rifle and fired clipping the left front leg of that running deer all in one motion. Then, the dogs were off chasing it into the bush to our left with my dad right behind them in hot pursuit.
My mom held the horses til they settled down. And in the quiet, we could hear the dogs barking and my dad shouting to them. Then we could hear them turn to the right in a large circle, and suddenly, the deer came running towards us with its front leg dangling as the hunting dogs nipped its heels. In a flash, my mom jumped off the wagon and grabbed its head and flipped it down, crimping its neck. I grabbed the reins just in case the horses moved in the commotion.
She shouted up to us on the wagon, “pītā mōhkomān!” (bring the knife!) Both my sisters were rummaging as quickly as they could in the grub box for my mom’s butcher knife, then my older sister, Cheechit jumped off the wagon with it and handed it to her as my mom struggled with the kicking deer, then she slit its throat, quickly killing it.
Right then, my dad came running out of the bush and yelled at the dogs, “kīyām’pik!” (Quiet!) Then finally, it grew quiet …
Then we all started laughing!
And my dad praised the two hunting dogs for bringing the deer right back to the wagon….
As he looked at my mom, who had already started skinning the deer, … we laughed even more.

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A rant in favour of Standard Spelling Systems – but not for the purpose you think (Arok Wolvengrey)

Arok Wolvengrey, Jean Okimâsis and Simon Bird at Saskatoon’s Dr Freda Ahenakew Library, February 2017




Thanks to Arok for letting me share his recent Facebook rant about the relationship between writing, sound and meaning. Arok writes:

The best tools for learning spoken language (besides face-to-face interaction) involve video and/or audio files so people can actually hear the language. Spoken language equates sound with meaning. That is what people need to learn when speaking a language – the equation of sound and meaning. Anything else (such as writing) can be a distraction. Similarly, sign languages equate visual hand shapes and gestures with meaning. Trying to spell words out in sign language is a “long-cut” which is far less effective than using the meaningful gestures/signs themselves. The same can be said for written languages.

The problem with a writing system that tries to equate symbols to sound before getting to meaning is that it is distracting and takes the long way around. If it is only a tool for sound, it can never be standardized because people (speaking many variable dialects, all of which must be respected) will continue to sound things out every time they see a word (especially when that word is written differently every time anyone writes it), and will never develop actual literacy in the language because no single form will ever come to be recognized for the meaning it represents, only an approximation of sound. The best way to teach sound is with sound, not silent symbols on a page.

In order to help with literacy on the other hand, the best writing system equates complex symbols (consistent spelling of words) with meaning and has far less to do with sound. So when fluent speakers see a word spelled, they should know what it means instantly (and already know how it sounds in their dialect) without having to sound it out. Fluent English readers know what “knee” means without bothering to think about how the ‘k’ sound contributes to the pronunciation of the word only to discover it doesn’t contribute at all and then have to reject it every time. Fluent English readers know what ‘tomato’ means (whether they pronounce it [toMAYto] or [toMAHto], etc.) and don’t need to sound it out every time (or argue about the spelling when we do pronounce it differently). The one spelling works no matter the pronunciation. That’s why the English spelling system (rather than the English symbols) is so powerful – because everyone agrees on that link between spelling and meaning.

In essence, what I am saying is that spelling shouldn’t be used to teach sounds because if it is, then it can’t do the work that spelling is good for. Sounds should be used to teach sounds and these should be learned before spelling. In turn, sign language gestures and consistent written spelling should be used to teach communication in the ways they were designed for. With all the tools at our disposal now, we should be teaching sound with sound, leaving the (consistent) spelling in the background until such time that learners know enough of the spoken language that they can just learn spelling as the secondary means of communication that it is meant to be.

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2018: niskipîsim / ᓂᐢᑭᐲᓯᒼ / March

Thanks to Solomon Ratt for allowing the Cree Literacy Network to share his 2018 calendar, complete with his own original illustrations. Following his request, we will post one image at the beginning of each month. For those who like to plan a little further in advance, a link to a complete pdf is included here:
Y- and Th-Dialect Version: 2018Calendar

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Let’s Speak Cree Together – mâmawi-nêhiyawêmototân 

A great opportunity for Regina residents – and for anyone who can view online streaming via Regina Public Library Facebook page.

