James Evans, a Wesleyan missionary working at Norway House in Hudson's Bay, invented a syllabary for the Ojibwe language in about 1840. He had tried to produce a Latin-based orthography for Ojibwe, but eventually gave up and came up with a syllabary, based partly on shorthand.
Evans' syllabary for Ojibwe consisted of just nine symbols, each of which could be written in four different orientations to indicate different vowels. This was sufficient to write Ojibwe, but Evans' superiors were not keen on his invention and would not allow him to use it.
About 20 years later, Evans learnt to speak Cree and set about the task of devising a way of writing that language. After encountering difficulties with using the Latin alphabet, he dug out his Ojibwe syllabary and adapted it to the Cree language.
Thanks to its simplicity and the ease with which it could be learnt, the Cree syllabary was hugely successful with the Cree people. Within a short space of time, virtually the whole community was literate in the syllabary and James Evans became known as "the man who made birchbark talk."
According to Cree tradition, Evans adapted an existing script which was invented at an earlier date, possibly by a member of the Blackfoot nation.
Cree, (Nēhiyawēwin / ᓀᐦᐃᔭᐍᐏᐣ) a group of closely related Algonquian languages spoken by about 60,000 people in Canada, especially in Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta.
Major varieties include:
misiwe ininiw tipenimitisowinik eshi nitawikit nesta peywakan kici ishi kanawapamikiwisit kistenimitisowinik nesta minikowisiwima. e pakitimamacik kaketawenitamowininiw nesta mitonenicikaniniw nesta wicikwesitowinik kici ishi kamawapamitocik.
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason
and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
(Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights)
Information on the Cree language and people
Online Cree learning resources
Universal Syllabic Translator
Online Cree dictionary
Cree Language Reader - texts in Cree with translations in English