Christi Belcourt: tipêyimisowin

Here’s a “word bundle” from artist and dedicated Cree language learner Christi Belcourt, who uses her signature painting style here to enhance a culturally rich word study. We are proud to share it here with thanks to Christi for her permission.


Definition: freedom, liberty, owning/taking charge of one’s own self. It’s a concept, an idea, a state of being. (To pronounce this word try saying it more like this: “DiBAYMsowin“)

To say “they are free, liberated, they own themselves,” you would say “otipêyimisowak.

To say “we (all of us) are free, liberated, we own ourselves, we take charge of ourselves”, you say “kitipêyimisowininaw.

To tell someone else, another person or nation, that “we” (our people, “us” are speaking about) own ourselves, we are self-determinining, we are free and liberated, to describe ourselves we say “nitipêyimisowininân.

Context is everything. This word is big. It is a whole “word bundle” – to borrow from Maria Campbell who coined the phrase to reflect how words can be bundles that contain many teachings.

This word tipêyimisowin is a bundle that is full and rich. To know it is to understand who we were, and who we could be again. Its who we are striving to become in a post-colonial world.

This is why it makes no sense to say “WE are otipêyimisowak” because that is literally saying “We are Them” – it doesn’t make sense. We have to say “nitipêyimisowininân” to be speaking about our Nation or our own people.

When we say “We are the people who own themselves” – what are we really saying? To me, we are speaking about being a people who value our freedoms – prior to colonialism – prior to any provincial or territorial borders – prior to the Canadian government. We are land-based independent people, free people, who practice self-government in the truest sense.

This is why our language is so important. Because it brings us to a grounded place to remember who we are as people of the land.

2 Responses

  1. This is maria. Just want be add to Christi’s words so I am clear on the word bundles I do for and with our lodge. Bundle is used in our visiting with each other. Bundle is a living and I am constantly adding or changing each one as it clarifies itself to me through kiyokiwin,, memory or story. I do not write our language and although I love every thing about it I will never will be fluent. I will always learn and each word teaches me. The most important thing about the bundle is the questions I ask myself and encourage our lodge to ask. Example: do I /we own ourselves selves? Am I liberated? If not how can I own myself, how can we / my family own ourselves and how does our lodge own itself? And how is that word taught and reflected in our language and by us.? When I do this kind of critical analysis I find the teachings in the words as well as the direction. So for me word bundles and kioykaywin go hand in hand. There can be no language or oral tradition without lots of kiyokiwin. Thats what I think anyway and that is one of our lodge teachings. It was the teaching of my mentor and teacher/s.

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