What: Cree Language Instruction
When: Thursdays, February 22 – May 10, 2018
Total # of classes: 12 sessions (Weekly classes)
Time: 6:30 – 8:00 pm
Where: mâmawêyatitân centre – Multipurpose Room
Live Streaming on Social Media through the Regina Public Library 
Free to public.
All ages welcome.
No registration required.

For more information, email:
Nick Crighton
Wendy Sinclair

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Maskosis Goes to School – New Cree App available online

Thanks to Ramona Washburn for sharing purchase details of this new app from Samson Cree Nation, and congratulations to everyone there who helped with its creation. I can’t wait to try it out!

“Maskosis Goes To School” Cree App by Samson Cree Nation is available for download: a real bargain at $10.00 from:

Maskosis Goes to School by Samson Cree Nation

Take a look at “Maskosis Goes to School”

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Tyrone Tootoosis, Sr. In Memoriam

mahti ka-wî-miyo-pimohtêhow ta-atamiskâkot kahkiyaw kâ-sawêyimikot otâniskôhâkana.

May he journey well and be welcomed with love by the ancestors.*

It’s hard to believe a year has now elapsed since the passing of this passionate and courageous keeper of Cree language and culture. Tyrone Tootoosis, Sr. left us on February 12th, 2017. As his friends and family prepare to feast his memory, we are grateful to acknowledge some of the vast legacy that Tyrone left for us.

Marius Paul, who attended university with Tyrone, passed on to us a Youtube Video that Tyrone created in 2012. The video consists of a collection of archival photos from Tyrone’s personal collection, and a dramatic narration in Cree, all labelled “Poundmaker”.

Although we at the Cree Literacy Network don’t know the precise details that surrounded the creation of this video, several members of our network have worked together to transcribe Tyrone’s words in SRO, and translate them into English. They are presented here along with the video for the benefit of those who would like to hear Tyrone’s voice and read along. A syllabic transliteration of the text also follows, along with a section from Norma Sluman’s 1967 dramatized Poundmaker biography.

We hope through this gesture to pay tribute to Tyrone’s importance as a cultural educator and language keeper. We also hope to help further share Tyrone’s  tribute to his direct ancestor, pîhtokahânapiwiyin (Poundmaker), who was the brother of Tyrone’s own Great-great-grandfather, Yellow Mudblanket. Finally, we also hope to create yet another small tool to support literacy in the Cree language and culture that Tyrone valued as highly as we do.

