At the time of the incident, I was about 7 or 8 years and nīstāw (my cousin), James, was 8 or 9 years old. nimosōminān – (our grandfather) was getting ready to go somewhere when James and I decided we were going to follow him. He looked at us, “hāw māka, sipwītihtān” – (okay, let’s go), he said.
It was late winter, and the weather was warming up, but this morning was cool enough to harden the snow. The place he was going, was across the lake from our cabins, David’s cabin. David was an old friend of our grandfather’s and many times he would go visit him and have tea or coffee. tī iwī nitowi minihkwīyān – (I’m going to go drink some tea).
nimosōminān was walking far ahead of us while nīstāw and I were wrestling and joking, typical boys horsing around. We were about halfway through the lake when suddenly, crack! We fell through the ice, one leg each. His left leg and my right leg. I was almost up to my knee, while nīstāw fell past his knee. We fell forward, as he grabbed me to keep himself from going in. We got out safely and stood up to assess ourselves. Up ahead, nimosōminān stopped to look back, saw that we were okay and then kept on walking.
When we got to David’s cabin, nimosōminān mentioned to us that maybe we fell into a water hole in the ice. “matwāncī ikī pōsipathīk pīkwatahōpānihk” – (I wonder if you could have fell into a water hole in the ice?).
“namōwitha osām kayās dīpit iki twāhahk pīkwatahōpān.” – (It was not too long ago, that David chiseled a water hole in the ice).
James and I didn’t think so because most pīkwatahōpāna would be too small to fit two legs, maybe one leg but not two. I don’t remember if we tried finding it again because like I said, it was late winter, and the ice crusted snow was hard, and we could not find our exact trail. To this day, we still do not know what we fell into, but the ice did crack and maybe it was just a weak area. We didn’t stay at the scene at the time because we panicked and ran to go warm-up in David’s cabin.
nāpīsis – boy
nāpīsisak – boys
nīstāw – cousin (my father’s sister’s son)
nimosōm – my grandfather
kimosōm – your grandfather
nimosōminān – our grandfather (mine and somebody else’s grandfather, not you and me)
One wintry autumn day, maskwa was strolling along a path toward his sleeping spot for the winter. As he was a walking, mikisiw was flying overhead to start his trek to the warmth of the south, to the warm rivers, lakes and other areas where game is plentiful during the cold, winter months.
maskwa called out to mikisiw, “tānisi, ikwāni cī sāwanohk iwī ispithayin?” – (Hello, are you flying south for the winter?)
“īhī” – (Yes), said mikisiw, “osām māna kāti akwatihk īkāsocik kinosīwak“– (because when it freezes, the fish are hiding under the ice).
“nīsta ikosi, ikā mīna kīway mīnisa, īyawis ipākihtīki” – “For me too but also because the berries are gone, they have all fallen” maskwa explained.
“mitho nipā maskwa, kihtwam kawāpimitin sīkwahki“ – “Have a good sleep maskwa, see you in the spring.” said mikisiw.
“kīsta” – “You too,” relied maskwa.
maskwa – bear
mikisiw – eagle
mīnis – berry
mīnisa – berries
kinosīw – fish (singular)
kinosīwak – fish (plural)
Directions – These are terms that I heard being said.
North – kīwītinohk
My grandfather and I used to get up at the crack of dawn and got home at nightfall most days to check our snares and traps. We had been getting some good luck on the rabbit snaring but we noticed our rabbits started to go missing. “awīyak awa ika kimotit ki wāposoma” – Somebody is stealing your rabbits.
As a boy of about 6-7 years of age, it got me thinking of many scenarios of what might be stealing our rabbits, which totally impeded our intake of rabbit soup. I loved dipping my thick crumbly bannock that nimosōm used to make, into the salty, peppery, “pahkwīsikanapoy” – flour soup. What could have been taking our rabbits? I thought maybe an ōhō – owl or mahkīsīs – fox.
I imagined ōhō perched on a branch, looking side by side and then noticing a rabbit, free for the taking. I thought maybe mahkīsīs would be snooping around, stalking its next prey and finding our rabbits, frozen on the ground like they were placed there for them (they kind of were I guess).
I am sure my late grandfather knew what was eating our rabbits, but I had no idea because as young as I was, I didn’t notice the tracks and only listened to the part about “awiyaK” – somebody. It sounded ominous to me at the time because it sounded like it could be anybody or anything that might be deemed evil, like a creature of some kind.
It was late fall, early freeze-up at time and there was not much snow. I remember we may have been walking along the icy shore where it was thick enough to hold us. If we went too far, the ice would start cracking. This was a risk many families had to make to survive. My grandfather had enough experience and knowledge, that we were relatively safe out in the wild.
One morning, when we got to “maskīkohk” – to the muskeg, nimosōm went up ahead to take a piss first but quickly came sneaking back, “awayak awa niwapamaw” – I see somebody. He took his gun that was resting on a tree truck and he loaded it before he went back.
I was completely freaked out, what could he have seen? The look he gave me, was one of excitement when he saw something. I was scared to think of what it might have been. As he loaded up the gun, I went up a bit to see what it was.
I saw some movement where our first snares had been and saw the biggest cat I have ever seen in real life. Having little knowledge of the more diverse animals in the north, I thought it was a cougar. Like the kind I would see on TV in town. This cat looked straight at me for awhile and made a face, I was very amazed and fascinated at the sight of the cat. I stepped back to my original position as nimosōm aimed his gun and shot the “pisiw” – lynx, right between the eyes. The cat dropped instantly, surrounded by rabbit fur and blood. The mystery was solved.
Chances are, my grandfather knew it was a lynx all along, he just wanted to entertain me by sounding frightening in a way. He would have a bit of smile when he mentioned the mysterious thief. It was all in good fun and I fondly remember the many times he told me the tales of wīsahkīcāhk and wihtikō for late evening entertainment. His facial expressions and hand gestures, were gold, in the storytelling process.
When I started working with the Gift of Language and Culture in 2005, I moved into my maternal grandmother’s house in La Ronge, SK. Her name was Evelyn Venne, ōhōsis was her nickname, meaning little owl in Cree. She was happy to have me live there because I was her favourite grandson (according to me).
She asked me if I was still in school: “kīyāpic cī ī-tāyamihcikīn?” (Are you still going to school?)
I told her no, and that I started working in La Ronge. “tānsi māka īsi ī-ātoskīn?” (What are you working as?)
I was anticipating that question way before the conversation, “Web Developer kīsi ātoskiyān,” I said. The look on her face was one of confusion. I did not expect her to understand in anyway and wondered how I could put it in a way she would comprehend. Out of nowhere, she said: “mamahtāwi-āpacihcikan?” (computer).
īhī, (yes) I said, ikotowa kīkway. She looked and smiled her beautiful smile because she knew she caught me off-guard. Lesson learned, just because a person is elderly, does not mean they are not paying attention to the changing world. She knew I was in a computer training program, so I guess she just put two and two together.
She used to enjoy looking at all the pictures I had in my computer and was always amazed at the things it was capable of. I would scan old pictures and she would ask me: “tamahkapihtayin” – make the image larger.
How would one say Web Developer? Kohkominahkīsīs iyāpiy kā osihtāt – one who makes spider web, haha, maybe not. It would likely be a reference to using a computer for work, I think. Something like, mamahtāwi-āpacihcikan katoskātahk – one who works with computers. I believe it would be the general term for maybe IT admin or computer support worker.
Maybe one of the readers of this blog has an idea, I would love to hear it. Any words having to do with computers or maybe mobile devices, would great.
I mentioned before that nimosōm would sometimes stay with us on the reserve at the parents place during the summer. It was a beautiful summer day when he decided to go on a hike. He told me that there was an old trail he used to take to a small lake east of the reserve: “wīcīwin nosim, kiwī itohtāhitin apisci sākahikansīs, itī māna ikī kaskimohtiyān koskinikiyān.” (Come with me my grandchild, I will take you to a small lake, it is where I would go when I was young by cutting across).
So, it was set, we would be on foot and we were actually out to look for ptarmigans and partridges. He had a single-shot .22 caliber gun and I used a straight-bow and carried 5 store bought arrows. At this point, I had only shot small spring birds to make flour soup and missed many more squirrels (which brought in $1 a piece during trapping season). During the winter before, I had gone out on my own and hunted down a partridge which I just kept on missing, it was very disheartening.
