Barry Ahenakew on Governance, NCCIE

With our focus on reading and writing in Cree, we usually avoid sharing audio and video without a corresponding transcript. But this YouTube video from The National Centre for Collaboration in Indigenous Education is exceptional in content and in presentation.

The subject of the interview, dated April 23, 2020, is Ahtahkakoop First Nation Elder and story keeper Barry Ahenakew, who says miywâsin ta-nitohtahkik ayisiyiniwak : “It’s good for people to listen”. We share it here with permission from NCCIE and from Barry. We also accompany it with a downloadable PDF translation/transcript, prepared by Solomon Ratt, that was used for closed-captioning.

The production work that went into this hour-long interview is nothing short of astounding. At a fairly modest ratio of 4:1, the translation transcript would have taken at least 4 hours. I can’t imagine how many hours this took in all, factoring in the phrase-by-phrase synchronization that inserted closed captions into the video.

The time commitment speaks to the value of the content: an extraordinarily rare uninterrupted hour of highly fluent Cree language and cultural understanding. The language modelling is invaluable; so is the content may be even more so.

As a first time visitor to the NCCIE collection, I’m eager to see what I might find next! (Thank you for permission to Dr. Jennifer S. Dockstator, National Project Director, NCCIE).

The thirteen pages of this transcript are too long to include here in whole, but you’re welcome to download the PDF of Solomon Ratt’s translation (with thanks again to NCCIE for permission to share).

Posted in Our Elders Speak | Leave a comment

Good wishes for Maria Campbell

kimamihcihinân ê-nisitawêyimikawiyan kitatoskêwin ohci. kinanâskomitinân kâ-pê-sâh-sîhkimacik oskâyak ta-masinahikêcik. 

You make us proud in being recognized for your work. We thank you for encouraging young people to write.

[Photo credit: Ted Whitecalf]

Thanks to Solomon Ratt for helping to express our appreciation in Cree as Maria Campbell is acknowledged with the Saskatchewan Arts Lifetime Achievement Award. Read more about this well deserved recognition: Saskatchewan Arts


Posted in Audio (y-dialect), Identity | Leave a comment

Avalanche! Sol Hikes to Bourgeau Lake (y-dialect)

For the final question on his Cree 202 exam, Sol asked his students to either translate his text about a hike to Bourgeau Lake in Banff National Park, or to answer questions. The exam included a word list for students to work with. Sol reports that his students did great – and once the exam was over, he prepared the text as a PowerPoint video with photos (that he couldn’t include on the test), and now we get to share it too, reading along with him. (The PowerPoint video includes Sol’s own English translation.)

Text: Avalanche!

 pēyakwāw, nīpinohk, ē-kīkisēpāyāk, nānitaw tēpakohp tipahikan ē-kī-ispayik, nikī-māci-sēsāwohtān wacīhk. nānitaw nikotwāsik cipahaskānisa isko ta-pimohtēyān Bourgeau Lake isi, ēkwa kāwi ta-pē-kîwēyohtēyān nisēhkēpayīsihk isi, māmawi nīsosāp cipahaskānisa ta-pimohtēyān.

mētoni kinwēsk kā-kī-sēsāwohtēyān ispīhk kā-takosiniyān Bourgeau Lake. miyonākwana ēkotē sākahikanis ēkwa waciya, êkwa miskwamiy ispacisāmatināhk ē-apit. nikī-ati-āpihtā-kīsikani-mīcison, ē-wēwēkinak sōsāsiw napaki-pāhkwēsikanisihk. kētahtāwē kā-pēhtamān kīkway ē-matwēwēk, tāpiskōc piyēsiwak ē-kitocik, ēkwa niwāpamāw miskwamiy ē-pē-nihcipahkisihk wacīhk ohci. nikī-sēkihik māka ātawiya akāmihk sākahikanisihk kā-pahkisihk miskwamiy. kī-miyo-kīsikāw.

Ready to test yourself? Answer the following questions.

