Tommy Bird, kitakahkahpicikân! (You have a good team!)
January is prime dog racing season, and this amazing video is the closest I may ever come to travelling by dog team. They sure make it look exciting. Thanks to Simon Bird for sharing these videos of his father Tommy Bird’s team. And thanks to Tommy for his permission too. Those are some beautiful dogs! Continue reading →
Elder A.J. Felix of Sturgeon Lake, Saskatchewan. Still image from Darryl Chamakese’s September 2018 video.
Sharing the thoughts of Elders in their own words is always an honour, particularly when they speak about our collective relationship with nêhiyawêwin. Thanks to Darryl Chamakese for permission to share his video interview with his mentor Elder A.J. Felix of Sturgeon Lake, Saskatchewan, and for letting us share his thoughtful interpretation into English. Thanks also to Neil Redcrow who took on the task of transcribing the Cree in SRO and letting us share his work as well. I suspect our Elder would be proud of their collaboration.
wherever it may be their language to be brought back home to them because the spiritual helpers will help us in giving back our youth the things that we want and hope for them (the language/culture)
Darryl Chamakese made a few comments about how he shaped the free translation into English that he initially posted it in September 2018:
My friend and one of many mentors, A.J. Felix Sturgeon Lake, Sk. nēhiyaw Plains Cree. An incredible message to all. I have attempted to the best of my ability to bring out in English the powerful nēhiyaw words that he speaks with power and truth. I will never capture the true essence. I avoid using words like prayer, worship, and even ceremony because these words formulate in minds a foreign meaning and thought. I try to keep it in its nēhiyaw (Plains Cree) form. Because, if I write in proper English grammar that too will steal from its meaning.
“I am called A.J. Felix, this is who I am called. This day we are in a poor state in regards to our language, but I do not blame the New Beings (young) that do not speak their language. For it was purposely acted on that we would lose our languages, our nēhiyaw identity, and even our way of crying out (to the Creator, Spirits, Grandfather Spirits, Grandmother Spirits ) So, our language was acted on to be lost.
It wasn’t that long ago that even our parents were sent to schools, there they were forbidden to speak nēhiyawēwin (Plains Cree). They were purposely made to lose their way and there was even an attempt to change their way of crying out (to the Creator, Spirits, Grandfather Spirits ,Grandmother Spirits).
And today as we are in this poor state, the New Beings (young) do not speak nēhiyawēwin (Plains Cree), they do not know their language.
And our Old beings(Elders) said in the past, “ Our language was given to us by the Creator, the Creator gave it to us for protection and strength, to help us raise our children, to help us have good relations, and to help us cry out (to the Creator, Spirits, Grandfather Spirits Grandmother Spirits).
This is what the Creator gave to us and this is what was attempted to take away from us. With no consideration it was acted on that we should just lose it. This is what was determined upon us. And now this day we cry in spiritual pain. Our ways of raising properly our young, our ways of telling our New Beings (Young) what is right and what is wrong, and our ways of crying out (to the Creator, Spirits, Grandfather Spirits Grandmother Spirits), we cannot pass on to our New Beings (young).
However, we must forge ahead strongly, we cannot give up, we have to keep encouraging our New Beings (young).
I feel empty and I feel a longing, when I go into the lodges where we go to cry out (to the Creator, Spirits, Grandfather Spirits, Grandmother Spirits). There, the New Beings (young) sit and they do not fully comprehend the definite purpose and the truths being told.
But we must keep encouraging strongly and helping our New Beings (young) to keep entering and partaking (lodges) and to sit with us. And to keep learning the ways of the oskāpēwis (Elders Helper and apprentice).
In time again, their language will come home to them because the ones we cry out to will help us. So that again, the New Beings (young) will regain what we hope that they will have.”
I have no middle name because the lay-preacher (the husband of the mid-wife who delivered me…his name was Solomon. I was named after him) ‘baptized’ me at the trapline saying “Solomon ‘ikwâni-poko’ Ratt.” When it was time for me to get baptized for real, in the church at Stanley, the minister refused to add another name since I was already ‘marked’ as just Solomon. ‘ikwâni-poko’ means ‘that is all.’
In all of our work, Cree Literacy Network members share a sense of obligation to develop reading material that is written consistently. Because the language is sacred, we always try to write with care. Careless spelling cheats kids (and older readers, too). It traps them in sound-by-sound decoding that prevents them from developing stronger comprehension. Predictable spelling (in Cree, as in English, as in French, as in Ojibwe) empowers readers with a solid foundation that they can carry into every other aspect of education. Kids deserve nothing less.
Translating some phrases from English into Cree can have unexpected results, especially idioms. What makes English idioms so dangerous to translate? By definition, idioms are phrases that come to mean something different than the words do on their own. In other words, English idioms are phases that don’t even mean what they look like they mean in English!
Most languages have idioms of some kind: phrases that come to have an extra layer of meaning because of how they’re used from day to day. But translators always need to handle them with care, remembering that the extra layer of meaning doesn’t necessarily carry over.
This is one of the unmarked hazards of looking up words in the dictionary one at a time and stringing them together (without checking that they mean what you think they mean). As usual, Solomon Ratt has some good advice. In this case, it’s a warning sign that says mahti êkâwiya : Please don’t!