pêyakwan kiyawâw kâ-kîsi-nôtinikêyêk ôta waciy ispîhk kâ-mâyahkamikahk. mâka kîhtwâm piko âsay mîna ka-nôtinikêyêk, ka-sôhki-nôtinikêyêk, ka-nôtinisoyêk, ôma, mastaw mâmitonêyihcikan; êkâya, êkâya tapahtêyimisoyêk. It’s the same for you all, when you were finished fighting here at the hill [Cutknife] during the Resistance. But already once again you have to fight, you’ll have to fight hard, you’ll have to fight with yourselves, [because of] this new way of thinking: Don’t, don’t think little of yourselves.
môy âyis misawâc êwako tâpwêwin. âta êtikwê, âta misawâc ka-wêhcasin sôskwâc êkâ nânitaw kê-tôtamihk, isko mwâc aya, êkây ka-naskwâhk.Because this at any rate is not the truth. Although I guess, it will be easy just to not do anything, to keep the peace and not retaliate.
k-êtwêhk, “niya, ay-isi-pêyakoyân, namôya nânitaw nika-kî-itôtên.” êkosi kâ-isi-mâmitonêyihtahkik ayisiyiniwak, êkwa kâ-isi-waskawîcik, koskostâtikwan.It is said: “Me, I’m all by myself, I cannot do anything.” That’s how the people think, and how they spend their lives, in fear.
kikiskêyihtênânaw anima âcimowin: ana nâpêw ê-kisâtapit sisonê mêskanâhk osâm kinwês. kî-ohpikiniyiw. namôya kîhtwâm kî-miskamow mêskanaw. namôya wîhkâc ka-kî-wanikiskisinânaw tânisi ôta ê-pê-ispayik. mâka, namôya mîna kika-kî-wâyinînânaw. namôya mîna pimicâyihk mêskanâhk ka-kî-ay-apinânaw.We know that story: that man who stays sitting by the trail too long. It becomes overgrown. One can no longer find the trail. We can never forget how it came to pass here. But, we can also not go back. Nor can we sit beside the trail.
kipakitinikowisininaw, kinêhiyaw-pimâtisiwininaw kiskinohtêmakan. mâka namôya ka-kî-sâsakitapiyahk, kwayaskâpawistamahk. namôya mîna ka-kî-môniyâhkâsoyahk.Our gift, our Cree life, is a guide. We cannot just sit back, we must stand up. Neither can we act like Whitemen.
