Cree in Kalyna Country

Welcome to Nipinahtikwaski…

At least, that is how you say “land of the highbush cranberry” if you happen to be speaking in Cree, one of Canada’s most widely-known Native tongues, used all the way from Quebec to Alberta.

The Kalyna Country Ecomuseum is home to the Saddle Lake Band of the Cree people, who reside on two reserves between St. Paul and Smoky Lake Counties: Saddle Lake Indian Reserve #125, and Whitefish Lake Reserve #128.

The Cree first moved into east central Alberta in the 1700s, when the fur trade was introduced to the western prairies along the North Saskatchewan River. Having long done business with the European trading companies in Central Canada and Manitoba, the Cree were well-suited to spearheading the harvest of pelts that were delivered to the posts established by the North West and Hudson’s Bay Companies between 1792 and 1864.

East central Alberta is extremely rich in Native history not only from the time of the Cree migration, but extending back through thousands of years of Aboriginal habitation. A few traces of this legacy live on in such Kalyna Country place names as Waskatenau, Wahstao, Amisk Creek, and Akasu Hill.

But the Cree residents of Goodfish and Saddle Lakes also have their own way of saying the names of well-known Kalyna Country communities. Can you guess which are the following: 1) puskwa-isipi; 2) apuskwa-witik; 3) kipoohapah; and 4) askapatew-sahigan? The answers are 1) Vegreville, described as “birch creek”; 2) Vilna, rendered as “prairie”; 3) Elk Point, or “thick willow bush”; and 4) Smoky Lake, known as “smoking lake” in Cree, apparently because it was a place where medicine men would periodically meet to share a ritual pipe along with their insights into healing.