Yes, we all know it wasn’t actually blueberries Fats Domino was looking for upon Blueberry Hill, but his classic is still fun to sing any time. Thanks to Solomon Ratt for the freshly translation (and karaoke performance!) so we can listen and sing along.
Alaskan Tundra blueberries in the photo are my tribute to the Blueberry Hill closest to where I’m writing (Baker Lake, Nunavut) though it is definitely more about the chills than thrills this time of year!
Here is a special treat for Christmas 2020, ready to launch December 11th from Falynn Baptiste, who is a Cree-Métis woman form Red Pheasant First Nation. Enjoy her YouTube video of O Holy Night below, or listen here to samples from the new album.
Falynn tells us, “As someone who grew up with her language and culture, I thought it was important to promote the language through song. This is one of the first contemporary Cree Christmas albums out there being distributed on a large platform. It will be for sale on iTunes hopefully around the album release date. I’m selling CDs to help offset the cost of the self-funded project.”
Thanks to Art Napoleon for permission to share his interpretation of Lynyrd Skinnard’s “Simple Man,” so we can all listen and sing along.
Translating any song text into Cree presents a special kind of challenge. English words are typically short; Cree word forms are typically long, but both need to fit into the same musical phrase.
It is seldom possible for a detailed word-by-word translation – the kind we would expect for ordinary text – to fit into the tight framework of an existing song. It can sound like a mad scramble trying to fit in all those syllables! Instead, song translators usually have to pare down the original English to its core, and translate the broadest concepts. They try to preserve the “hook” (the part that makes the song most memorable), setting aside English words and phrases that are less significant to how the song feels.
This is the technique used by experts like Winston Wuttunee and Dolores Sand. (Actually, Dolores built a perfect example of this into her translation of “Rock Around the Clock.” If you listen closely, and try to count along, you’ll quickly discover which numbers she skipped to make everything fit!)
Like Dolores, and like Winston, Art also relies on a bit of “Art-istic” license to make it all work. Art provided a transcript with his song that I’ve adjusted to Plains Cree SRO. (It can be read in Art’s Northern y-dialect by pronouncing ê as î.)
There are too many candles on Sol’s cake to count this year. Hope he doesn’t set off the smoke alarm. For his birthday, he asked for new copies of his favourite dictionary, which he has used until they’re falling apart.
You can look up words in English, or in Cree (in roman or syllabics). It even tries to guess if your spelling isn’t quite right. And for some words (the ones with the speaker icon ) you can even hear the pronunciation(s) of Maskwacîs elders. Another really cool feature is that you can click on the main word in Cree, and open up a whole Cree paradigm that shows you how these words are formed in singular and plural forms, and all the forms where somebody acts on somebody else (past, present and future). All of this depth creates a much richer version of the print dictionary.
Thanks to Solomon Ratt for giving us a start on baby-related vocabulary (audio below), and to Karlee Fellner for letting us share her own, tiny, poster-child, Naatósíniipi Nikosis.
There’s a lot of cultural teaching within the vocabulary Sol assembled: the use of moss in the moss bag (the original disposable diaper), the construction of the moss bag and cradle board, and the nature of a baby swing (that makes its term seem like onomatopoeia). Even in the etymology of a word like oskawâsis where we see the word for child (awâsis), modified with the prefix oski- (meaning young, or new)
But Sol’s short list is just a start: Why not challenge yourself to explore the latest version of the University of Alberta/Maskwacîs Online dictionary, and see how many other baby-related terms you can find there.
You can search in English or in Cree (roman or syllabic). I began with the word “baby”.
When you’re ready for a your next challenge, try pasting the word forms from this list (in roman, syllabic or English) into the search bar, and see how many related forms you can find.
The speaker icon means Native-speaker pronunciation is also included!
Click on underscored entries to see the word in all its available forms (including verb paradigms).
After clicking to open the entry, click on the speaker icon again to find audio from multiple speakers (and who they are!)
This traditional Cree story ties together the colours of the rainbow with gratitude for all of creation. It was gifted to Jean (in English) by Plains Cree Elder and second World War veteran James “Smokey” Tomkins, during her travels in the West, interviewing Indigenous war heroes (for another book).
Tomkins lives in Grouard, Alberta, where he was born. He chose to entrust Jean with the story he had been gifted in Cree some 60 years earlier by Magloire Cardinal, also of the area. Smokey’s photo in the book looked oddly familiar to me, and I was delighted to find his name in the credits of the biographical documentary of his brother, Cree Code Talker Charlie “Checkers” Tomkins.
To honour Indigenous veterans’ concern for language preservation, Jean had her own re-telling translated into Plains Cree by Dolores Greyeyes Sand, and illustrated by Darrell Doxdator, who is also Veteran, and member of the Tuscarora Nation in southern Ontario.
The final result is a beautiful hard-cover, full-color book, suitable for Cree language learners of any age. This book is a beautiful gift for anyone with an interest in Cree language and culture, and profits are committed to Indigenous language revitalization.
I’m not sure who took the photo of this good looking, passionate gang of Cree language warriors kitâhkamêyimonâwâw, but 30+ years later, they’re all still hard at work.
Posed together in this undated photo from SICC, we have: from the back, left to right, Laura Burnouf, Edie Venne, Minnie McKenzie, Jean Okimâsis; front, left to right: Eleanor Hegland, Solomon Ratt, Arok Wolvengrey.
I’m also not sure who owns this gem of a photo that most recently surfaced on FaceBook, thanks to Belinda Daniels. I’m sharing it anyway to remind us of the extraordinary commitment to Cree language and literacy that that we can all help perpetuate.