kimâwimoscikêwininaw kêyâpic miywâsin. âtayôhkanak kêyâpic kiwîcihikonawak. nimistêyihtên, nikiskêyihtên. ninêhiyawi-pakitinikowisiwiwin, anohc kêyâpic nisâkihtân, nitayisiyiniw-nêhiyâwiwin, nêhiyaw.Our ceremonies remain good. The spirits still help us. I respect that, I know that. My Cree gift, I still love that today. My being a Cree person. Nêhiyaw.
namôya nânitaw. namôya nânitaw. namôya nânitaw nikî-itôtên.Not anything. Not anything. I didn't do anything.
namôya wîhkâc ka-kî-wanikiskisinânaw tânisi ôta ê-pê-ispayik, namôya nânitaw. êkosi kâ-isi-mâmitonêyihtahkik ayisiyiniwak.We can never forget how it came to pass here, not ever. That’s how the people think.
namôya mîna kika-kî-wâyinînânaw. namôya mîna kika-kî-wâyinînânaw. namôya mîna kika-kî-wâyinînânaw.Nor can we go back. Nor can we go back. Nor can we go back.
êkosi kâ-isi-mâmitonêyihtahkik, êkos-~, êkos-~, êkosi kâ-isi-mâmitonêyihtahkik.That’s how they think, that ~, that ~, that’s how they think.
ᐯᔭᑿᐣ ᑭᔭᐚᐤ ᑳ ᑮᓯ ᓅᑎᓂᑫᔦᐠ ᐆᑕ ᐘᒋᕀ ᐃᐢᐲᕽ ᑳ ᒫᔭᐦᑲᒥᑲᕽ᙮ ᒫᑲ ᑮᐦᑤᒼ ᐱᑯ ᐋᓴᕀ ᒦᓇ ᑲ ᓅᑎᓂᑫᔦᐠ, ᑲ ᓲᐦᑭ ᓅᑎᓂᑫᔦᐠ, ᑲ ᓅᑎᓂᓱᔦᐠ, ᐆᒪ, ᒪᐢᑕᐤ ᒫᒥᑐᓀᔨᐦᒋᑲᐣ ᐁᑳᔭ, ᐁᑳᔭ ᑕᐸᐦᑌᔨᒥᓱᔦᐠ᙮
ᒨᕀ ᐋᔨᐢ ᒥᓴᐚᐨ ᐁᐘᑯ ᑖᐻᐏᐣ᙮ ᐋᑕ ᐁᑎᑵ, ᐋᑕ ᒥᓴᐚᐨ ᑲ ᐍᐦᒐᓯᐣ ᓲᐢᒁᐨ ᐁᑳ ᓈᓂᑕᐤ ᑫ ᑑᑕᒥᕽ, ᐃᐢᑯ ᒹᐨ ᐊᔭ ᐁᑳᕀ ᑲ ᓇᐢᒁᕽ᙮
ᑫᑘᕽ, “ᓂᔭ, ᐊᕀ ᐃᓯ ᐯᔭᑯᔮᐣ, ᓇᒨᔭ ᓈᓂᑕᐤ ᓂᑲ ᑮ ᐃᑑᑌᐣ᙮” ᐁᑯᓯ ᑳ ᐃᓯ ᒫᒥᑐᓀᔨᐦᑕᐦᑭᐠ ᐊᔨᓯᔨᓂᐘᐠ, ᐁᑿ ᑳ ᐃᓯ ᐘᐢᑲᐑᒋᐠ, ᑯᐢᑯᐢᑖᑎᑿᐣ᙮
ᑭᑭᐢᑫᔨᐦᑌᓈᓇᐤ ᐊᓂᒪ ᐋᒋᒧᐏᐣ : ᐊᓇ ᓈᐯᐤ ᐁ ᑭᓵᑕᐱᐟ ᓯᓱᓀ ᒣᐢᑲᓈᕽ ᐅᓵᒼ ᑭᓊᐢ᙮ ᑮ ᐅᐦᐱᑭᓂᔨᐤ᙮ ᓇᒨᔭ ᑮᐦᑤᒼ ᑮ ᒥᐢᑲᒧᐤ ᒣᐢᑲᓇᐤ᙮ ᓇᒨᔭ ᐑᐦᑳᐨ ᑲ ᑮ ᐘᓂᑭᐢᑭᓯᓈᓇᐤ ᑖᓂᓯ ᐆᑕ ᐁ ᐯ ᐃᐢᐸᔨᐠ᙮ ᒫᑲ, ᓇᒨᔭ ᒦᓇ ᑭᑲ ᑮ ᐚᔨᓃᓈᓇᐤ᙮ ᓇᒨᔭ ᒦᓇ ᐱᒥᒑᔨᕽ ᒣᐢᑲᓈᕽ ᑲ ᑮ ᐊᕀ ᐊᐱᓈᓇᐤ᙮
ᑭᐸᑭᑎᓂᑯᐏᓯᓂᓇᐤ, ᑭᓀᐦᐃᔭᐤ ᐱᒫᑎᓯᐏᓂᓇᐤ ᑭᐢᑭᓄᐦᑌᒪᑲᐣ᙮ ᒫᑲ ᓇᒨᔭ ᑲ ᑮ ᓵᓴᑭᑕᐱᔭᕽ, ᑿᔭᐢᑳᐸᐏᐢᑕᒪᕽ᙮ ᓇᒨᔭ ᒦᓇ ᑲ ᑮ ᒨᓂᔮᐦᑳᓱᔭᕽ᙮
ᑭᒫᐏᒧᐢᒋᑫᐏᓂᓇᐤ ᑫᔮᐱᐨ ᒥᔼᓯᐣ᙮ ᐋᑕᔫᐦᑲᓇᐠ ᑫᔮᐱᐨ ᑭᐑᒋᐦᐃᑯᓇᐘᐠ᙮ ᓂᒥᐢᑌᔨᐦᑌᐣ, ᓂᑭᐢᑫᔨᐦᑌᐣ᙮ ᓂᓀᐦᐃᔭᐏ ᐸᑭᑎᓂᑯᐏᓯᐏᐏᐣ, ᐊᓄᐦᐨ ᑫᔮᐱᐨ ᓂᓵᑭᐦᑖᐣ, ᓂᑕᔨᓯᔨᓂᐤ ᓀᐦᐃᔮᐏᐏᐣ, ᓀᐦᐃᔭᐤ᙮
ᓇᒨᔭ ᓈᓂᑕᐤ᙮ ᓇᒨᔭ ᓈᓂᑕᐤ᙮ ᓇᒨᔭ ᓈᓂᑕᐤ ᓂᑮ ᐃᑑᑌᐣ᙮
ᓇᒨᔭ ᐑᐦᑳᐨ ᑲ ᑮ ᐘᓂᑭᐢᑭᓯᓈᓇᐤ ᑖᓂᓯ ᐆᑕ ᐁ ᐯ ᐃᐢᐸᔨᐠ, ᓇᒨᔭ ᓈᓂᑕᐤ᙮ ᐁᑯᓯ ᑳ ᐃᓯ ᒫᒥᑐᓀᔨᐦᑕᐦᑭᐠ ᐊᔨᓯᔨᓂᐘᐠ᙮
ᓇᒨᔭ ᒦᓇ ᑭᑲ ᑮ ᐚᔨᓃᓈᓇᐤ᙮ ᓇᒨᔭ ᒦᓇ ᑭᑲ ᑮ ᐚᔨᓃᓈᓇᐤ᙮ ᓇᒨᔭ ᒦᓇ ᑭᑲ ᑮ ᐚᔨᓃᓈᓇᐤ᙮
ᐁᑯᓯ ᑳ ᐃᓯ ᒫᒥᑐᓀᔨᐦᑕᐦᑭᐠ, ᐁᑯᐢ~, ᐁᑯᐢ~, ᐁᑯᓯ ᑳ ᐃᓯ ᒫᒥᑐᓀᔨᐦᑕᐦᑭᐠ᙮