(The text above is in the 1st person, questions and answers are in the 3rd person)

  1. tânispîhk awa kâ-sêsâwohtêt wacîhk?
    A: nânitaw têpakohp tipahikan ê-ispayiyik sêsâwohtêw wacîhk.
  2. kîkisêpâyâyiw cî kâ-mâci-sêsâwohtêt?
    A: âha, kîkisêpâyâyiw kâ-mâci-sêsâwohtêt.
  1. tânitahto tipahahikan kâ-mâci-sêsâwohtêt?
    A: nikotwâsik tipahikan ê-ispayiyik kâ-mâci-sêsâwohtêt.
  1. tânitê awa ê-itohtêt?
    A: Bourgeau Lake awa kâ-itohtêt.
  1. tânitahto mâmawi cipahaskânisa pimohtêw?
    A: nîsosâp mâmawi cipahaskânisa pimohtêw.
  1. kinwêsk cî pimohtêw Bourgeau Lake isi?
    A: âha, kinwêsk pimohtêw Bourgeau Lake isi
  1. wâpamêw cî miskwamiya ispacisâmatinâhk ê-apiyit?
    A: âha, wâpamêw miskwamiya ispacisâmatinâhk ê-apiyit.
  1. kîkway kâ-wî-mîcit?
    A:  sôsâsiwa wî-mowêw.
  1. kîkway kêtahtwêw kâ-pêhtahk?
    A: kêtahtwêw kâ-pêhtahk tâpiskôc piyêsiwa ê-kitoyit.
  1. miskwamiy cî ê-pê-nihcipahkisihk wacîhk ohci?
    A: âha, miskwamiy ê-pê-nihcipahkisihk wacîhk ohci.

Vocabulary Used

akâmihk across the water
âpihtâ-kîsikani-mîcisow s/he eats lunch
apiw s/he sits
âtawiya at least
ati- begin (PV)
cipahaskânis kilometer (NI)
êkotê over there
êkwa and
isi toward
isko up to
ispacisâmatinâhk alongside of a mountain/hill
ispayin it happens
ispîhk when
kâwi back
kêtahtâwê suddenly
kîkisêpâyâw it is morning
kîkway something
kinwêsk a long time
kitowak they make a sound, sounds of thunderbirds
kiwêyohtêw s/he walks back home
mâci- begin (PV)
mâka but
mâmawi altogether
matwêwêw it makes a sound in the distance
mêtoni very
miskwamiy ice, glacier
miyo-kîsikâw it is a good day
miyonâkwan it looks beautiful
nânitaw about
napaki-pâhkwêsikanis tortilla
nihcipahkisin it falls down (animate)
nikotwâsik six
nîpin it is summer
nîsosâp - twelve
ohci from
pahkisin s/he falls
pê- come (PV)
pêhtam s/he hears s.t.
pêyakwâw Once
pimohtêw s/he walks
piyêsiwak thunder(birds)
sâkahikanis small lake
sêhkêpayîs car
sêkihêw s/he scares s.o.
sêsâwohtêw s/he hikes
takosin s/he arrives
tâpiskôc just like
têpakohp seven
tipahikan time
waciy mountain
wâpamêw s/he sees s.o.
wêwêkinêw s/he wraps s.o.
Posted in Audio (y-dialect), Solomon Ratt | Leave a comment

Mother’s Day 2021 – Andrea Custer (th-, y-dialects)

This lovely message was composed by Andrea Custer, in the middle of the mothering sandwich: celebrated this year by her own five children, while celebrating her own mother and grandmother, and mother-in-law. In the style of all the great Cree mothers and kohkoms, looking out for everyone at once.

kîsta mîna, Andrea: You too!


mitho-okâwîmâwi-kîsikanisik kahkithaw okâwîmâwak.
kîthawaw kâ-mâwaci mistakisoyîk, î-kaskitâyîk pimâtisiwin|ta-mîkiyîk
ikwa ithikohk î-sôhkitîhîyîk.
âthiman ta-ohpikihâwasoyîk mâka kipasikônâwâw tahto-kîsikâw kâh-kîhtwâm ta-kocihtâyîk. kisâkihikawinâwâw anohc ikwa tahto-kîsikâw.


miyo-okâwîmâwi-kîsikanisik kahkiyaw okâwîmâwak.
kiyawâw kâ-mâwaci mistakisoyêk, ê-kaskitâyêk pimâtisiwin ta-mêkiyêk
êkwa êyikohk ê-sôhkitêhêyêk âyiman ta-ohpikihâwasoyêk mâka kipasikônâwâw
tahto-kîsikâw kâh-kîhtwâm ta-kocihtâyêk.
kisâkihikawinâwâw anohc êkwa tahto-kîsikâw.

