wapâwikoscikanihk is the traditional Cree name for Pelican Narrows, Saskatchewan, and the Woods Cree reserve located there. Translated literally into English, the Cree name means “At the narrows of Fear.”
This story is shared here thanks to Andrea Custer, who wrote it down in Cree for Solomon Ratt’s 2020 Cree 305 class at First Nations University, then read it aloud and recorded it for joint posting here on the Cree Literacy Network and on her own blog at “Learn Cree with Andrea.”
(Click to see wapâwikoscikanihk / Pelican Narrows on the CLN’s “Cree Names of Cree-speaking Communities” map).
iyako ôma âcimowin wapâwikoscikanihk ohci, ikosi nohkomipan Mary Custer kâ‑kî‑itîht î‑kî‑âcimostawit nîstanaw kihci-mitâtahtomitanaw nistosâp askîwin î‑kî‑ispathik. ikospîhk mîkwâc î‑kî‑atoskîyân KCDC ohci nîtî wapâwikoscikan ayamihcikîwikamikohk, oski‑otatoskîw nikî-itakison. nikî‑atotik nitôkimâm ta-mamithwâcihkîmakwâw ikwa ta‑cikâstîpitakwâw kihtî-ayak wapâwikoscikanihk ohci.
This is the story of “Narrows of Fear” as told to me by my late grandmother Mary Custer in 2003. While I worked as an Intern for KCDC [Keewatin Career Development Corporation] at the wapâwikoscikanihk Library. One request my supervisor had was to go and interview and take pictures of the elders from Pelican Narrows.
iyako ôma kâ‑masinahamân kâ‑isi‑kiskisiyân, wiyakâc, namôtha nikî-ohci-miskîn anima cikâstîpicikan kâ‑kî-otinamân, kahkithaw ôma kâ‑isi‑kiskisiyân ikwa kâ‑isi‑nîhithawastâyân nîtha; Andrea Custer. mihcît ihtakona ôho âcimowina; nîtha ikwa ôma nitâcimowin; î‑kî‑âcimostawit nohkomipan, kîthawâw ikwa kitâcimôstâtinâwâw.
What I have written here is from memory, unfortunately, I was unable to locate the video I had recorded. It was told all in Cree and translated by me; Andrea Custer. There are many versions of this story; this is now mine, passed down from my late grandmother and now I am telling the story to you.
wapâwikoscikanihk apisci‑kîwîtinohk kisiskâciwanihk astîw. kisiwâk mihcîtinwa sâkahikana ikwa sîpiya mîna asinîskâw askiy iyak-ohci ôko ithiniwak ikota kâ‑wîkicik asinîskâwithiniwak kâ‑itihcik. mîskanahk ta‑pimôhtîhiyan, nânitaw îtokwî mitâtahtomitanaw kîkâ‑mitatâhtosâp cipahiskânisa kimosôm-pwâtinâhk ohci isko wapâwikoscikanihk. wîhcasin ta‑pimôhtîhoyan cîman ta‑âpacihtâyan athisk namôtha kîkway pâwistikwa ahpô onikâhpa ta‑taskamâman.
asinîskâwithiniwak mâna î‑kî‑wîcîhtâcik ta‑pimôhtîhocik cîmâna ohci; î‑kî‑âsowahahkwâw mâna sîpiya, pâwistikwa ikwa onikâhpa athisk mâhtâwi‑sîpiy mistahi î‑kî‑pimôhtîhonânowik, iyako ‘kihci-mîskanaw’ ikospîhk.
Pelican Narrows is in Northeast Saskatchewan. Nearby are many lakes and rivers and rocky terrain which is why the Cree living in these areas are known as Rock Cree. To travel by road, it is about 119 kilometers from Deschambault to Pelican Narrows. By canoe, it would be a relatively easy travel as there are no rapids or portages to cross. The Rock Cree were used to travelling by Canoe; crossing rivers, rapids and portages as the Churchill River was the ‘main’ highway back in those years.
kayâs ôma âcimowin; mwayî‑môniyawak î‑takosîhkwâw kîwîtinohk. ôta mâna î‑kî‑ayâcik ikwa î‑kî‑mâmawîcik âskaw asinîskâwithiniwak wapâwikoscikanihk ikwa kâ‑isithihkâtîk.
This is an old story; before the white men arrived in the North. This is where the Rocky Cree would gather and stay occasionally, in what is now known as “Narrows of Fear.”
kayâs ôma kâ‑âkathâsîmowin ta‑itwîyan Pelican Narrows, asinîskâwi-kihtî-ayak, iskwîwak ikwa awâsisak kâ‑kî‑nipahâkocik pwâta. mîkwâc nâpîwak î‑kî‑mâhiskahkwâw, ahtaya î‑kî‑nitawi‑atâwâkîcik mâmihk, pwâtak kî‑sastahikîwak ikota kâ‑kî‑ayâcik ôki asinîskâwithiniwak. nîso kihtî‑ayak kî‑kitâpamîwak anihi iskwîwa ikwa awâsisa; îkâ nânitaw ta‑itinikîthit.
