Cree is an Algonquian language spoken by about 120,000 people in Canada, from the Northwest Territories and Alberta to Labrador. Cree, which is also known as Cree–Montagnais–Naskapi, has official status, along with eight other indigenous languages, in the Northwest Territories.
Major varieties of Cree include:
In about 1840 James Evans, a Wesleyan missionary working at Norway House in Hudson's Bay, invented a syllabary for the Ojibwe language based partly on Pitman shorthand, which was published in 1837. 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.
In about 1841 Evans adapted his script to write Cree, and translated parts of the Bible and other religious works into Ojibwe and Cree. He printed them using type carved from wood, or made from melted-down linings of tea chests.
The script proved popular with Ojibwe and Cree speakers, and within about 10 years, many of them had learnt to read and write it, learning it mainly from family or friends. As paper was scarce at the time, they wrote on birch bark with soot from burnt sticks, or carved messages in wood, and nicknamed James Evans 'The man who made birch bark talk'.
The Cree script continued to be widely used until the 1950s and 1960s, when the integration policies of Department of Indian and Northern Affairs led to a decline in use to the script among Cree children taught to write in the Roman alphabet.
Today the Cree syllabics are used in schools in northern Quebec and Ontario. There is on-going debate about the use of Cree syllabics in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta. On the whole, however, Cree communities strongly identify with the syllabic script.
Main source: Murdoch, John Stewart, Syllabics: A Successful Educational Innovation (University of Manitoba, 1981).
According to Cree and Hopi legends, Cree syllabics were first given to Badger-Call or Calling Badger, a teacher-healer of the Wood Cree, long before James Evans came along. Apparently Calling Badger died and went to the spirt world, where he learnt the syllabics, then came back to life and taught them to his people. When missionaries came along they learnt the syllabics from the Cree, and James Evans helped to popularise them.
Download script charts for Cree (Excel) - includes several varieties of Cree not shown here
Corrections and additions provided by Charles J. Lippert
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 dictionary
Cree Language Reader - texts in Cree with translations in English
Information about James Evans
If you need to type in many different languages, the Q International Keyboard can help. It enables you to type almost any language that uses the Latin, Cyrillic or Greek alphabets, and is free.
Note: all links on this site to Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.fr are affiliate links. This means I earn a commission if you click on any of them and buy something. So by clicking on these links you can help to support this site.