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
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 in Hall Lake or my maternal grandparents house in town at 101 Reserve. The Christmas in trapline was very different.
On the days leading up to Christmas, my paternal 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 kīyokākonow 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
kinanāskomitin = I thank you/I am thankful for you/I am grateful for you (#CreeSimonSays).
To two or more people
mitho-makosīkīsikanisik – Have a good Christmas
To one person
mitho-makosīkīsikanisi – Have a good 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)
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/
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 life 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 (translated to Cree from me) 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: https://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.