There are no Cree horses at Polo Park, observes Neal McLeod in his freshly written poem about Winnipeg, performed today for a full house of students, academics and fellow poets the University of Manitoba’s Miigizii Agamik (the recently renamed Aboriginal Students’ Centre). And what fun to listen to Neal effortlessly jump back and forth between English and Cree in his poetry and in his story telling, creating the illusion — even for those with no Cree at all — that they are still in on all the fun.
A grandson of the late Cree educator Ida McLeod, Neal’s connection to the language is strong. He speaks about the love of the Cree language shared by his father and uncles during his childhood, so passionate about the language that they’d have to leave the room over differences of opinion. A great coiner of new terms in Cree, he uses the word âniskwahpicikêwin to describe sewing stories together, the weaving together of old with the new that gives his stories their essential connection with contemporary life. As he has observed elsewhere, “The eternal echo of stories is needed for nêhiyâwak to know again what made us a people.”
Currently teaching Indigenous Studies at Trent University, Neal is presently adding to his already-impressive collection of publications with a new anthology of Aboriginal Poetics (to be published by Wilfred Laurier University), a collection of short stories (currently in press with Saskatoon’s Coteau), and a volume based on his own 100 day Cree challenge, each entry shining fresh light on the Cree language and culture, and what it means to be nêhiyâw in the 21st century.