Here are a few English idioms that just don’t make the leap to Cree – In this case, just for fun, we’re including audio so you can laugh, but mahti êkâwiya! Please don’t use them in real conversation!
Hang loose (as an idiom) usually means “relax” – though the English words on their own might refer to some object that is dangling just like panahk-akocini in Cree,
Chill (as an idiom) also usually means “relax” – though the English word on its own means to make something cold. In Cree, tahkaci is a command to get a cold, or to get sick from being cold. Not very relaxing – and it doesn’t even make sense to command someone to do this!
Let’s get lit (as an idiom) it usually means “let’s get intoxicated” – though the English words on their own suggest setting something on fire, pretty much like saskahosotân does in Cree.
“Let’s hang out” (as an idiom) usually means we want to keep company with someone. The English words on their own remind us of hanging out the laundry or a dog in a car window. This one is especially dangerous in Cree, where wathawî-akocinitân actually means ‘Let’s let our penises hang out of our pants.’
Enjoy a laugh at these
Here are a few more common English idioms that just sound silly in Cree because they are so literal. Bur remember: mahti êkâwiya : Please don’t. Please don’t use them in real life: Sol has provided audio just for fun.
Hit the books – pakamaha masinahikana!
Hit the sack – pakamaha maskimot!
(he gets) Stabbed in the back – ospiskwanihk ê-tahkamiht
Have a seat – ayâ apiwin!
Twist your arm – pîmina kispiton!
Lose your touch – wanihtâ kisâminikan.
Pitch in – cîstawskosîwahikî (pitch hay)
A walk in the park – î-pimohtâniwik pârkihk
A piece of cake – pahki wîhkihkasikan
Go cold turkey – itohtî kâ-kawcit misihthîw
Small potatoes – apisâsinwa napatâkwa or napatākosa
Bigger fish to fry – nawac misikitiwak kinosîwak kita-sâsâpiskisohcik
Water under the bridge – nipiy sîpâ âsokanihk
Rock star – asiniy acâhkos
I get it – ninâtîn!
Idioms evolve through how the words are used (in any language)
Of course, Cree speakers are also highly creative: they also create idioms in Cree that might have different meanings in different dialects, or communities. Remember the laughs about Kraft Mayochup? In literal Cree, it sounds like it’s made up of two parts:
In many western Cree communities, it still just means something literal, like “shitty eye.” (At least, it did until the story about the funny translation began to spread). It became an idiom around Moose Factory and Attawapiskat, by taking a literal translation three steps farther:
First, they sometimes extend the use the -câp part (which literally means “eye”) to mean “face” (according to Kepin Brousseau). Consider the difference in English “looking him right in the eye” and “looking him right in the face.” They both mean about the same thing (because they’re idioms).
Their second step borrowed the English idiom “shitfaced” (meaning extremely drunk), and translates it into Cree (using that extended meaning of -câp for “face”). Which is exactly what this post is warning you to be careful about! Kepin Brousseau says in SRO, the expression would be written meyiwicâp – but it sounds just like Mayochup.
Step three solidified its idiom status: speakers who began to use it (probably jokingly) began to use it again and again (as a metaphor for drunk). Eight months after that news story unleashed all that laughter, the idiomatic meaning is recognized throughout much of Cree country.
(Following is audio for the title we’ve given this post, “ita kiskîthihtamowin kâ-ohtinamahk”:)
The highly regarded Anishinaabe poet Basil H. Johnston is the source of the English quote translated here. This meme is more sophisticated than many we post here, but there’s a reason for that. As much as we love encouraging beginners, we also hope that students and speakers of all levels will find challenges that lead them to become more sophisticated in their own reading, speaking and understanding.
Sol prepared this translation to challenge the students in his “Cree Literature in Translation” (INDL 241) class at First Nations University, but we’re pleased to share it as a reminder of the depth of traditional knowledge embedded in legends, stories and songs that exists beyond individual words.
The text follows below (in SRO and in syllabics) so users can work through it using the itwêwina online lookup tool (still under development at the University of Alberta’s AltLab) that is embedded in this site. Click on the ᓀ symbol at the left margin of this page to learn more; use Alt-click (or Option-click on Mac) to look up each word in turn.
As this International Year of Indigenous Languages (IYIL) comes to a close, I’m seizing these last minutes to report about my quest to honour the year: my search for the syllabic newsletters of the Reverend Canon Edward Ahenakew. Ahenakew, who was sometimes described as the Martin Luther King of the Cree, published monthly syllabic newsletters between 1925 and 1961. In English, the newsletter was titled the Cree Monthly Guide. In Cree, its title reads: ᓀᐦᐃᔭᐤ ᐅᑭᐢᑭᓄᐦᑕᐦᐃᑯᐏᐣ (transliterated into roman characters; nêhiyaw okiskinohtahikowin). Continue reading →
This original image of snow geese in flight brings comfort, warmth, and peace. It’s a gift to the Cree Literacy Network from Governor General’s Award-winning illustrator (and literacy advocate) Julie Flett that we are proud and grateful to share. We hope it spreads our Christmas wishes for peace and warmth to everyone who visits here.
To make the word dialect-neutral, Julie uses an acute accent on the second Y (ý) to show that this sound changes in different dialects (this system is used in the print version of the Wolvengrey dictionary). Here is the same word in four different forms: