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.
When I was a boy, I used to love hearing about wīsahkīcāhk, the trickster, and all the shenanigans he got himself into. I remember a story about when the trickster met with wihtikow (wendigo in other areas). Wīsahkīcāhk had been walking around the forest, as usual, when he met with the cannibalistic entity. In the end, the trickster got away when he found a set of antlers and turned to face the wihtiko and scared him off. Like I said in another blog, I wish I could remember the details of the story but they are not at all clear because I was just a boy, many, many years ago.
One evening, I had something in my eye (īpisinīyān) and I told my grandfather about it. He told me not to worry because it would be gone by morning. I laid there wondering what he meant so I asked him. He looks at me in a half smile, that wīsahkīcāhk would be coming in the middle of the night to take it out of my eye. I said “wīsahkīcāhk?” His shoulders rolled in a bit of laughter I remember vividly to this day, “īhī,” he said, “tāpwī, tipiskāki kita pī-otinam kīkwā, kiskīsikohk ohci.” (for real, tonight, he will come to take it out of your eye).
I lay there thinking, “could this be real?” I wondered how wīsahkīcāhk looked. I imagined he looked like the character from the legends we used to have in school; long braids, with a full animal hide outfit. I wondered how he would come in. Is the rickety door even locked? Does he come in spirit form? As soon as I thought of that, I got scared. Terrified even, I ended up staying up late the night wondering if every noise was coming from him. I finally fell asleep at some point.
In the morning, lo and behold, the thing in my eye was gone. I shuddered to think if my grandfather was right and being truthful. Of course, we all know today that it was tearing that slowly brings out the foreign objects. My mom revealed to me that part when I told her what my grandfather told me. She laughed when she thought about it and kind of exposed nimosōm’s storytelling ways.
Audio of Woodland Cree terms below:
īpisinīyān – something is in my eye
īhī – yes
tāpwī, tipiskāki kita pī-otinam kīkāw, kiskīsikohk ohci – for real, tonight, he will come to take it out of your eye
I fondly remember growing up the trapline around this season when I was a boy. My grandfather went out one time, just before freeze- up (mikiskāw) and told me that he was going to go check out a couple of places that needed his attention. I wanted to go with him but I could tell from his body language that he didn’t want me coming along. I wanted to go so badly but I didn’t ask, he went off and was on his way using the old rickety canoe that we used on so many duck hunting outings.
That evening, I waited patiently at my parents cabin for his imminent return as I noticed the weather changing drastically. The temperature dropped very noticeably and we all knew there would be ice the next day. He did not come back the next day and I missed the evening Cree story telling I enjoyed in the early nightfall. I was getting worried about him as the camp felt empty to me, without him.
On the second day, the ice was already getting thick, as there was very little wind to break the newly formed ice. I went to the shore again to see if he was coming home. It must have been my third trip to the shore that day. It was nearing about 4:00 PM, or somewhere around there, when I saw a familiar speck across the lake where the ice must have been thinner.
As he came closer, I could tell he was starting to need to put more effort into his paddling. The ice near the shore was at least an inch thick but my grandfather, wanting to show the man he is, broke through at a snails pace to get to shore. I was so happy to have him back home, and with him, was a couple of ducks that didn’t make it down south.
That evening, I read out some Archie comics (in Cree) to him as he sat listening intently, to another Archie vs Reggie adventure.
As a little boy in the trapline, my late grandfather used to tell me many stories after a day of checking snares and traps. I wish I could remember them in detail but they are pretty much a blur at this point in my life. I also remember when i turned 8 years old and knew how to read. I would return the favour to my grandfather by reading Archie comics and translating to Cree as he sat intently listening to the shenanigans of the ‘ol gang.
The stories he told me were enhanced with his use of hand gestures and body language to emphasize the main points. His tone of voice would change, depending on the situation in his stories. His great humour would shine through, as his shoulders would bounce up and down as he bellowed in laughter. I was mesmerized by his masterful telling of legends and some that were his very own. I will tell the story of the time he thought he tracked a wehtigo (wendigo in other areas) at his trapline in another blog entry.