About 15-20 minutes into our trip, we came across an old bear snare that was rusted and deserted to hang precariously on a log. He mentioned a name of the person who may have left it there and how they were so inept at looking after their snares. “tāpwī īsa ikī kakīpatiso awa kākī tāpwakwīt, nītha wītha nika tāpakōmoha maskwa.” (This person that set the snare was so stupid, I would have snared the bear).
As we got deeper into the woods, we came upon a group of ptarmigans. Nimosōm flashed his big smile, “watch out pithīw, watch out.” He went sneaking up on them and I heard a shot, bang! He got one of them, “mitoni īniyānanicik” (There is five of them). He managed to kill four of them and I got one right through the neck, it was such a proud moment for me.
After our kills, we did end up walking to the small lake. We sat and admired the view from afar as there was much marshland. We had our rest and we went back home. I hope to go back there this summer with my son.
Going back to my blog about my grandfather and uncle tracking a wihtikō (NIMOSŌM AND MY UNCLE TRACK THE WIHTIKŌ), I received many comments and reactions on Facebook which is always good for website views and acknowledgement. I appreciate all comments and find them all interesting but the one that interested me the most, was the theory that it might be a Bigfoot.
Over the years, I have heard stories where huge rocks would be thrown at people on the side of a road when they were hitchhiking. Near my home reserve, there had been a sighting of a hairy, human shaped creature eating at the shore of a lake or river. One comment I read was that of a creature being seen in NWT that may have been a wihtikō but is a wihtikō sighting feasible?
From the descriptions I have read online, a wihtikō is more of a spiritual creature, an evil entity. It is the transformation of a starving human being into a crazy, evil creature that cannibalizes other humans to satisfy itself. I think that if a human turned into a crazy cannibal, then it could not be a monster.
Is it more likely that a Bigfoot could exist? It is hard for me to say. I have seen many videos on YouTube that show some type of hairy creature and many accounts of people who have seen it. The sightings all have similarities in their descriptions. It is hard for me to believe because I think many sightings can be explained. I also think that if I wanted to perpetrate such a hoax, I could do a good enough job to convince and fool many people.
Of course, I would not go about to try and pull a hoax because I don’t want to get shot. When I used to go out hunting ptarmigans and partridges with my bow and arrow or my 22 cal, I would have shot a strange creature, unless I completely freaked out and ran away, but anyway it would not be safe to go out pretending to be a Bigfoot.
On the outskirts of the reserve I lived in, there would be trees crisscrossed in weird ways that looked like it was on purpose. Since I was by myself during this time, I started to freak out a bit but convinced myself that it was trappers or mushroom pickers marking a good spot of some kind. The last thing I wanted, was to be alone with a creature from the woods, being an imaginative 12-year-old will do that. I had a straight-bow and some homemade arrows that had chipped deer boned tips, but I doubt that would have stopped a wihtikō or Sasquatch.
I wish I could have seen tracks or even a glimpse of something in the woods. I would gone out to investigate some more and would have done the research needed to try and get a picture or video to show the world. Tracks would be great to see, strange tracks that do not resemble any known animal. Maybe even tufts of hair that do not belong to any of the many rez dogs running around the bushes near my home reserve.
This summer, I plan on going to some familiar spots of when I was a kid with a bow and arrow. I hope the deforestation isn’t too bad.
As a boy, I remember only one Christmas that we spend in the trapline. Other Christmases we would spend on reserve, whether at my parent’s house or my maternal grandparents house in town. The Christmas in trapline was very different.
On the days leading up to Christmas, my grandparents would talk about their other family members that I don’t think I ever met. It was always fascinating to me when they would sit and talk, occasionally laughing or sympathizing. It was a time of reminiscing old times and old friends.
When a certain person had done something crazy: “wahwāy, nanātohk māna ikī itahkamikiso” (Oh boy he used to do all kinds of things).
If there was a tragic story: “tāpwī māna nikī kitimakinawaw“(I would feel so sorry for her).
If nimosōm or nōhkom mentioned an old rival of my grandfather (actually a good friend of his), he would energize up a bit and say: “Ha, nikī mākwihāw māna kākī māsīhitowahk” (Boy did I ever give him a difficult time when we wrestled). At this time, my grandfather would look at me and gesture with his hands how he held them up before a wrestling match.
On Christmas day, my parents gave us gifts that we usually received every Christmas. At my grandfathers’ cabin, where I showed up every day before daylight, they were saying their Christmas greetings “mithomakōsīwikanisi” to each other and giving each other gifts they had at hand. They were not wrapped or neat, but it would be appreciated and accepted with a “tīniki” or “kinanāskomotin.”
