Canoe Terminology (y-dialect)

Thanks to Elizabeth Zdunich for permission to use this photo of her daughter, with fellow student Stan Bird on Pike Lake, July 2018.

In July 2018, Kevin Lewis led a group of University of Saskatchewan students for a day of paddling at Pike Lake, Saskatchewan. Most were students in his Education Curriculum class, part of the UofS Indigenous Language Certificate program – but some brought their family along for the fun of it.

Christine Ravenis – who has now completed the certificate program – used the adventure as a chance to teach Cree-language canoeing terminology. When she posted to the nêhiyawêwin Word of the Day FaceBook group for vocabulary, I started taking notes!

Christine and Kevin were kind enough to share their photos. My favourite is the one used here, with thanks to Elizabeth Zdunich for permission to share this gorgeous shot of otânisa in the midst of a water lily field with fellow student Stan Bird.

The canoeing terms that follow (with thanks to Solomon Ratt for SRO/editorial help) here were gathered from:

apihkân crossbarSolomon Ratt
apoy paddle; shovel, spade
asê-apoyêto paddle using oars while sitting facing backwards, Stan Wilson
asêcimêpaddle backwards Stan Wilson
asipêkihtinbe reflected (as an image in the water) Faries
âsokâmêham go across by canoe
âsokâmêpayiw go across by boat or canoe
âsokâmêyâtakâwwade across shallow water, wade across
âsowaham cross s.t. (e.g. a river, cross over; cross s.t. by canoe
âsowakâmêwcross a body of water, ford a stream, cross a river at a shallow ford; cross the ice by foot
astothiwthe wind dies downSolomon Ratt
atâmipêkdeep water
atâmipêkohkin deep water
atâmohtak under the canoe
awasêwêskam go around s.t. by canoe
ayiwâkipêwbe too deep in the water
ayiwâkipêwbe too deep in the water; the water is too deep
cikâstêpêkisinbe reflected in the water
cîmân canoe
cîminaccompany me in the canoe, Stan Wilson
isicimêw paddle thither; go there by water (e.g. in a boat)
iskopêwbe so deep in water, in liquid, stand just so high in water
kapâdisembark Stan Wilson
kapatênam beach s.t. (e.g. a canoe; take s.t. from the water
kapatêsipayihow get out of a canoe quickly
kapatêwêpaham beach s.t. (e.g. canoe with a batting motion, knock s.t. out of the water
kapâtowin portage; a setting ashore
kapâw go ashore, land, come ashore; get out of a canoe or boat
kaskêwêhtahêw cross a portage carrying s.o. on his/her own back
kaskêwêhtatâw cross a portage carrying s.t. on his/her own back
kaskêwêpahtâw run while crossing the portage
kaskêwêtowatêw cross a portage with goods on his/her own back
kaskêwêw cross over a portage, go across land
kihciniskwahtakright side of canoe
kwahkahosoto push the canoe along by using the paddle in shallow water by pushing against the ground (this one is hard to explain), Stan Wilson
kwatapipayiw tip over (e.g. canoe)
kwatapîw tip over (e.g. canoe)
kwêskapoyêswitch paddling strokes (e.g.from left-to right), Stan Wilson
mâham canoe downriver, paddle downstream, row downstream, go downstream (by canoe)
mâhâpokow canoe downstream
mâhâpwêwêw paddle downstream
misi-pâwistikohkmisi-pâwistikohk (Grand Rapids, MB; literally: at the big rapids)
mistiko-cîmanwooden boat Stan Wilson
mitimêyâhtawêw climb on the gunwale
nakatahwêw leave s.o. behind by canoe, boat, car
nâmiwanaham canoe with the wind to his/her rear
nanimaham canoe against the wind
nâpihkwânbig ship Stan Wilson
nataham canoe upstream, paddle upstream
nihtâwicimêw use a boat and paddles well
nîkânihkfrontSolomon Ratt
nimitawaham canoe to the open water; canoe to the prairie, open country
nîpâhow canoe in the dark
nistamokâmto be in front (paddler) of the canoe, Stan Wilson
nitôsim my boat, my canoe
nitôt my boat, my canoe
nôwîwohthere's a leak Stan Wilson
ohcistinit leaks; the canoe is taking in water (via a puncture), Stan Wilson
ohtêpayiwboil (e.g. water), bubble; fizz, foam (e.g. water in falls or rapids)
onikâhp portage
onikêw portage in a canoe; carry s.t. across his/her own shoulder
ôsi boat; canoe
oskotamoyellow pond-lily, water lily; Nuphar Variegatum; also, waskwatamoh,
otâhkback endSolomon Ratt
otapoyihkêw paddle maker
otê isi-wêpahasend it over here; as explained by Vital Corrigal, "You're in the front end of a canoe, telling the one in the rear which direction you want the canoe to go. The one in the rear is the directional controler, whether paddling or using outboard motor." Dolores/Rusty
pâhkwâsinbe shallow, be the bottom of water
pâhkwâwbe dry; be shallow water, be almost dried up
papâmicimêw canoe about, move about on the water by vehicle
papâmiskâw paddle about, canoe about; swim around (e.g. an animal)
pâwistikpâwistik (rapids, waterfall; Brandon, MB
pâwistikociwanpâwistikociwan (flow with rapids)
pâwistikowanpâwistikowan (be a series of rapids)
pêcicimêw paddle hither
pêtahiskwêwêw bring a woman by canoe, bring his wife by canoe
pîhtotakinside of the canoe
pikihkâtâmend the canoe using tree sapMartin Samson Hunter
pimâstimousing a sail, Stan Wilson
pimâstimouse a sail Stan Wilson
pimicimêw canoe along, paddle along; swim (e.g. animal, not human)
pimîhkwângunwaleSolomon Ratt
pimiskâkan paddle, oar, fin
pimiskâw swim by; paddle by in a canoe, boat; paddle, row
pîwitampîwitam (shoot rapids)
pôsiget into the boat, Stan Wilson
pôskohtin get a hole through it (e.g. a canoe; burst (as a tire), burst from wearing out)
sîkahâhtamsplash or pours water on s.t.
sîkahâhtâsowsplash or pours water on him/herself; be baptized
sîkahâhtawêwsprinkle s.o., splash s.o., pour water onto s.o.; baptize s.o.
sipwêcimêw leave by boat, canoe away, paddle away
tahkwahapaddle from the rearSolomon Ratt
tâwâyihkin the middleSolomon Ratt
tâwihtak in the center of the boards or floor; center of a canoe or boat
timîwbe deep water, be very deep (e.g. water) e.g. water
tômikanostinwater is as smooth as pimiy Stan Wilson
wâkinâw canoe rib
wâkinâwakcanoe ribsSolomon Ratt
wânwâstikwêham go round a bend in canoe, canoe around a bend
wapâciwanâhkwapâciwanâhk (Patuanak, SK; Dene community; literally: at the narrow rapids, from wapâciwanâw, 'the rapids are narrow.'Kevin Lewis
waskatimiwpond lily, yellow water lily
waskwatamohpond lily, yellow water lily; water lily rootKevin Lewis
waskway-cîmanbirch bark canoe Stan Wilson
waskway-ôsi birch bark canoe
wâwikan"backone" Solomon Ratt


About Arden Ogg

Arden Ogg is Director of the Cree Literacy Network, launched in 2010 with the goal of creating Cree language literacy materials suitable for use by learners of all ages.
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