National Aboriginal History Month Day Fifteen: paskwâwi-mostos

Urban Native Magazine and Regina Aboriginal Professionals Association have launched a photograph challenge (for Facebook, Twitter and Instagram) in honour of National Aboriginal History Month. They’re using the Twitter hashtag #NAHM2015PhotoADay.

Here at the Cree Literacy Network, we’ve decided to play along, by gathering the images suggested – but (with help from Solomon Ratt) captioning them in Cree.

For Day Fifteen, the word is Buffalo:

paskwâwi-mostos / ᐸᐢᒁᐏ ᒧᐢᑐᐢ

I always find it interesting how words change with time. In English we might think about the way phones have changed over the last twenty years or so – and how we talk about them. Now that cell phones are everywhere (and can do almost everything), we’ve begun to refer to ordinary telephones as “land lines” – just so we can distinguish the two.

A hundred and fifty years ago, the Cree word for buffalo was simply mostos. Then – at about the same time the bison herds were being hunted almost to extinction and the treaties were signed – cattle began to be introduced, and slowly became more common. In time, mostos became the word for “cow” – and the prefix “paskwâwi” was added to help distinguish buffalo (“prairie/plains cows”) from cattle.

The first photo of buffalo is courtesy of computational linguist Lene Antonsen, currently visiting Edmonton from Norway (to help develop computer tools for Cree), who found this herd yesterday while visiting Dry Island Buffalo Jump, north of Drumheller.

I tried to find photos of the small herd of bison (on the hoof) that Boss and Hal Greyeyes reintroduced to Muskeg Lake a few years ago. Instead, thanks to Brenda Ahenakew, we have this photo of Boss, Hal, Duke and the late Kevin (along with a friend) with a freshly skinned bison carcass, reminding us of the cooperation and hard work that depending on bison for food entailed.

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