Things were a bit more serious as giving was important and should be done, but not at the expense of surviving the long cold winter, by giving away your boots or mukluks (maskisina). The thankfulness shown seemed very genuine to me, it was an important lesson to learn. That afternoon, our auntie took us sliding “īsōskocowīyahk” on a very steep hill, it was a great time.
All that was different to me because my maternal grandparents in town, on the reserve, would do the whole Christmas thing. Great feasts and happy faces and gift giving that I loved very much as a child. The main language used was English with some Cree thrown in by my maternal grandparents. Those were happy, carefree memories that I cherish to this day.
Santa Clause was called wīsahkīcāhk and that is where I first heard the term. “wīsahkīcāhk kiwī kīyokākinow tipiskāki” (Santa Clause is going to come visit us tonight).
At the cabin when my paternal grandfather mentioned wīsahkīcāhk in his stories, I imagined Santa Clause as the main character. It was weird but funny when I think about it now. It was not until later that I found out about the Cree legend, possibly from Sesame Street, but I am not sure, it was so long ago.
The Christmas on the reserve was in stark contrast with the Christmas at the trapline but I am happy to have experienced both. I can only imagine now, how a Christmas would be for a modern family from the reserve today. No technology after the batteries have died, and even then, there would be no Internet access. The videos and audio files would be there but there would be little time enjoy such things when you need to go out and get your own food from the land. There is also getting your own water from the lake and getting your own wood and chopping it for firewood.
On the plus side, there is an abundance of trees in the forest you can take home to decorate, with whatever you can find. I know it doesn’t seem glamorous, but it needs to be done when you are out there. Relaxing in bed, is so much better after a long hard day, you won’t feel like climbing a tree to get a signal.
nimosōm – my grandfather
nōhkom – my grandmother
maskisina – footwear
īsōskocōwīyahk – we are sliding
tīniki – thank you
kinanāskomotin – I thank you
mithomakōsīwikanisi – Merry Christmas
iskocīsa – batteries
nīhithaw ātathōhkan – Cree Legend
makōsīwikanimistik – Christmas Tree
(I made up this descriptive word, if there is a proper way to say it, I would be happy to hear from you)
Many years ago, my grandfather was packing his supplies to get ready. He had his gun, food and other camping gear laid out and was talking to nōhkom and to himself in Cree while he packed. Being 5-6 years old that time, I was curious as to where he was going.
Nimosōm, tānitī ōma īwī itōhtīn? (Grandfather, where are you going?)
acithow kotak wanīhikīskanaw īwih ispiciyān. (I’m moving to camp at another trapline for awhile).
Kinwīsk na? (For a long time?)
ispi ta wanihimowak nikik ikwa amisk, mihcīt itokī nika pīsiwāwak (Until I trap an otter and beaver, I’ll probably be bringing many of them home).
So off he went with his toboggan (otāpānāsk) all packed and ready to go. I wondered about all the places he would be travelling to and what kinds of animals he would meet up with. Would there be wolves? Moose? Or maybe even a coyote or two.
Speaking of coyotes, at night, we would hear the howling of what sounded like a pack of coyotes, one long drawn out howl after another. One time I ask if there might be very many coyotes across the lake looking at us. Namwāc ītokī, ahpō ītokī pīyak āwakācī nīso mīscacākanisak (Probably not, there is probably only one or two coyotes), he went on to say.
As I looked at him in disbelief, nimosōm looked at me with amusement and laughed a bit at my confused expression.
As it turns out, one or two coyotes can sound like many of them. I never forgot this lesson and is a story that I always wondered about until I was old enough to research on my own (not that I doubted my grandfather).
When he came back, he had a much bigger load on his sled (otāpānāsk), and it turns out that he brought much more than an otter or beaver, he had many muskrats and squirrels. We had a good harvest that year, all around, including for my father and uncles.
ikosi, tiniki kayamihtayin nimasinahikiwin – Thank you for reading my blog
It has been one year since my grandfather passed away. He was born September 12, 1925 and lived a long live until December 6, 2017.
