My 2019 IYIL Cree Literacy Quest

First Nations scholar, Anglican Church minister, and archivist Edward Ahenakew, with a large group of chiefs, at a chiefs’ conference on the Thunderchild Reserve, 1922. Back, standing (left to right) are: unidentified; unidentified; unidentified; Chief from Little Island; Robert Chief (son of Seekaskootch); Sam Wastewich (chief at Long Lake); unidentified; Chief Bighead from Big Island. Seated, (left to right): unidentified; unidentified; unidentified; unidentified; Chief Thunderchild; unidentified; unidentified. Front, seated cross-legged: Reverend Edward Ahenakew. Front, kneeling: a conference organizer. Photo: Saskatchewan Archives Board # R-A 10196

As this International Year of Indigenous Languages (IYIL) comes to a close, I’m seizing these last minutes to report about my quest to honour the year: my search for the syllabic newsletters of the Reverend Canon Edward Ahenakew. Ahenakew, who was sometimes described as the Martin Luther King of the Cree, published monthly syllabic newsletters between 1925 and 1961. In English, the newsletter was titled the Cree Monthly Guide. In Cree, its title reads: ᓀᐦᐃᔭᐤ ᐅᑭᐢᑭᓄᐦᑕᐦᐃᑯᐏᐣ (transliterated into roman characters; nêhiyaw okiskinohtahikowin). Continue reading

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miyo-manitowi-kîsikânisik, 2019

pêyâhtakeýimowin : peace (Julie Flett)

This original image of snow geese in flight brings comfort, warmth, and peace. It’s a gift to the Cree Literacy Network from Governor General’s Award-winning illustrator (and literacy advocate) Julie Flett that we are proud and grateful to share. We hope it spreads our Christmas wishes for peace and warmth to everyone who visits here.

To make the word dialect-neutral, Julie uses an acute accent on the second Y (ý) to show that this sound changes in different dialects (this system is used in the print version of the Wolvengrey dictionary). Here is the same word in four different forms:

Y-dialect: pêyâhtakêyimowin / ᐯᔮᐦᑕᑫᔨᒧᐏᐣ / peace
TH-dialect: pêyâhtakêthimowin / ᐯᔮᐦᑕᑫᖨᒧᐏᐣ / peace
N-dialect: pêyâhtakênimowin / ᐯᔮᐦᑕᑫᓂᒧᐏᐣ / peace
L-dialect: pêyâhtakêlimowin / ᐯᔮᐦᑕᑫᓕᒧᐏᐣ / peace

For all kinds of Christmas thoughts and wishes , you can type “Christmas” in the search box on the right, or look for “Christmas” in the category list. 

Y-dialect: miyo-manitowi-kîsikânisik / ᒥᔪ ᒪᓂᑐᐏ ᑮᓯᑳᓂᓯᐠ / Merry Christmas!

TH-dialect: mitho-makosikîsikanisik / ᒥᖪ ᒪᑯᓯᑮᓯᑲᓂᓯᐠ  / Merry Christmas! 


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nikâwiy and awâsis: New Cree names for a planet and a star

Thanks to Alberta teacher Amanda Green and Wilfred Buck and the International Astronomical Union, Star HD 136418 is now officially named “Nikawiy“, which is the Cree word for “mother”, and planet HD 136418b is now officially known as “Awasis“, the Cree word for “child” Read the IAU’s version of the story here.

The Weather Network provides a great write-up at:

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Silent Night: Rhonda Head (y-dialect)

Thanks to Rhonda Head of Opaskwayak First Nation for permission to share her recording  and video (with family photos) of Silent Night. Congratulations from all of us, as well, on the many recognitions and honours that continue to come her way.

Quoting from Ace Burpee’s “Fascinating Manitobans 2019” list:

Rhonda Head: She’s an amazing story. From Opaskwayak Cree Nation, she’s an award-winning classical singer who has performed on the stages of Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Centre. She’s twice survived a brain tumour, is an incredible community organizer, and a published author. She released an autobiography last year title Mezzo Soprano: Memoirs of a Rez Girl.