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Gerald Kuehl’s portrait of our Honorary Elder, Bette Spence

Our dearly loved honorary elder Ruth Elizabeth “Bette” Spence was just a kid of 99 when  Gerald Kuehl created this remarkable pencil portrait of her in 2019. It’s part of his “Portraits of the Plains” collection.  (Find more of his portraits in his “Portraits of the North” FaceBook group.) What follows below is the bio Kuehl prepared from his interview with Bette, and with her devoted daughter and care-giver, Janet Fontaine. The portrait and bio are shared below with permission, and with gratitude.

When I went to Regina around 1985 to try to learn about Cree music, I had instructions to seek out Mrs Spence. She took me under her wing, even taking me home where she made lunch daily for herself and her husband Ahab, then Director of the Department of Indian Languages, Literature and Linguistics.  I was honoured to share their company, and to see some of her original artwork up close.

One of my favourite outings with Mrs Spence included a visit to the Winnipeg Art Gallery, along with my two sons, then pre-teens. “Holy Cow,” she said, as we stepped into the exhibit of Saskatchewan artist Joe Fafard’s legendary cows.

With this last year’s rules of care and isolation and my own travel in the north, a visit over tea and cookies was long overdue. I’m grateful she was able to have a phone visit today, to hear her voice and words of warmth and encouragement, unchanged from the first time we met.

Ruth Elizabeth “Bette” Spence

by Gerald Kuehl


When I asked Bette what she remembered about growing up, her eyes twinkled with laughter before offering, “I didn’t.” Despite her ready grin, Betty looks back on an unusual childhood. “As a young girl I spent a lot of years in the hospital. I had TB in the hip.” At three years of age, she spent six years in medical care, leaving just in time to enter school. She attended a day school — similar to a public school — for a few years before moving to a boarding school. “At boarding school we just went to school half a day,” she explained. “The other half a day we did domestic work on the school grounds. You didn’t dare sit down. You had to be doing something.” Bette graduated after six years, then 19 years old. Her next step was attending a college in Toronto, a feat that proved a tremendous challenge due to exceptionally poor eyesight. “She managed because she could hear what the instructors were saying — she memorized that,” her daughter, Janet, explained. “She just couldn’t see what they were writing on the boards.”

After returning from Toronto at 22, she met and married Ahab Spence from Split Lake. Bette’s marriage was hugely defining of her life. “I married Ahab on New Reserve. I didn’t stay there.” Indeed, she didn’t. Janet quickly listed nine places to which the couple moved during their 60 year marriage, concluding, “You move a lot when you are a minister,” as Ahab was. He served as a priest from 1955 to 1963. In 1963 Ahab assumed the role of principal of Pelican Residential School. The following year, he was awarded the LL.D., the highest academic honor given to an Aboriginal Canadian at the time. Bette had an impressive academic accomplishment of her own, completing a Bachelor of Fine Arts shortly after being declared legally blind. [Janet Fontaine achieved accolades and firsts of her own, but that’s a story for another day.]

Bette was rebellious by nature, an attribute that quite literally birthed her greatest causes. “Because of her childhood TB, she was told not to have children,” Janet informed me. But that did not deter Bette; “I was going around bragging, ‘I have a girl! I have a girl!’” she recalled. “My first child and she was happy and healthy as long as she was eating.” Bette went on to have five more children. “That is characteristic of her — that rebel quality,” reflected Janet.

The art embellishing Bette’s living room was crafted by her own hand and touted her reverence of nature. The largest painting was as rich with meaning as it was with color, using snapshots of each season to chronicle a passing year in a single frame. Nature, Bette says, is the “model” for her artwork, though she denies ever capturing its true beauty on canvas. “We will never come close,” she says in her book, “nor begin to compare ourselves with the greatest artist of all, Mother Nature.” A paintbrush was not her only tool, however. Bette was an expert seamstress before her art graced paper. She would stitch scenes into aprons, each one uniquely wrapping her love for nature in her joyous creativity.

Bette Spence turned 100 years of age four days after we first met. Her infectious humor has followed into what she calls “the winter” of her life. She is buoyed by her art and the respect from young people who appreciate this humble woman’s knowledge and wisdom from a life well lived.

