I remember when I was about 10 or 11 years old and nimosōm – my grandfather told me that he used to have a dog team. It was fascinating to hear about the places he travelled with his team. It was places nearby but hearing it as a young boy, it sounded so much more glamorous and seemed to be in faraway places.
It was all well and good when he told me about what he used to do, but he started telling me that he was planning on getting a NEW dog team. I remember being very excited about it and thought I’d be able to see it happen and maybe try it myself the next winter.
He was able to get a big male and a female husky. We were in Pesiw Lake that summer when he acquired the dogs and we moved them to Hall Lake in the early fall. By the next spring, there was pups, many with big feet that nimosōm said, meant that the dogs were going to be big.
I picked out a puppy myself and it turns out nimosōm picked the same one. piyakwan awa kōtinahk, kitīminow awa – we picked the same one, this is our dog. I honestly didn’t know how that was going to work, but nimosōm seemed happy about it and I didn’t ask how it would work if he had to go back to the trapline.
It might have been a week or two later that the situation did not matter. I went for a walk with my friends and near a culvert lay a dead puppy. I was not sure at the time, but it kind of looked like mine. I was upset; however, I hid my feelings from my friends and just went home. I’m glad they didn’t ask why I had to go home, back then; we hid our feelings from each other because only we thought only little kids cried.
Later that evening, it turned out that my puppy had gone missing. A man we called mahkistikwān – big head, had killed and ditched it near the culvert where my friends and I saw it. It was very disheartening for me. I have never had a dog since, not because it was so heartbreaking, but because I decided that maybe it’s too much responsibility.
From as far as I can remember, nimosōm called me “cīpic,” which is a reference, to a man named David, a man who lived across the lake from my grandfather’s cabin. All the way from seeing him in La Ronge when I was a boy living on 101 reserve, to his cabin in Pesiw Lake and to his new house (at the time) in Hall Lake, he called me “cīpic”.
I remember my parents discussing this when I was a boy and they suggested that it was because nimosōm did not want to say his own name, Charlie. “īkwīmīsiyān nimosōm” – I have the same name as my grandfather.
That was the understanding I got, and I stayed by that explanation since. Whenever he was proud of me for something, he would say, “wahwā cīpic,” or “wahwāy cīpic.” It was a term of endearment that I appreciated and wondered about, as a boy.
During the summer of one of our duck hunting trips, we went up to a mīnistik (an island) with the intention of landing on it and crossing to the other side. We were sneaking up on what had to be at least 200 sīsīpak (ducks) spread out over a sparse wild rice patch.
Before this, he been giving me one .22 “mōsonīy” bullet at a time when we were shooting ducks, and only after he shoot at a group of ducks with a shotgun and some getting injured. We would shoot at them before they would dive in.
When we were done crossing the island, we got to the ground and snuck up to a huge flock. My grandfather slowly brought out his shotgun and BOOM! Many ducks went flying up in all directions as he continued to shoot with his pump-action.
After the blitz of birds, my grandfather started to pick off the injured ducks that were trying to dive in. At this time, he handed me two .22 bullets, he looked at me and said: “wahwā, cīpic ikwa iwī nipahīw sīsīpa” – Wow, Charlie is going to kill a duck now.
I was so happy to get the bullets, I tried so hard to concentrate and make a kill, but I ended up missing. I was sad but the exhilaration of getting not one, but two bullets was great.
nimosōm – my grandfather
pīsiw sākahikanihk – Pesiw Lake
wahwā cīpic – Wow Charlie
wahwāy cīpic – Wow Charlie
mōsonīy – bullet
sīsīp – duck
sīsīpak – ducks
wahwā, cīpic ikwa iwī nipahīw sīsīpa” – Wow, Charlie is going to kill a duck now.
īkwīmīsiyān nimosōm – I have the same name as my grandfather
When I was a boy back in the trapine, my siblings and cousins and I, would entertain ourselves without the modern devices we have today. We had many outdoor games like “tag” and others that involved running around and catching or tagging others in teams or individually. We would have slingshot targeting contests with old cans and bottles. We would make our own bows and arrows and shoot at targets or objects.
There were other types of games we called maci-nocikwīsīs –witch, I am sure there are many variations that other communities played. We would have a witch going after the children of a mother. The mother would have all the younger and smaller children lined-up behind her and the witch would try to get around the mother and snatch a child. This would go on until all the kids were snatched, it would get pretty intense towards the end, great times.
Another game we played was indoors, in my parent’s cabin at the trapline. nisīmis ikwa nitawīmāw (my younger sister and female cousin from father’s brother), would play a variation of “house,” my sister would be my sister and my cousin would be my wife. At the time, we called our cousin, pithōthā, Flora, or pithōthā cīn which means Flora Jean, my sister would sometimes call her pokopoy but I don’t know why.
We called the house game, “Isiah.” I would be Isiah and Flora would be my wife. We would start by living together until I decide to burn down the house and my sister would help her get away and to another house, along with luggage and children. Once they moved into a new house, I would come along and find them and burn that house down too. Be aware that we were between 5 and 7 years of age and did not know the how disturbing it would sound the if the story was put on paper or a website, just like I’m doing now.
My family had been living in Bigstone Reserve during the summer months and during that time, we saw a house on fire. It belonged to our auntie Annie and her husband Isiah. We heard a rumour that Isiah had accidently burned the house down and they ended up losing their home. Now in order to add a character element to our house game, we decided that Isiah did it on purpose just to terrorize his family, as in a “bad guy.”
