We are keen, though some of us have better ears than others.
The teacher’s voice inflects the pulse of nêhiyawêwin as he teaches us.
He says a prayer in the first class.
Nouns, we learn, have a gender.
In French, nouns are male or female,
but in Cree, nouns are living or non-living, animate or inanimate.
A chair, têhtapiwin, is inanimate. tohtôsâpoy, or milk, is also inanimate.
But the breast it comes from is animate.
So, too, are the female private parts . . . animate.
To the great disturbance of the men in our class, the nâpêw âpacihcikan
The men are somewhat relieved to discover the animacy of the
We learn some verbs.
nimîcisonân: we eat.
nimêtawânân: we play.
ê-nikamoyâhk: we are singing.
ê-nîmihitoyâhk: we are dancing.
ê-pâhpiyâhk: we are laughing.
We try conjugating noun with verb. We are, after all,
men and women, old enough to conjugate,
though not experienced enough
to follow the rules.
Our Cree teacher tells an inspirational story.
A môniyâw marries a nêhiyawiskwêw.
The nâpêw commits to learning nêhiyawêwin,
but his progress is slow until owîkimâkana says,
“nêhiyawê, or you’re sleeping on the couch.”
Soon, very soon, that man mistahi nihtâ-nêhiyawêw.
Another story, another lesson.
A sick old woman lay in her lodge speaking quietly,
calling for her husband.
“Go get Sam,
Go get Sam.”
An old man, not her husband, walked by and heard her call,
“Touch it softly,
touch it softly.”
ê-pâhpiyâhk êkwa ê-kiskinohamâkosiyâhk.
We are not yet fluent
but our bond with nêhiyawêwin