A long time ago in what is now known in English as Pelican Narrows there was a massacre of the Rocky Cree elders, women and children by the Sioux. While the men were away trading fur (downriver), the Sioux snuck on up the camp where the Rocky Cree were staying. There were two elders that oversaw the women and children; they were in charge of their safety.
kîtahtawî îsa piyak kîsikâw, piyak ana kihtî‑aya kâ‑wîhtamawât anihi kotaka kihtî‑aya (wîci-kihtî-aya) awiya î‑pî‑itîthimât î‑wî‑mathipathihikocik ikwa ta‑kî‑nitawi‑kâsôcik. î‑kî‑pawâmit îsa. kayâs mâna ikospîhk athisitiniwak î‑kî‑mamâhtâwisicik, î‑kî‑wâpahtahkwâw kîkwâtho.
Suddenly one day, one of the elders told the other elder that he saw danger coming and that they should go and hide. He was a visionary. Back in those days, people were powerful, they could see things coming.
kotak awa kihtî‑aya namôtha wîtha kîkwâtho kî‑wâpahtam ikwa namôtha nitohtawîw anihi wîci‑kihtî‑aya.
The other elder did not foresee any danger and thus did not listen to his fellow elder.
ikwa awa nistam kihtî‑aya kâ‑kî‑kitâpamât iskwîwa ikwa awâsisa itohtahîw wacîhk ikotî wâtiy î‑kî‑astîk.
Now, the first elder took the women and children he was looking after and went and hid up in the hills where there was a cave.
wîpâc î‑pî‑kîkisîpâyak kotak kîsikâw î‑ispathik ôko pwâtak kî‑pî‑takosiniwak mîkwâc kahkithaw ôko asinîskâwi-iskwîwak ikwa awâsisak î‑kî‑nipâcik. pwâtak kahkithaw kî‑nipahîwak ôko ikota kâ‑kî‑ayâthit. nîso poko nâpîsisa kî‑otinîwak ikwa kî‑nakatîwak ministikohk wahthawîs ikota ohci kâ‑kî‑otinihcik. aniki pwâtak kâ‑kî‑isi‑pimôhtîhocik kimosôm-pwâtinak isi.
Early the next morning on the following day, the Dakota Sioux arrived early in the morning while the Rocky women and children slept. The Sioux killed everyone there except for two young boys whom they took and left on an island further away from what where they were taken. The Sioux then continued to travel towards Deschambault Lake.
ikwâni îsa nâpîwak kâ‑kî‑matwî‑takocimîcik ikwa kî‑wâpahtamwak kâ‑kî‑ispathihikokothit otôtîmiwâwa. kî‑kisiwipathiwak ikwa nohtî‑âpîhowak ôko nâpîwak; nawasiwâtîwak anihi pwâta ka‑isi‑sipwîtîcik. ikospîhk athisk mâna î‑kî‑sôhkâni-pimiskâcik.
When the men arrived back at home; they saw what had happened to their kinsman. The men were angry and sought revenge, they tracked and followed the Dakota Sioux as fast as they could. In those days, they would paddle fast.
kî‑atimiskawîwak kimosôm-pwâtinahk, ikota kâ‑kî‑kipwâtikanîcik ikwa kahkithaw kâ‑kî‑nipahâcik. kî‑iskonîwak anihi okimâwa, kî‑nipahîwak iskwîyânihk, nisîhkâc î‑kî‑nipahâcik î‑kîski‑kwayawîsâwâtâcik.
They caught up to them in Deschambault Lake, where they surrounded and killed them all. They saved the chief for last, they killed him slowly by cutting his neck.
iyakôhci anima Deschambault Lake kâ‑isi‑thihkâtîk kimosôm pwâtinahk ta‑nîhithawiyan, ikwa Pelican Narrows kâ‑isi‑thihkâtîk wapâwikoscikanihk.
This is why Deschambault Lake is called kimosôm pwâtinahk in Cree which means “Grandfather Sioux” and why Pelican Narrows is called wapâwikoscikanihk, “Narrows of Fear.”
- She/he who can see into the future – î‑pawâmit
- Dakota Sioux – pwâtak
- Furs – ahtayak
- hide – kâso
- Narrows of Fear – wapâwikoscikanihk
- Grandfather Sioux – kimosôm-pwâtinâhk
- Churchill River – mâhtâwi‑sîpiy
- Rocky Cree – asiniskâwithiniwak
- Elders – kihtî‑ayak
- A long time ago – kayâs
- Massacre – î‑nipahâcik or
- Many were killed by the Sioux- mihcît î‑kî‑nipahikocik pwâta (many were killed by the Sioux – kî‑mîscihikowak pwâta)
- Surrounded with no way out – kipwâtikanîcik
- English language – âkathâsîmowin