One day, nipāpānān – our dad, told us namowitha ikosi takī isi mītawīk – you kids shouldn’t play like that. We stopped for awhile and pretty much discontinued, until he was gone, and we started up again. It was too much fun to stop. Our dad was right though, it was very disrespectful to our auntie because they lost their home in La Ronge. I’m glad we never told him about the time we were walking on the ice kākī mithōskamik – when it was break-up.
maci-nocikwīsīs – witch
namowitha ikosi takī isi mītawīk – you kids shouldn’t play like that
When I was a boy, nōhkom (my grandmother) from my father’s side, told us a story a story about how she saw a UFO. It was skimming over the trees across from nimosōm owāskahikanis (grandfather’s cabin). She was with nitawīmāw (my female cousin from father’s brother) when they were at the shore and saw the UFO. I believe this was before I was ten years old.
I was fascinated at the story nōhkom was telling me at the time because UFOs were all the rage on the kithāskīwi masinahikana (lying books) tabloids, such as The National Inquirer and Weekly World News. I could only imagine what it might have looked like and her story is actually where I got the idea for one of my many stories on this website: Machi-Pimithākan – UFO (https://firstnationstories.com/?page_id=1582).
I recently chatted with my cousin about it because it never occurred to me to ask when we were growing up. This is what she said:
Well her and I went outside at night…I needed to use the bathroom cause I was scared to go alone…then she said to me in cree…hey what is that up in the sky and I told her it can’t be a plane…so told me to hurry and said there was monsters on that plane that will take us away with them…then we went back in the cabin just scared lol…then late grandpa said they won’t bother u if your inside a house…so I felt better after that ..I always believed our late grandparents [sic]
Of course, at the time, there were no cell phone cameras to take a quick picture, so imagination is all we have for stories like this. We have all seen many pictures online and drawings of such phenomenon, but they always seem so blurry and pixelated. Videos of UFOs are difficult to make out because the objects are always so far away and the good videos look too fake to me. With a little time on my hands, I could make a fake picture or video, but I won’t because it would be too time consuming.
In the chat with my cousin, my grandparents seemed to have an intimate knowledge of such encounters with that type of craft. The reference to monsters, which I take to be the aliens, seems to be a description of a creature they had no words for. The assurance that “they” will not bother you when indoors, tells me that there may be a risk of being abducted when you are outdoors and are close to a UFO. Scary thoughts come to my head when I think about that, considering all the UFO abduction stories in books, TV and online.
Speaking of scary thoughts, one-time, nōhkom told us a story about a family that was living out in tents in late fall. One of the people saw a craft landing on the ice and he/she went running inside. They all laid in their sleeping bags and blankets, cowering in fear when suddenly, a group of small beings went inside the tent. One of the women was pregnant and had a miscarriage from being so terrified. nōhkom said the beings were as short as children. I cannot remember the rest of the story, but my siblings and I, shuddered at the possibility. We were staying in tents at the time because my grandfather’s cabin was being worked on. I had to have been six years old when we were told this story.
The only time I remember having a close encounter, was when my friend and I were walking home from another friend’s house in Hall Lake. We were walking along near a birch bark tree, when suddenly, a flash of light went streaking over the birch bark tree, we saw our shadows on the ground and we quickly looked up. We did not see anything or hear a sound, at least not from what I remember. We tried to rationalize by asking each other what it was, but when my friend told me it was probably headlights shining, I responded with “from up there?” We both looked at each other and ran back to our friend’s house.
When we got there, we told him everything. He told us that he heard that when you see a flying saucer once during the night, you won’t see it again. It wasn’t too assuring for us because we were scared out of our minds. We still had to go home, however, my friend lived closer than I did and so after I dropped him off, I still had a way to go before I got home. I was very paranoid during that walk.
nōhkom – my grandmother
nimosōm – my grandfather
machi-pimithākan – bad flying device or object, UFO, flying saucer
wāpahtam – he/she sees (something)
nohkom wāpahtam machi-pimithākan – My grandmother saw a UFO
nimosōm owāskahikanis – grandfather’s cabin
kithāskīwi masinahikana – lying books (such as The National Inquirer and Weekly World News)
nitawīmāw – my female cousin from father’s brother
ninanāskimon kā ayimihtayin nitācithohkīwina. I am thankful that you are reading my stories.
piyakwāw kaki sīkwahk (once when it was spring), but maybe it was more mithōskamin (break-up of the six-seasons), nisīmis ikwa nitawīmāw (my younger sister and female cousin from father’s brother) decided to go check out the lake. We were across the lake from nimosōminān (our grandfather’s) cabin waiting out mithōskamin so niwahkōmākinānak (our families) could travel there once the ice was gone.
nisīmis had the ever-bright idea for the three of us tapimiskohtīyahk (to walk on the ice). There were trails of hard snow on the otherwise melting ice. We walked carefully and nisīmis went a bit further than we did. The atimwak (dogs) that followed us around did not follow the trails and would end up falling halfway through the ice and jumping out again. This happened as we were at least 15-20 feet from the landing. We all looked at each other and ever so carefully walked back to shore. nimitho pathīhokonān (we were lucky).
I cringe when I see a child walk on the unsafe ice, I instinctively yell at the kid or kids when I see them. Taking such a chance for adventure is something that, unfortunately, many children do. Please look out for your children and even if you think they will behave themselves because they would never do such a thing, there are always bad influences out there.
I have worded out many of the Cree terms below the way I remember them. If you feel the need to correct me on pronunciation or spelling, feel free, we are all always learning.
piyakwāw kaki sīkwahk – once when it was spring
pimiskohtī – you walk on the ice (command)
īpimiskohtīyan – I walk on the ice
īpimiskohtīyahk – we walked on the ice
nisīmis – my younger sibling
nitawīmāw – female cousin from father’s brother
niwahkōmākinānak – our families (this is how I understood the Cree term, corrections are welcome).
sīkwan – spring
mithōskamin – break-up
nimitho pathīhokonān – we were lucky, something good happened to us (I hope I got that right)
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)
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)
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.