Monday is not always the best day, but it has to be faced.
Monday is not always the best day, but it has to be faced.
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.
Thank you for visiting.
pahkwīsikanapoy – flour soup
maskīk – muskeg
maskīkohk – to the muskeg
ōhō – owl
mahkīsīs – fox
pisiw – lynx
wāpos – rabbit
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.
Nōhkom – my grandmother
mamahtāwi-āpacihcikan – computer (astonishing/amazing device)
ōhōsis – little owl
kīsi atoskīyān – is how I work/make a living
īhī – yes
ikotowa kīkway – that kind of thing
tamahkapihtayin” – make the image larger.
Kohkominahkīsīs iyāpiy kā osihtāt – one who makes spider web
mamahtāwi-āpacihcikan kā toskātahk – one who works with computers
Thank you for visiting, I hope to include more about my late grandmother as I go along.
I would like to thank all my followers for their support. Ninanāskimon kā ayimihtayin nitācathohkīwina. Thank you for reading my stories.
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.
paskisikan – gun
pithīw – ptarmigan
nimosōm – my grandfather
|Happy New Year to all my readers out there, here’s hoping for a great year in stories and Cree blogs.|
After Christmas, it was back to the old grind for the family in the trapline. We needed to check out traps, nets and snares for food and the weather did not always cooperate with us. Nimosōm was going to check anyway because like he would say: “namwāc wītha nītha nika kipihtinikon kīkway, kīyām ithikohk kātahkāyāk.” (Nothing is going to stop me, no matter how cold it is).
So off he went to check the traps and I hoped he would trap a “wacaskos” – muskrat. I loved boiled muskrat with napatākwa – potatoes, the “pahkwīsikanapoy” – flour soup, afterward would really hit the spot. If it was all mixed into one pot, even better. The supper that day was great, “kwayask nimitho micison” – I ate well.
ocīmikīsikāw (literally ‘kissing day’) New Years Day was like the rest of January, we said our greetings of Happy New Year and then went on with our day. During the month, we did much of our fishing not far from camp, of course as it is with all fishermen, we tried many spots and even made the lake look like a slice of swish cheese, holes of many sizes but none too big to fall into. “niki mohcikihtān kākī kwaskwīpicikiyān” – I had fun when I was fishing.
“ocīmikīsikāw” (literally ‘kissing day’) – New Years Day
“nimosōm” – my grandfather
“wacaskos” – muskrat
“napatākwa” – potatoes
“pahkwīsikanapoy” – flour soup
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)
From Molly Ratt’s Showcase Gallery Three
mahihkan – wolf
mahihkanak – wolves
mahihkanis – small wolf, usually baby wolf
mahihkanisak – small wolves
mahihkan ōtho – a wolf howls
mahihkanak ōthowak – wolves are howling
mahihkanis ōtho – a small wolf howls
mahihkanisak ōthowak – small wolves are howling
A big thank you goes out to Cynthia Cook, a former colleague of mine.I used to call her office, “The Lions Den” before I submitted a new webpage on the Gift of Language and Culture website – http://giftoflanguageandculture.ca/
This website was a big help – itwêwina website http://sapir.artsrn.ualberta.ca/itwewina/eng/crkMacr/
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
My grandfather – nimosōm
Coyote – mīscacākanis
beaver – amisk
otter – nikik
sled, toboggan – otāpānāsk
muskrat – wacaskos
squirrel – anikwacās
Coyotes: Decoding Their Yips, Barks, and Howls – https://www.adirondackalmanack.com/2014/03/coyotes-decoding-yips-barks-howls.html
There is a running joke among the reserves about “Indian Time.” I understand it as a reference to how First Nations people use the time on their clocks or watches, sparingly (to put it mildly).
I hope I don’t insult any of our fine First Nations people with the use, but it is used prominently in many gatherings and meetings (not to try and perpetrate the stereotype).
Urban Dictionary – Indian Time – https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=indian%20time