vocabulary 1

Sources, listed in chronological order

Wish List:
  • Henry Kelsey [and consort or wife, an unidentified Cree woman], Vocabulary List (1696) and Dictionary (1709).

I have gleaned only a very few of Henry Kelsey‘s Cree words from diverse and scattered sources. Kelsey sailed to Port Nelson on Hudson Bay c. 1683–1684 as a ‘boy’ and likely began learning Cree on arrival. He apparently married a woman of the area, possibly as early as 1688, afterwards marrying a woman named Eliza in England. Kelsey compiled a 600 word missive, as per Hudson’s Bay Company [HBC] instruction, to “better Instruct the young Ladds with you, in ye Indian language.” Though printed as A Dictionary of the Hudson’s-Bay Indian language (1709), the text was not widely distributed. The British Museum Library, upon acquiring one copy in 1743, attributed authorship to a Thomas Bowrey. Subsequently, from Canada, H. Christoph Wolfart and David H. Pentland, “The ‘Bowery’ Dictionary and Henry Kelsey,” (1979), made the case in favour of Kelsey. Unfortunately, Kelsey’s hand-written original was lost and—for those of us unable to visit libraries in England—access to a digital copy of the printed dictionary is restricted by a dauntingly protected paywall. And so Colonialism in Canada continues.


James Isham’s vocabulary was compiled from c. 1732–1743 and submitted to the HBC London Committee c. 1744. A transcription of the vocabulary appears in E.E. Rich and A.M. Johnson, eds. James Isham’s Observations on Hudsons Bay, 1743, and notes and observations on a book entitled “A voyage to Hudsons Bay in the Dobbs galley,” 1749 (Toronto: Champlain Society, 1949) [available online through paywall].

Alexander McKenzie  arrived at New York in 1774. He entered the fur trade out of Montreal and was travelling by 1779. By 1785, when he married Catt, he was stationed in the West with the North West Company [NWC].

Daniel Harmon, born in Vermont, began travelling in the service of the NWC c. 1799. He would have begun learning Cree at that time, the study enhanced c. 1805 by the teachings of his wife.

John Tanner was multi-lingual, having been raised among English, Shawnee, and Ottawa/ Saulteaux; married to Anishinaabe women; and fluent in the ‘trade language’ of the interior, Cree.

John McLean initially joined the NWC c. 1820, becoming a HBC servant with the merger of the two companies in 1821. He was stationed in the Western department as of 1833, retiring 1846.

William Hypolitus Keating was born at Wilmington, Delaware, in 1799. He served as official field geologist on Stephen Harriman Long’s second expedition of 1823.

Joseph Howse arrived in North America at York Factory, Hudson Bay, in 1795. He would have begun learning Cree there and was married by 1798. After 1799 his study continued in what later became Saskatchewan and Alberta.

Edwin Arthur Watkins served as a missionary with the Church Missionary Society, 1852–1863. He began learning Cree at his first post on the east coast of Hudson Bay, afterwards travelling to other, more westerly locations.

Albert Lacombe, a Catholic priest and  Oblate missionary, would have begun his study of Cree after his arrival in the West c. 1850.

  • Gérard Beaudet, Cree-English, English-Cree Dictionary: Nehiyawe Mina Akayasimo-Akayasimo-Mina Nehiyawe-Ayamiwini-Masinahigan (Winnipeg: Wurez Publishing, 1995).


Words linked to a page on which they appear. Not all of the sources consulted agree in terminology or spelling. In some cases the term was taken from an online source, so the spelling is current, not historical (though historical terms will be substituted if and when they are found). In most cases, the oldest available term and spelling, whether from Cree-English or Cree-French vocabulary lists and dictionaries are shown here.