Story telling has a big part of my life since then and I used to tell stories to my children, right off the top of my head, as they listened to my sensational stories without planning them first. I wrote a few in detail as they are on my website: http://firstnationstories.com . I am happy to share what I remember for everyone to read and hopefully share themselves to people they care about. Have great evening.
I completed my final class project and I thought I would share the video I narrated with memories from when I was a little boy, I wrote it in the present tense. Travelling across the lake to our trapline with my father paddling us. It’s more a slide show than anything, along with text.
It is a counter-narrative in that it is an example of going out on the lake as an underprivileged family that does not have the riches to use a big boat or take huge supplies with only what we have.
In 2005, I started working for the Gift of Language and Culture Project as a casual web designer. Little did I know that they were expecting a Flash based website with images, text and audio all rolled into one for each category. I was overwhelmed by the expectations but I was happy to at least be working. I put in many extra hours at home to learn this new application.
I knew enough about image and sound formats but he text part gave me trouble because I had never worked with different text fonts other than the generic types we are all used to such as, Times New Roman, Arial or Comic Sans. I had to learn quickly because the demands of the project team was high and I was expected to work miracles and with new Aboriginal language fonts I never heard of.
We had Cree, Dene and syllabic fonts that needed to be installed on all our computers and I had to make sure people at home and schools could view the fonts on documents so I had to provide a link to the fonts for personal installation. There were also applications I needed to familiarize myself with, such as, CorelDraw, Publisher, Adobe Acrobat, Adobe Audition and of course Adobe Flash (Macromedia Flash at the time). I already knew about Adobe Photoshop so that was a big help with the images that needed to be edited and manipulated.
The project team was great and the people were dedicated and willing to put forth much effort to accomplish what we could, to provide resources for Aboriginal language learners all over the country and even some in the United States. We had curriculum developers who compiled the Cree and Dene word lists and translations, illustrators who provided the original clip-art we needed, audio/visual personnel who recorded the audio and video required and of course the material developers who put the resources together for print and distribution.
Part One & Part Two
I personally collaborated with all staff to get what I needed to build the website and put their work together and develop what we see today. If it were not for the cooperation and hard work of the team, I could not do what I did for the website. I am grateful for the experience and I was so sad to see it all come to an end in 2011. It was a big part of my life, 7 years of my life that it still has a profound effect on me today.
I think I did well on my self-learning because we ended up with a great Cree website that is still online and used all around the world and has been viewed by 147 countries. It has had 276,357 hits and 100,226 unique visitors (as of June 17, 2015) which is pretty good for a non-mainstream language and website.
The YouTube Channel has 407 subscribers 260,379 views as (of June 17, 2015). The channel has songs, concerts, and animations for the whole family to enjoy. There are also a couple of instructional videos for snowshoes and birch bark baskets and many interviews with elders, some who are not with us today.
As the web designer/Flash developer, I received praise for the work I did but I always mentioned the people behind all the important work that needed to be done before I could even develop an animation or Flash exercise. I had a good working relationship with all my co-workers and while they contributed all the work, I made myself extra useful by troubleshooting their computer’s hardware and software when ever they needed it. There was no way I could do my work if they could not do theirs, so it worked out for all of us.
I am currently training to be a teacher at Nortep and hopefully in a couple of years I will be able to contribute to the Cree language professionally with much more credibility. I decided to go back to school because I needed more training in the area of education and to hopefully expand my horizons for myself and to contribute more to the learning environment of our students in other areas where it is needed.
On a side note, I would receive emails and phone calls from Montana, Ontario, British Columbia and the all the prairie provinces to let me know what a great job the Gift was doing. One person in particular called from BC to tell me that he loved the website and that two of his children were learning Cree from their mother who was a Cree woman he married from Saskatchewan somewhere, I cannot remember where specifically (it might have been Pelican Narrows). It was a morning call out of nowhere but it was a nice surprise way back about 2010.
I wish the project could have continued but all good things come to an end. Maybe one of these days there will be a revival and if there is, I would love to be involved again and provide my experience and expertise.