Rhonda is also preparing for her role as soloist with the Flin Flon Community Choir (“Manitoba’s Biggest Little Choir” under the directorship of my old music school cronies, Mark and Crystal Kolt) when they take New York’s Carnegie Hall by storm next spring.

You can find other recordings of Rhonda’s on YouTube (some in Cree).

And you can find other Christmas songs (with text) and related materials from Christmases past by clicking here, or using the search box on the right.


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Hippopotamus in Cree: Solomon Ratt (y-dialect)

The late elder Smith Atimoyoo told me once that the Cree are never stuck. I think he meant that they’re innovative problem-solvers, regardless of the circumstances. Which means (in this case) that they use their amazingly flexible and descriptive linguistic powers to create words for “Hippopotamus” that even a hippopotamus would appreciate.

Thanks to Solomon Ratt for this video, and to Arok Wolvengrey for researching the word forms. (I owe you both for the Heather Bishop ear worm (the Canadian kids’ classic, “If you love a Hippopotamus” that I’ve been living with for the last week. I dare you to come up with a Cree equivalent of “tiptoeing hippopotamusly”.)


For those who’d like to slow it down and see how it was put together:


kihci-                           “great”
kispakasakêwi-         “thick-skinned”
mistipwâmi-              “big-thighed”
mahkitôni-                 “big-mouthed”
nîswâpitêwi-             “two-toothed”
atâmipêko-               “underwater”
pimâtakâwi-             “swimming”
kohkôs                       “pig”


“great, thick-skinned, big-thighed, big-mouthed, two-toothed, underwater-swimming pig”

This photo by unknown author is licensed under CC BY-SA

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Dictionary of Moose Cree (l-dialect)

Thanks to Melissa Saganash for permitting us to share her photos and FaceBook comments about the launch of this newly completed Dictionary of Moose Cree, edited and guided by her brother Dr Kevin (Kepin) Brousseau. Moose Cree (also known as the l-dialect) is spoken around Moose Factory, Ontario, the heart of Moose Cree First Nation, and the launch was held at “The Gathering Place” near the Northern Store in Moose Factory. 

Any dictionary is a labour of love: Melissa’s photos (above and in the gallery below) give us a taste of the breadth of community engagement that makes this one so special. Geraldine Govender, as Director of Language & Cultural Programs and Chair of the Cultural Projects Working Group funded by the Amisk-oo-skow agreement also had a big role to play. I am personally proud to have met two of the contributing elders, Agnes Corston and George Quachegan, in the course of other work for Moose Cree First Nation. The Cree Literacy Network shares every bit of Melissa’s pride and that of the whole MCFN community in unveiling this monumental achievement! 

Today, the Moose Cree First Nation had a special event in their community to launch their brand new Moose Cree Dictionary. For years, my brother Kepin has been working on lexicons and dictionaries. But, this one — this one is incredibly beautiful aside from being the largest single-dialect dictionary to have been published. There’s even a verb conjugation table!

Over 24,000 entries. Twenty-four thousand words that have been carefully researched and verified with expert speakers from the community. Hand-sketched pictures by the one and only Jimmy Tim Whiskeychan to illustrate some very specific words grace the pages of the dictionary. The art cover is from Holly Pichette, another Cree artist. This is a communal labour of love. Love for the language, for the carriers of the language, and the stories their words build.

I don’t know how you do it, but you do. We are very proud of you, brother. Look at how proud Mom was when she held your dictionary after it was delivered! Congratulations on an impressive master work of art.

Because he was hard at work in Timmins, Kepin (who also happens to be a medical doctor) was unable to attend the launch himself (that’s him with the stethoscope in the gallery below). You can also follow his Cree language work on his blog: Kepin’s work on Cree language at his blog:

An online “talking” version of the dictionary (based on the previous print edition) can also be found online at

Find the official Moose Cree First Nation report on the launch here:



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Winter Solstice in the Cree Tradition: Wilfred Buck via CBC

In 2017, Anishinaabe reporter Lenard Monkman asked elder Wilfred Buck of the Opaskwayak Cree Nation in Manitoba to share the significance of the winter solstice in the Cree tradition. Their conversation was recorded and animated by CBC Indigenous in “Ask an Elder.”