Àkwukepime: ‘hard fat,’ tallow (Watkins 1865)

Apustam: liquid extracted from Balsam poplar’s inner bark

Ar skùk: kettle (Isham 1743)

Ar thick a task: squirrel (Isham 1743)

Ar tick: axe helve/ handle (Isham 1743)

Askik: kettle (Lacombe 1874)

Atchitamon: chipmunk (Canada 1913)

At tick: deer (Isham 1743)

Au misk: beaver (Isham 1743)

Ayukoonow: bread (Watkins 1865)

Caw qua: porcupine (Isham 1743)

Che ka he gan: axe or hatchet (Isham 1743)

Che-ki-e-gun: axe (Harmon 1820)

Chekùhikun: axe (Watkins 1865)

Coo coosh: pork, pig (Isham 1743)

Emeguan: a spoon/ ladle (Isham 1743)

Eynuskik: copper kettle (Watkins 1865)

Maskawattickus: ash (tree)

Mas ki kee: medicine (Mackenzie 1801)

Mat-heh Metoos: balsam poplar (Tanner 1830)

Mayachikoos: lamb (Watkins 1865)

Maychick: sheep (Watkins 1865)

Mis-tick: firewood (Harmon 1820)

Mistuskik: large kettle or Cauldron (Fr.: chaudron; Michif: shadroon) (Watkins 1865)

Moo sue: moose (Isham 1743)

Moos-toosh: buffalo (Harmon 1820)

Moostoosweyas: cattle (Watkins 1865)

Mouswa: moose (Mackenzie 1801)

Mus-ca-ke-wâbo: medicinal tea (Harmon 1820)

Muskowatik: oak (Watkins 1865)

Mus qua: bear (Isham 1743)

Ooètask: axe (Watkins 1865)

Ooskuskik: new kettle (Watkins 1865)

Oscan pimis: bone marrow fat (Lewis 1806)

Osimisk: balsam poplar buds

Ot tot: birch canoe (Isham 1743)

Pesimookan: mushroom (Watkins 1865)

Peswaayukoonow: loaf bread (Watkins 1865)

Pimis: rendered (melted) fat (Mackenzie 1801)

Piwapiskwâskik: iron kettle (Beaudet 1996)

Piuc aurtie ar skuk: a ‘One Beaver’ Kettle (Isham 1743)

Pukasikun: bread (Watkins 1865)

Sâsteyâw: rancid

Seegaygan: axe (Lewis 1806)

Sekusakunuk: ‘cracklings’ and ‘graves’ (Watkins 1865)

Sesepaskwut: maple sugar (Watkins 1865)

Sesepaskwut-stik: Manitoba maple (Watkins 1865)

Sewapoo: vinegar (Watkins 1865)

Shegaygan: axe (Mackenzie 1801)

Sisipâskik: iron kettle, with a spout shaped like a duck’s beak  (Beaudet 1996)

Su wow me stick: sweet wood (Isham 1743)

Toohoowan: ball (Watkins 1865)

U’cham que: a bow (for firing arrows) (Isham 1743)

Us can: bone (Isham 1743)

Usik: kettle (Watkins 1865)

Uskepwawe: Aski-pawah/ Prairie Turnip/ Wild Potato (Watkins 1865; Healy 1923)

Uskikoos: small kettle (Watkins 1865)

Wâbiskik: tin kettle (Fr.: chaudière de fer-blanc) (Lacombe 1874)

Wapâskik: tin kettle (Fr.: chaudière de fer-blanc) (Beaudet 1996)

Wap puss: hare/ rabbit/ snowshoe hare (Isham 1743)

Wapuskik: tin kettle (Fr.: chaudière de fer-blanc)  (Watkins, 1865)

Waskah: round (Watkins, 1865)

Wawkāsew: elk (Watkins 1865)

Wesĕ: leafe fat (Watkins 1865)

Weyas: flesh, meaning meat (Watkins 1865)

Wiko: suet

Wisish: caul fat, omentum

Wiyin: raw animal fat (Lacombe 1874)

Wir squi ta sam: birch-frame snowshoes (Isham 1743)

Woweyaasin (or Woweya-sew, Woweya-yow, Wow-isew, Wow-eyow): something round or globular (Watkins 1865)

Wur squi: birch bark/ rind (Isham 1743)

Wur squi ar tic: birch wood (Isham 1743)

Wuskāpuwīekewap: birch tent/ lodge (Watkins 1865)

Wuskwiapoo: birch sap (Watkins 1865)

Wuskwī-stick: birch (Watkins 1865)

Wuskwīyakun: birch roggin/ water-proof container (Watkins 1865)

Ya-cow: sand (Harmon 1820)

~   •    ~