Some young people might be confused about what being a Cree means. I know, because I’ve been there.
Growing up as a young man, I thought our Creeness was in name only. Seeing images on TV of Indians dancing, drumming and sometimes scalping, dressed in their feathers and paint, I thought that’s what being Indian was all about. And because we didn’t do that, I thought I wasn’t “Indian” any more.
Sure, I spoke Cree, but I took that for granted. So I grew up with doubts in my mind about being “Cree.” Especially with comments from other kids saying I wasn’t Cree. But the one thing which sticks in my mind was my Grandfather who calls me “Wahmschtickoosh” (Whiteman—for those who don’t know, I am a “half-breed”). I used to hate that.
Sometimes I held back yelling out to him that wasn’t my name. But I granted him the respect by not yelling at him or anything, and just lived with it. Sometimes he would mockingly say, “Look at him, he’s going to pick up the paper,” or “he’s picking up the pen.” But I lived with it.
But then growing older and hopefully wiser, I started seeing the “Dominant” cultures in their uttermost and also others who have had “contact” much longer than us. Then looking back to our culture, I slowly started realizing what we had back home.
Our language is a most wonderful gift. Besides the land, it’s one of the most precious aspects of our culture. Our language is who we are. With it comes our “national character,” with it come our names for all the plants, the animals and the special places within our “World. ” When we lose the language, with it also go the names, the animals, the places—our world. Look around you during a feast, a dance, a walking-out ceremony or when family and friends come over to gather and help mourn the loss of a loved one.
Ask yourself what it would be like without Cree concepts of the world. With the loss of the language, we lose concepts like “Kapatchipmatsee-an.” The closest I can translate that is: “My life as it moves to the point in which I am now.”
With one word in Cree you can visualize a life as a moving force to that point in which it is now.
My point is, don’t lose the language. Getting back to my Grandfather, I am now proud to carry that name he gave me. Because it’s special and it’s mine. And I am proud that I picked up the pen and paper.