For additional star vocabulary in SRO, you can also click here:

View additional “Ask an Elder” videos at this link:


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miyo-manitowi-kîsikanisi oskaskêwiki miyopayiwin: W.T. Goodspirit & The Legacies (y-dialect)

Thanks to Wayne Jackson (the driving force behind the FaceBook group Nêhiyawêwin (Cree) Word/Phrase of the Day for permission to share this energetic, singable Christmas recording that is may make you grin from ear to ear.

According to Wayne’s fellow musician Trent Agecoutay, “the idea for the song is to honor and showcase the Cree language in the best way we knew how…thru music. Wayne T. Jackson is singing in Cree and did the translation, so we would love for you to have a listen! Please share with all your cuzzins 😎”

Click here to listen on CD Baby –

Here’s the full Cree text so you can sing along:

miyo-manitowi-kîsikanisi: oskaskêwiki miyopayiwin

ᒥᔪ ᒪᓂᑐᐏ ᑮᓯᑲᓂᓯ ᐅᐢᑲᐢᑫᐏᑭ ᒥᔪᐸᔨᐏᐣ

Have a good Christmas; in the new year, good things happen.

Listen once, then go to CDBaby and buy a track to support the artists.

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âtayôhkâtitotân: Solomon Ratt (y-dialect)

âtayôhkâtitotân: âtayôhkêwina anihi tâpiskôc astisiya kâ-sîhcikwâpitahki kinêhiyawâtisiwininaw.

ᐋᑕᔫᐦᑳᑎᑐᑖᐣ: ᐋᑕᔫᐦᑫᐏᓇ ᐊᓂᐦᐃ ᑖᐱᐢᑰᐨ ᐊᐢᑎᓯᔭ ᑳ ᓰᐦᒋᒁᐱᑕᐦᑭ ᑭᓀᐦᐃᔭᐚᑎᓯᐏᓂᓇᐤ᙮

Let’s tell each other our sacred stories: our sacred stories are like the sinew thread that sews tight our Cree cultural traditions.

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Silence Memes: Solomon Ratt (th-dialect)

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  1. kâmwâci-itohtî ita kâ-kimoskâcihtâkwahk ika kâ-papâsîsinânowik ika kisikisi piyahtahîthinowin kâ-ayak kipihtowiwinihk.
    ᑳᓎᒋ ᐃᑐᐦᑏᐤ ᐃᑕ ᑳ ᑭᒧᐢᑳᒋᐦᑖᑿᕽ ᐃᑲ ᑳ ᐸᐹᓰᓯᓈᓄᐏᐠ ᐃᑲ ᑭᓯᑭᓯ ᐱᔭᐦᑕᐦᐄᖨᓄᐏᐣ ᑳ ᐊᔭᐠ ᑭᐱᐦᑐᐏᐏᓂᕽ᙮
    Go placidly amid the noise and haste and remember what peace there may be in silence.’ Desiderata

2. natohta kapihtowêwin: kipîkiskwatikon.
ᓇᑐᐦᑕ ᑲᐱᐦᑐᐍᐏᐣ: ᑭᐲᑭᐢᑿᑎᑯᐣ᙮
Listen to the silence: it speaks to you.

3. natohta! kâ-pêtawâwak kitâniski-wâhkômâkanak kipihtowêwinihk.
ᓇᑐᐦᑕ! ᑳ ᐯᑕᐚᐘᐠ ᑭᑖᓂᐢᑭ ᐚᐦᑰᒫᑲᓇᐠ ᑭᐱᐦᑐᐍᐏᓂᕽ᙮
Listen! You will hear your ancestors in the silence.


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