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National MMIW Awareness Day, 2021 (n-, th-, y-dialects)

This breathtakingly powerful image is the work of Angela Lightning from Treaty 8 territory, who created and photographed this installation, shared it on FaceBook, and gave us her blessing to share it here. It evokes the memory of those we’ve lost, the promise to never forget, the commitment to continue the search for those still missing, and the pledge to action that will bring these losses to an end. No More Stolen Sisters.

In tribute, Solomon Ratt has given us a single powerful phrase, to be offered prayer-like to the four directions.



We remember them.
We remember them.
We remember them.
We remember them.


Additional MMIW memories and comments in Cree can be found here:


Posted in Audio (n-dialect), Audio (th-dialect), Audio (y-dialect), National MMIW Awareness Day, Solomon Ratt | 1 Comment

sîsîp otâcimowin – Duck’s Story: Grace Masse (th-dialect)

Thanks to Grace Masse, from Brochet, Manitoba for offering this little âcimowin – which she wrote in Cree – for us to share here. She joined us from Brandon via Zoom for February Storytelling, (The photo of duckling sibs thanks to Solomon Ratt.)

Audio provided by Solomon Ratt.

sîsîp otâcimowinDuck's Story
tânisi Grace Masse nitisithihkâson ikwa anohc nika-âcimon. Hello, my name is Grace Masse and today I will tell you a story.
piyak kîsikâw sîsîp mâmitonîthihtamOne-day duck was thinking.
asawâpamîw kotaka sîsîpa He looked around at the other ducks.
tâskôc wîthawâw î-wîcîwâkanicik. They seemed to have friends.
‘tânitî îtokwî wîtha owîcîwakana?’ isi- mâmitonîthihtam.Where were his friend he thought?
î-kisiwâsit ikospî î-kî-paskopitisot omîkwana.He got so upset that he pulled off all his feathers.
î-kî-mosîskatît.He was naked.
kî-kanawâpamisow ikwa môtha kî-nitawîthitam awiya kita-wâpamikot ikospî î-tapisît.He looked at himself and didn’t want anyone to see him so he ran away.
mitoni î-sôhkîpahtât ikwa môtha kiskîthihtam tânitî î-ayât. He ran so fast that he didn’t know where he was.
mwâc î-kî-wâpimât kotaka sîsîpa.He didn’t see any other ducks.
mwâc î-kî-pimithât macî î-kî-paskopitisot.He couldn’t fly to find them because he pulled off his feathers.
î-kî-mâtot. ithikohk î-kî-misi-mâtot ikwa î-nipât.He cried. He cried so much that he fell asleep.
ikospî î-kî-waniskât ikwa î-wâpimât awiya î-kî-papâmohtîthit. He woke up and saw something walking
mwâc kiskîthihtam kîkway anima.He couldn’t make out what it was.
mâmitonîthihtam ikwaHe thought,
“maskwa nâ ana? mahihkan nâ ana?”“Was it a bear? Was it a wolf?”
î-kî-sîkisit ikwa kâsôw awasîw mîtosihk kkwa kîhtwâm î-mâtot ikwa î-pasakwâpit.He was scared that he hid behind a tree and cried again and closed his eyes.
ikospî pîhtam kîkway ikwa tohkâpiw.And then He heard something and open his eyes.
î-wâpamât mistahi mîkwana mwâc kîkway ikosi î-kî-ohci-wâpamât.He saw a lot of feathers something he never seen before
ikospî misiwî mîkwanak pahkisinwak.Then the feathers fell.
osîmisa îsa ana apisi-sîsîp.It was him little brother little duck.
osîmisa î-kî-pimitisahokot ostîsa ikwa î-kî-pîtamowât omîkwana.He followed his brother and brought him his feathers.
kî-wîcihitowak ikwa kîhtwâm î-ahthâcik sîsîp omîkwana. And Helping each other they put duck’s feathers on.
ikospî î-nîsicik pimithâwak ikospî î-kîwîhocik. Then the two of them flew home.
sîsîp otâcimowin – Duck’s Story
By: Grace Masse
Posted in Audio (th-dialect), Solomon Ratt | Leave a comment

May the force be with you (Solomon Ratt, y-dialect)

For May 4th (Star Wars Day): Sol’s Cree version of “May the force be with you!”

kânikanâ kitâniskohpicikanak ka-wîcêwikwak
May your ancestors go with you.

