Friday, October 3, 2008

Final Recollections of Jean Cameron Kelly

Jean Kelly Cameron was the second school teacher in Peace River, arriving in December of 1913. In "I Remember Peace River, Alberta and Adjacent Districts 1800s - 1913 Part I", Cameron recalls her journey to Peace River, her memories of school and how Peace River Crossing looked in 1913. The first installment of the Recollections was published in our first newsletter sent out to our Members. For more membership information, please visit: the Museum at 780-624-4261

Recollections of Jean Cameron Kelly, Part VI (Final)

"When I met H.A. George's children the first things Bertie, a boy of nine, wished to know was if I could speak Cree. I told him no, and he said that was O.K., then they could be saucy to me in Cree and I would not know what they were saying. I gathered that when Miss Anderson had reproved some of them, they would answer, "Kip-a-ha-Kea-toon" which meant "Shut your mouth!" I remember once when little Alice George chimed in with a somewhat naughty version of a little Cree song I had heard, her mother turned on her with a shocked Wah! Wah! Kip-a-ha! This song, sung to the tune of heel-to-toe polka was:
Kispin kea sakahin, (If you love me)
Semack pe-O-che min (Quickly kiss me)
Kisipin kea Pakwa sin (If you hate me)
Semack ke waya wan (Quickly leave me)

Many of the old-timers were fluent in Cree, notably Mr. George and T.A. Brick, both of whose wives were Metis; but while few of us new-comers could handle the language we all used Cree words in our colloquial talk. For instance, we would say, "Are you coming to our Waskeagan (house) tonight?" or "Give this a wepaemow (look)." Billy Smith, a mail carrier who had a homestead somewhere out the Shaftesbury Trail was called "Apsis monnagen napec," meaning little (on account of his short stature) letter man. I am afraid Billy was a bad little man. He sang me a Cree song one day, knowing I did not understand it, and thinking I could not learn it. But when I repeated it word perfect, he gave me a look of shocked horror. When I said, "Wasn't that right?" he said with a sheepish grain, "Yeah, it's right, but don't ever let anyone hear you sing it!"

The suffix "Sis" was a diminutive, so that while the word napeo meant man, nape'sis meant a boy. Similarly, isquao (a local pronounciation of Squaw) meant woman, and isqua'esis (which the young men delightedly mispronounced "Squeeze us") indicated a girl.

The Crees belong to the Algonquin family, and it was easy to see the resemblance between their words and the words used in Longfellow's poem Hiawatha. Nokomis was the word for grandmother, though it was locally pronounced No-Kimis; wapoose meant rabbit, (wabasso) Mis-te-hay of missou meant large and see-pee was water. The Crees called the Peace River Mis-te-hay See-Pee or Missou Seepee, and the phonetic resemblance of the latter to Mississippi can readily be noted. Kisemente, the Cree words for God shows its derivation from Gitche Manito, while muchimento (devil) is a variation of Mitche Manitou.

Mr. George told me that the Cree have no special word for muddy, but instead used the same word as for Smoky. Thus Smoky River simply meant muddy river. He also said that Cheepi Seepee, the Cree name for Spirit River meant Ghost River, because in its mists they believed the spirits of the departed could be seen. Having no word for thank you they used the French word merci.

The word for money was soonias, and pay-ak soonias was one dollar. I recall an amusing anecdote about a native woman who brought in a pair of moccasins to the Revillon Freres trading post and demanded a pay-ak soonias from Jimmie McCashin, the accountant. Being overstocked with moccasins at the time her refused to take them; but she sat there doggedly all afternoon, at regular intervals flapping the moccasins on the desk and reiterating "Pay-ak soonias!"

In exasperation he finally took the moccasins and gave her a note to take to the clerk-cashier which read "Give this S.O.B. one dollar." The clerk was an innocent lad who racked his brain as to the meaning of the note, and finally decided that S.O.B. meant soda biscuits. So he gave her a dollar's worth, whereupon she departed highly satisfied.

In playing cards the king was oki-mow (big chief), the queen was merely the woman, isquao, while the Jack was mounted policeman, (smoggens.) Mustus meant an ox, and Buffalo Lake was Mustus Lake on old maps. Atim was the word for dog, but a horse must-atim literally cow-dog or cow-chaser.

The Cree word for daughter is Tannis, and I used to love to hear Allie Brick address his daughter Emma as Ne'Tannis, (my daughter). I still think Ne'Tannis is a lovely name for a girl. According to J.H. MacGregor, the name Cree is from the name the Crees called themselves, Kenistenoag, "Men of the Forest." The French pronounced this Kinistino or Kristinaux, and then shortened the latter into Cris or Kris, which was pronounced like Cree in English."

Thus completes Jean Cameron Kelly's recollections from "I Remember Part I". She continues with more recollections in "I Remember Part II" and it is available at the Peace River Museum library if you are interested. We hope you enjoyed this short series and any feedback would be greatly appreciated. We can be contacted at or 780-624-4261.

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