WAYK Cree: Session 5

We were sort of all over the place in our 5th session, but I feel okay about that. Only Lorna, Dereck, and I (Caylie) were able to make it.

Prior to the session, I had known that I wanted to cover -ihk/-ohk/-ˆhk, but I later added two other elements, -nohte- and -itohte-. This is sort of how it went:

The three of us did a TQ: no-pressure refresher of



I then set up a bucket for -ihk/-ohk/-ˆhk. Now, this is a relatively easy grammatical element to learn, but I also find that, as a native English speaker, it’s tough to understand just exactly what -ihk/-ohk/-ˆhk covers. I was taught that it’s a “locative”; it indicates that something is “at the…,” “in the…,” “from the…,” “near the…,” etc. 

tohtôsâpoy maskihkiwâpôhk.

maskihkiwâpoy minihkwewîyâkanisihk.

The Building Walk, Part II

kinohtehitohtân cî kapesiw’kamikohk?

 eha, ninohtehitohtân kapesiw’kamikohk.

kinohtehitohtân cî ayamihew’kamikohk?

 eha, ninohtehitohtân ayamihew’kamikohk.

kinohtehitohtân cî sônîyâw’kamikohk?

 eha, ninohtehitohtân sônîyâw’kamikohk.

kinohtehitohtân cî mîcisow’kamikohk?

 eha, ninohtehitohtân mîcisow’kamikohk.

“Glue words”

WAYK Cree: Session 4

We skipped our meet-up the night of September 9th because Rob was camping, Diana was sick, and I was feeling “full,” but we were back in full swing on September 16th.

It was a beautiful night out, so I decided I wanted us to get started on a TQ: the walk so that next time, we can start creating sentences around the various buildings that we introduced. We tried to avoid killing any fairies by not translating the parts that come before the –w’kamik suffix, although some were easier than others to guess at. I think there will be some great TQ: how fascinating! moments when everybody figures out what okimâhkân’kamik comprises, but those moments aren’t nearly as good if you’re given the English translation!

We did start out with a TQ: no-pressure refresher of the nouns we’ve been learning so far, as well as a miyweyihta/nitaweyihta round:

No-pressure Refresher (sample)


amômey ôma.

kimiyweyihten cî amômey?

eha, nimiyweyihten amômey.

kinitaweyihten cî amômey?

namôya, namôya ninitaweyihten amômey.

After we started feeling comfortable in the language again, we headed out for our walk around downtown Edmonton. I had to bring my iPad with my ASL dictionary app (which runs without wifi!) because I couldn’t remember all the signs!

The Building Walk, Part I


kapesiw’kamik ôma.


ayamihew’kamik ôma.


sônîyâw’kamik ôma.


minihkwew’kamik ôma.


mîcisow’kamik ôma.


ayamihcikew’kamik ôma.


okimâhkân’kamik ôma.


atoskew’kamik ôma.

Once we got back to my place, we did plus/deltas and found that we were all feeling pretty positive about the lesson, although our two newest learners got really full at our second-last stop. This was likely because I introduced two buildings from the same spot on the corner of Churchill Square: the 3 Bananas mîcisow’kamik and the ôkimâhkân’kamik. Next time, I think we should go up to the pool in front of the ôkimâhkân’kamik to introduce it.

WAYK Cree: Session 3

Diana wasn’t able to make it to our third session, so it was just Dereck, Lorna, Rob, and me at the table. I had originally planned to work through ôma/anima/nema, but at the last minute, decided they weren’t that necessary to get into right away, and it would be fun to give the group a couple high-mileage verbs* and a few more inanimate nouns to play with.

The lesson focused on miyweyihta and nitaweyihta. I introducted them as a TQ: Craigslistbut didn’t do a very good job with my TQ: set up, so I think there was a bit of confusion for a while, especially around nitaweyihta.

I also tried adding in ap’sis and mistahi as a TQ: Craigslist, and mâka on its own, but mâka was really difficult to convey.

Here are the basic conversations of the ride:



maskihkiwâpoy ôma.

maskihkiwâpoy cî ôma?

eha, maskihkiwâpoy ôma.

miyweyihta + Make me say yes

kimiyweyihten cî maskihkiwâpoy?

eha, nimiyweyihten maskihkiwâpoy.

miyweyihta + Make me say no

kimiyweyihten cî maskihkiwâpoy?

namôya, namôya nimiyweyihten maskihkiwâpoy.

miyweyihta/nitaweyihten + Make me say yes or no (respondent’s choice)

kimiyweyihten cî maskihkiwâpoy?

eha, nimiyweyihten maskihkiwâpoy.

ah! kinitaweyihten cî maskihkiwâpoy?

eha, nimiyweyihten maskihkiwâpoy.

Despite everybody looking a little tired, I was feeling really excited about our progress so I pushed for us to do a quick round of new nouns, so everyone could have a handful of words to play with using miyweyihta and nitaweyihta. The words I chose were tohtôsâpoy, amômey, and pihkatewâpoy, because (a) they’re all inanimate nouns that will fit the rules we’ve been learning, and (b) they will all fit together in a conversation very well. We just did a quick round of “kîkwâyôma?” “_________ ôma” for each noun, and then we had a “free play” round where we each got to ask the next person a question of our choice (e.g., “Dereck, kimiyweyihten cî pihkatewâpoy?”) and answer according to our preference (e.g., “eha, nimiyweyihten pihkatewâpoy mistahi.”)

I forgot to run plus/deltas AGAIN, but I checked in with Dereck by text afterwards, and we agreed that, while we were really glad that we got through all that we did, it was definitely too long of a session, clocking in at around 1.5 hours from arrival to departure. I’ll try to keep the whole session to under an hour next time.