Posted in Audio (y-dialect), Solomon Ratt | Leave a comment

The Rainbow: Read along in Cree

ninanâskomon. I am grateful.

It’s really exciting to see another rich layer added to this beautiful book and story from traditional Cree culture that centres on gratitude. The story told by Alberta Cree Elder and WW2 veteran, James “Smokey” Tomkins was interpreted in English by author Jean Miso, and illustrated by Darrell Doxdator, another Indigenous veteran.

Thanks to Jean and her colleagues, including Dolores Greyeyes Sand who translated Jean’s interpretation into Plains Cree, then lent it her voice, we can now share a complete video presentation of the book’s images with voice-over: another opportunity to listen in Cree and read along.

In addition to the story, the video also features a cameo appearance at the end by James “Smokey” Tomkins, and the video itself is framed by the traditional singing of  the Red Bear Singers from Sagkeeng First Nation in Manitoba.

Scroll past the video to find the November 2020 CLN post that describes the book and ordering instructions in detail. This one belongs in every library in Canada.

The book is available directly from Jean Miso: Click here for ordering details. 

The Rainbow: A Plains Cree Story (y-dialect)

Posted in Audio (y-dialect), Cree Cultural Literacy, Dolores Sand | Leave a comment

Expressing gratitude (Kepin Brousseau)

Thanks to Dr Kevin Brousseau for assembling these forms and sharing this overview. It’s interesting that what sometimes looks like regional variation turns out to be understood, and even usable all across the Cree dialect continuum. Here’s what Kevin wrote (with very minor changes stylistic purposes).

Someone recently asked about words of gratitude in #CreeSimonSays. Here is some information on the various words mentioned by people who chimed in.

There is no word in Old Cree that translates exactly to the word ‘thank’ in English. Instead, there are different ways to express gratitude, some of which are used throughout Cree country, while others are used only in certain regions.

ay-ay/hay-hay. This is a reduplication of the word ay, which as an exclamation used to gain someone’s attention in many dialects. It is also used as a noun in Old Cree and is found as a part of nouns in most modern dialects where it literally just means a ‘being’ or ‘thing’ and is also found in demonstratives and pronouns in some dialects, too. As an exclamation to get people’s attention, one can see how it came to be used to express gratitude in some dialects.

êkosi. This is literally a contraction of êko + isi (Old Cree êko + iši). This word, at least in the dialects in Ontario and Quebec, is used in jussive constructions and as a stand alone word roughly translating to ‘may it be so’ or ‘let it be.’ As such it can be used to express acquiescence or acceptance, hence its use to express gratitude in some regions.

kitatamihin. This is a verb based on the root atam-, which refers to pleasing somebody by some gesture. It is the same root used for the verb atamiskawêw, meaning to greet someone. In this form, kitatamihin means “you please me by your gesture” or something to that effect.

kinanâskomitin. This literally is a reduplicated form of kinâskomitin, which literally means “I consent to you” or “I approve to (what) you (say, do, etc.)” In this case, we consent or agree to being given something or for being helped. This way of expressing gratitude is used throughout Cree country, all the way into Quebec and Labrador.

ma(r)siy. This is a French loanword, from ‘merci.’ It literally means ‘thanks.’

mîkwêc. This is an Anishinabe loanword. In their language it is a contraction of ‘mî + gwech,’ which literally translates to ‘that is enough.’ Again, one can see how this came to express gratitude.

tîniki. This is an English loanword, from ‘thank you.’

wînâhkôma. This word appears to be used only in western dialects, so it may have had its origins as a loanword from a yet unidentified language. It was recorded in 1874 in Lacombe’s dictionary and is known in some communities, particularly by the elderly folks. As an exclamation expressing joy or gratitude, it can also form the verb wînâhkômâmêw, meaning ‘he/she expresses joy or gratitude to him/her.’

About Dr Kevin Brousseau:

Although Kevin is a medical doctor, we’re glad that he hasn’t been able to relinquish his passion for linguistics and for his own Cree language, centred in his home community of Waswanipi, Québec. In his “spare time” Kevin maintains four distinct Cree language blogs, all prepared with exquisite care, all designed to broaden our understanding of the Cree language as a whole, from the Rockies to Labrador, from Montana to the Northwest Territories.

Kepin’s Cree Language Blog

Dictionary of Moose Cree

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