Reviewing the English translation, one member of the CLN observed that the text had an striking resemblance to the phrases often quoted – in English – as the final words of Poundmaker. The source of those words was identified as Norma Sluman’s 1967 biography, which she herself calls a dramatization. While we can’t know what Poundmaker actually said word-for-word in Cree, we do know that, like Norma Sluman, Tyrone had access to oral history about Poundmaker from John B. Tootoosis and all the greatest living authorities. Tyrone would have read the Sluman biography, but would also have heard the story again and again – in Cree – directly from the elders of his home reserve. These versions of the story would certainly have shaped the words he spoke in Cree while portraying Poundmaker in the 1998 television mini-series Big Bear – and perhaps this is the real purpose for which he prepared this audio/video presentation.

From Norma Sluman (1967) Poundmaker. Toronto: Ryerson Press, pages 295-296 (emphasis added to show words attributed to Poundmaker):

“I have been called many bad things since that day with General Middleton, but it was the white men who said such things, not my own people and that is all that has mattered to me. They put chains on me and shut me away, but they did not cut my hair or keep me very long because I think they know in their hearts that I had done nothing wrong. I was sick at heart when I came home for I could see that it all must begin again. The long, long fight for a better life for us in this land that once was ours.”

No one moved or made a sound. Poundmaker was quiet for a while. The people were in the shade and he was standing in the hot sunlight. For a moment he had a strange feeling that he was all alone, then Crowfoot moved a little so he could see them all again. It must be the heat making him so tired. “It would be so much easier just to fold our hands and not make this fight, to say, ‘I, one man, can do nothing.’ I grow afraid only when I see people acting and thinking like this. We all know the old story about the man who sat beside the trail too long, and then it grew over and he could never find his way again. We can never forget what has happened but we cannot go back. Nor can we just sit beside the trail.” 

He stopped speaking again. Sweat was beading his face and body. He looked again at the place where Crowfood sat but once again the sun was dazzling his eyes. He willed himself to go on. “Before the trouble came to our country I worked very hard to unite the Crees, but I know now that what I did was not enough. I know now that Blackfoot, Cree, Sarcee or Sioux – this does not matter any more. We must all become one people. Until we do that, putting aside old animosities, old jealousies, old rivalries, we will only help to subjugate ourselves. We will –”

He paused, trying to draw a deep breath and found that he could not. He could not go on, it was no use. He had to rest, to try to ease a hard pain that suddenly seemed to be exploding in his chest. Again he struggled for a breath but the pain was choking him and then somehow the earth moved and lurched hard against him and he struggled fiercely against it. the grass had closed over him and he felt it in his hands, that grass, so strong and green and good for the horses and buffalo to graze upon.

Update: CBC news report from Tyrone’s funeral, 16 February 2017.

*With thanks to Arok Wolvengrey for helping me put this beautiful thought from Candyce Paul into the Cree words he and his ancestors deserve. Thanks also to Arok Wolvengrey, Jean Okimâsis, Solomon Ratt, Ben Godden and Dorothy Thunder for persisting through the sadness of this loss to assist with transcription and translation.

Posted in In Memoriam, Video | 3 Comments

2018: mikisiwipîsim / ᒥᑭᓯᐏᐲᓯᒼ / February

Thanks to Solomon Ratt for allowing the Cree Literacy Network to share his 2017 calendar, complete with his own original illustrations. Following his request, we will post one image at the beginning of each month. For those who like to plan a little further in advance, a link to the complete pdf is included here:
Y- and Th-Dialect Version: 2018Calendar

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Super Blue Blood Moon – Vocabulary





  • kotâwîwi-pîsim / ᑯᑖᐑᐏᐲᓯᒼ (eclipse; literally: sun sinking under ground)
  • wanitipiskipayiw / ᐘᓂᑎᐱᐢᑭᐸᔨᐤ (darken, suddenly get dark, be an eclipse)
  • mētoni kihcinêkan-pisîm / ᒣᑐᓂ ᑭᐦᒋᓀᑲᐣ ᑎᐱᐢᑳᐃᐧᐲᓯᒼ (super moon)
  • sîpihko-pisîm / ᓰᐱᐦᑯ ᑎᐱᐢᑳᐃᐧᐲᓯᒼ (blue moon)
  • mihko-pisîm / ᒥᐦᑯ ᑎᐱᐢᑳᐃᐧᐲᓯᒼ (blood moon)


And here’s a link to NASA, so you can follow the science as well!

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