*The verbs we’re starting out with are TI (transitive inanimate) verbs, meaning someone acts on an inanimate noun. Inanimate nouns are the only ones we’re learning so far, since the rules for animate nouns can be really different in places. I’ll teach corresponding sets of rules for animate nouns once we go through a few more lessons on grammar for inanimate nouns.

WAYK Cree: Session 2

For our second WAYK: Cree session, which took place on August 26, 2014, our original five players (Dereck Robertson, Lorna Whitford, Diana Emes, Rob Jarvis, and Caylie Gnyra) showed up again, which made it easy to jump right in to where we left off.

We started with a TQ: no-pressure refresher of what we had learned last week, and we zipped right through it. Next, we did a quick round of basic introductions (“tân’si.” “namôya nân’taw, kîya mâka?” “peyakwan.”) to fill in the one member of our group who wasn’t familiar with the greetings people were using. After that, we moved on to our second ride, which focused on “mine” vs. “yours.”

I had originally set up the ride (condensed version shown below) to include the nouns we had used last time (“salt” and “mirror”), but decided to use “cell phone” instead because I thought it might have higher mileage–phones are something we’re constantly talking or thinking about! We then spent the hour learning how to ask each other, and answer, whether the phones on the table were “mine” or “yours.” This ride will allow learners to plug in the “my”/”your” rules they’ve learned into any inanimate object they come across from now on! We introduced three new TQ: Craigslists: (1) nîya/kîya/kiyanaw, (2) nîya/ni-, and (3) kîya/ki-. Cree is tough because it’s a polysynthetic language, so we’ve got to teach little bits of words that aren’t actually words on their own. That’s tough for native English speakers to wrap their minds around! Hopefully we’ll be able to figure out some strategies to convey to each other when a new thing we’re learning is not a word on its own, but just part of a word.

I forgot to lead plus/deltas again. I think I may rethink introducing “cell phone” for this round because it has 5 or 6 syllables (depending on how you pronounce it), which makes it quite tricky for early learners.

Mine and yours


sewepîcikanis ôma.

kisewepîcikanis ôma?

eha, nisewepîcikanis ôma.

nisewepîcikanis ôma?

namôya, namôya ôma kisewepîcikanis, nisewepîcikanis ôma.

WAYK Cree: Session 1

Our first WAYK: Cree session took place on Tuesday, August 19th, with 5 participants (Dereck Robertson, Lorna Whitford, Diana Emes, Rob Jarvis, and me, Caylie Gnyra) present. We ran through some of the basics of Where Are Your Keys? (“This is a game, and games have rules. Our rules are called ‘techniques…'”) and some of the beginner techniques:

We ran through “What is that?” (adapted to “What is this?” for reasons I’ll explain in a later session) “Make me say yes,” and “Make me say no.” The objects I chose for this session were salt and a mirror. One of the reasons I chose these are because they are fairly easy for new speakers to pronounce (“see-wee-tah-gan” and “wa-pa-mon”), as they don’t have many syllables (or at least not as many as SOME Cree words!) and have sounds that are familiar to English speakers. I also chose these because they are both inanimate nouns – animate nouns have a different set of rules, so I am going to try out doing a few sessions with just inanimate nouns before we get into the animate rules. Finally, I chose these words for the mileage we could get out of them: “salt” will become something we’ll be able to talk about in conversation soon (“Do you want salt in your soup? Do you like lots of salt?”), and the word “mirror” “does a thing” (that’s a phrase you’ll hear a lot around WAYKers) that I want our group to learn fairly soon. You’ll have to stay tuned to see what that is!

I forgot to run plus/deltas, so I hope I remember to do this in the future!

Below is the gist of our session:

What is this?


wâpamon ôma.


sîwihtâkan ôma.

Make me say yes

wâpamon cî ôma?

eha, wâpamon ôma.

sîwihtâkan cî ôma?

eha, sîwihtâkan ôma.

Make me say no

sîwihtâkan cî ôma?

namôya, namôya ôma sîwihtâkan, wâpamon ôma.

wâpamon cî ôma?

namôya, namôya ôma wâpamon, sîwihtâkan ôma.

Introducing Cree to Where Are Your Keys?

Although I’m excited about the potential of the Little Cree Books project, and grateful for the volunteers who have contributed hours and hours of their skills to create these free, levelled reading resources for early Cree readers, I understand that learners still struggle with fluency and even carrying on a basic conversation in Cree.

In 2013, I was listening to a spreecast on indigenous languages, and I heard Khelsilem describe how he had used a system called Where Are Your Keys? (WAYK) to learn to converse in Sḵwx̱wú7mesh, one of his heritage languages.

I spent the next year trying to find funding to bring WAYK experts to Edmonton to work with Cree learners, but had difficulty securing a non-profit fiscal agent that could manage any finances we were able to obtain. In April 2014, I drove down to Oregon to spend 10 days with WAYK’s creator, and after just 15 hours of working with WAYK, I could carry on a (basic) 35-minute conversation in the language we had been working on. This was proof enough to me that this method worked.

In August 2014, I headed back to the west coast for 10 days to see WAYK in action in the Tsleil-Waututh Nation.

Now that I’m back in Edmonton, a group of interested and committed learners and I are meeting together to fumble our way through WAYK for Cree. Little Cree Books will continue to exist, but WAYK: Cree has now been added as a complementary initiative. If you’re interested in joining us, either now or once we’ve gotten our footing a little better, please contact me for information on where and when we’re meeting! The Conversational Cree Group (CCG) that has been running in Edmonton for the past 5 or so years has been a major inspiration to this project, and we don’t see WAYK: Cree and the CCG as competition, but rather as additional opportunities to reach the learning needs of as many Cree learners as possible! In fact, several of our participants participate in both groups!