My best memories are from when I was a boy in the trapline. Listening to his stories and imagining all the details of his fascinating tales. They were great times with only a few bad times of being out of food. He usually knew when to go to town to get supplies and he would always asked me what I wanted him to bring me: “kīkway kā-nitowithihtaman ta-pītamātan?” (What do you want me to bring for you?), “coke ‘ikwa’ (and) bananas,” I would say. If he didn’t spend the night in town, that evening I would have my treat.
Many of the memories I treasure, are from when we would sit in the cabin, after a long day of checking snares and traps, telling each other stories. After one of his wihtikō stories, he stood up and said: “matwāncī nikaki papāsiha wihtikō, ikī nakiskawak” (I wonder if I could have given the wihtikō a tough time if I met up with him).
Right away, nōhkom (my grandmother) spoke up: “āpahkowisi, ka nipahisikisi ikī wāpamat wihtikō.” (Don’t be foolish, you would be scared to death if you saw the wihtikō), “namōthitokī” (I don’t think so), said my grandfather puffing out his chest and lifting his shoulders.
At the time, I truly believed he could have whipped wihtikō’s butt. I thought he was the strongest man alive. He talked about lifting “ayinānīw” (eight) eighteen-foot canoes over his head, straight over his head. nimosōm used to call himself “māwaci nāpiw” (the manliest man). As a kid, I ate it up.
The trips to the trapline went for a few years. I wished those days would never end but unfortunately, that’s not how life works. All good things come to an end. The last time nimosōm brought me coke and bananas, was when I was at home in Hall Lake, I was 12 years old. It was summer time, a time when we would be out on the lake going from island to mainland to island again, hunting for ducks. School was going to be starting soon at the time and I took what he bought for me and he stood there like he wanted to ask me something. Instead, he stayed quiet and went into his cab to go to Pesiw Lake. I stood at the steps just wanting to go with him. I watched the taxi drive out of sight as my mother told me, that he probably wanted me to go along. I already know that though.
I know education is important and I knew it then. I should have just gone with him.
kīkway kā-nitowithihtaman ta-pītamātan? – What do you want me to bring for you?
matwāncī nikaki papāsiha wihtikō, ikī nakiskawak – I wonder if I could have given the wihtikō a tough time if I met up with him
āpahkowisi, ka nipahisikisi ikī wāpamat wihtikō. – Don’t be foolish, you would be scared to death if you saw the wihtikō
As a boy, one of the many stories my late grandfather told me was when he thought he might have tracked the wihtikō. One day, in the winter, he was out with my late uncle (nohkomis) on the frozen lake, way before I was born. I listened attentively as he told his story about a set of tracks they had seen along the way to their destination. He did not know what kind of tracks they were and that he had seen many types of tracks over the years, but nothing like the ones they saw that day.
He described them as kind of a twig laden track. It was hard to vision what he was talking about. He said it in Cree, something like “watihkwanisa” or “wacihkwanisa.” It was a very vague description, but I was more interested on what or who it could be. My grandfather went on to say that my late uncle Jacob, did not seem interested before they went back on their journey. Nimosōm looked at me and said: “matwānci ana wihtikō kāki namimihāk?” (Maybe it was wihtikō tracks that we found?).
It was a story that intrigued me and left me wondering and wanting more. I imagined the wihtikō traveling around the boreal forest, looking for his next meal, maybe one of us at the camp. I was in awe of the possibility of his story being true that it stayed on my mind for many years. What if the wihtikō was nearby? Maybe he was looking for an opening to take one of us at the most opportune time and gobble us up, one by one. I cringed at the thought that he may have been observing me standing near the camp, waiting to pounce and drag me away when he had the chance.
I did not want to tell my mother this story because I did not want her to kill my fantasy, as it were. I wanted to believe there might be some loathsome creature that is real and evil. I wanted to find out more but without asking my parents what they might have thought. In short, I did not want to hear the truth because there had to be something out there and I wanted to believe my late grandfather’s tale and his adventure. I was totally exhaled at his fascinating storytelling. The mystery and thought-provoking ways he told his stories, were the most entertaining I ever heard, even to this day.
It is hard to say what it was that they tracked on the snow. The only thing I can think of, is maybe big boots with very rugged treads from another trapper. He did not elaborate where they might have tracked the foot/boot prints, but he told me this story when we were at our cabin at Pesiw Lake (he used to call it pīsiw sākahikanihk) in Northern Saskatchewan, about 120-130KM from the town of La Ronge.