Francis McAdam Saysewehum, wearing his Treaty 6 medal, and advocating always for honouring the treaties and Cree natural law.
Today we join our prayers for the health of Elder Francis Saysewehum with those of his daughter Sylvia McAdam Saysewehum and her many friends and followers.
Sylvia, who is known around the world as a founder of Idle No More, credits her parents as her greatest teachers of Cree language, culture and natural law, so it’s an honour to have her permission to archive and share the FaceBook recordings she has made of them. Perhaps this small collection from spring of 2019 can form the beginning of a “Cree Listening Library” where recordings of good speakers can be assembled for viewing online, eventually catalogued and summarized in English, and ultimately, transcribed in SRO. We’ll be adding more as we’re able.
Math concepts in Cree are particularly important for immersion classrooms, but they’re not often addressed in language textbooks. Thanks to Elder Barry L. Ahenakew for sharing this lesson on fractions.
Other numbers can be turned into fractional denominators by adding the suffix -os (presumably we could also express “one quarter” as “one fourth” and so on):
mitâtahtomitanawâw = 100 : mitâtahtomitanawâwos = one hundredth (1/100)
nêwo = 4 : nêwos = one fourth (1/4)
To write whole numbers-plus-fractions, use mîna.
pêyak mîna âpihtaw = 1-1/2
nîso mîna niyânan nikotwâsikos = 2-5/6
Odds and evens: More important math concepts, Barry says people seem to have lost these terms. In the sweat lodge, for example, the number of stones is always nanahi, never kâhtap, though the actual number differs depending on the ceremony.
In a portfolio of four pieces, journalist Andrea Smith does some beautiful writing about the Cree idea of wâhkôhtowin. The Tyee – in which the pieces were published – defines itself as “a widely read and respected platform for the forward-thinking, fact-based conversation” that Canadians “desperately need to have.” wâhkôhtowin may be old news for Cree people, but it’s definitely a concept that Canadians in general could stand to learn.
The articles, published in early 2019, were written as part of Andrea’s internship with The Tyee as a part of Journalists for Human Rights’ Emerging Indigenous Reporter program were later nominated as a finalist for the JHR/APTN Emerging Indigenous Journalist Award sponsored by the Canadian Association of Journalists. The Tyee report announcing the nomination is also included as a link below:
A collection of the traditional Cree terms for Cree groups and their neighbours – though through 21st century enlightenment – and decolonization – we try to honour our neighbours by using the names they prefer for themselves!
Cree people (y-dialect speakers)
Cree people (n-dialect speakers)
Cree people (th-dialect speakers)
People of the muskeg, often known as Swampy Cree
Sioux people (Nakoda, Dakota, Lakota)
Stoney Nakoda people
(Thanks, Sol, for the image and audio. My favourite part is the eagle’s syllabic tattoo: ᓴᓬᐊᒧ. Thanks also to Simon Bird for his collection of traditional Cree ethnonyms!)
In English, we don’t waste much time with verb conjugations. We can cover almost every possibility (for the simple present, at least) with just one rule: “For 3rd person singular subjects (he/she/it), add an S to the verb stem.”
Try it out by plugging a verb stem into the blanks in the following tables. If the verb requires a direct object (someone or something that it acts on), it is transitive. If the verb doesn’t need a direct object, it is intransitive. English doesn’t use animate/inanimate categories: that cuts our work in half. In fact, many English verb stems can be used either transitively or intransitively. Pretty simple. If we need to know who did what to whom, we just have to look at the pronouns.
English Intransitive Verb Conjugation Summary
[same as 2nd singular]
English Transitive Verb Conjugation
I ___ something
we ___ something
you ___ something
[same as 2nd singular]
he/she/it ___s something
they ___ something
But Cree doesn’t use separate pronouns like English does. In fact, the full complexity of Cree verb tables can be overwhelming when the English system is the only one you know.
Lucky first-language speakers who are immersed in the language from birth learn all these forms by osmosis. The average second-language learner might wish for a decoder ring. A really determined second-language learner – such as Ben Godden – might invest countless hours in his secret laboratory building himself a decoding system (what linguists might call this a summary paradigm table).
Luckily, Ben has not only invested the hours, he has also shared his work. By clicking a simple download link, we can each be the first kid on our block to own our own Cree verb decoder table (summary verb paradigm). And we don’t even have to mail in our box tops (with self-addressed, stamped envelope). Thanks, Ben: you give new meaning to the word âhkamêyimow!
Get your own copy right here, right now (by downloading and printing the PDF links):
This lovely new book, released in May 2019, was inspired by trapline stories from childhood memories of LaRonge, Saskatchewan Elder Ida Tremblay who passed away in January 2019. The story, told in English with Woodland Cree words and phrases, follows the seasonal cycle of trapline life.
The Cree-only read-along video that follows below is a gift we can share here in memory of Salamô omisipana: Solomon Ratt’s late older sister. First cousins according to English kinship rules, having mothers who were sisters made Sol and Ida siblings in the Cree tradition. Sol called Ida nimis: my older sister. Thanks from all of us to Miram Körner for permission present Sol’s translation here.
When we think of all the things the Buffalo provided to Plains Cree people, the first thing we usually think of is mîcim: food, especially in the form of paskwâwi-mostosowiyâs: buffalo meat. With this “Worried Buffalo” sketch, Solomon Ratt gathers some of the many, many other ways the parts of the buffalo were used, ensuring that absolutely nothing went to waste. (No wonder the buffalo looks worried!) Scroll past the image to find audio files for each of the buffalo parts. Continue reading →
Harry Raine, a Maskwacis Cree elder of the Louis Bull Tribe, brought the Cree language to Juno beach in Normandy to commemorate the 75th Anniversary of D-day 6 June 2019, and the Battle of Normandy. In honour of the fallen, he read “Binyon’s Verse” – translated into Plains Cree. Transcript and video follow, for those who’d like to read along. (Video used with thanks to his daughter, Alaine Raine, for her permission.)
A genuine Cree lullaby from a genuine kôhkom, sung very gently to the tune of “Skip to my Lou.” Thank you to Belinda Vandenbroeck – a Winnipeg maskêkôskwêw! This one is perfect for real babies, or for little ones loving their baby dolls.