pêyâhtik (giving something great thought; to walk softly): Reading Bilingual nêhiyaw-English Poetry

  • Author / Creator
    Van Essen, Angela
  • This dissertation explores how nêhiyaw itwêwina (Plains Cree words or sayings) serve as anchors of meaning, word bundles, and teachers within the context of bilingual nêhiyaw-English poetry. As a non-Indigenous scholar, I address the questions “What do the nêhiyaw words and phrases embedded in the poetry of Louise Halfe, Gregory Scofield, and Naomi McIlwraith teach readers?” and “Given the context of linguicide and colonial violence in Canada, how might scholars engage with these words and works of literature in a respectful, careful, and thoughtful manner?” My methodology is guided by nêhiyaw laws and teachings, such as miyo-wîcêhtowin (the law governing good relations), tâtapahcimok (the imperative to speak in a humble manner), and manâcihitok (the command to be respectful or civil to each other); guided by these principles, my research includes language learning and mentorship, interviews with the authors, personal reflection, and close reading of the texts.
    I have found that the bilingual nature of these poems brings the current struggle to reclaim, relearn, and revitalize Indigenous languages in Canada to the forefront—indeed many of these poems poignantly articulate the enormous weight of these labours. These authors are honouring the language and supporting language learners by using the language in their poetry. At the same time, this dissertation emphasizes that scholars, particularly non-Indigenous scholars, must be careful to discern what not to share. My work demonstrates the value of knowing when to remain silent, learning how to listen, and sensing what should remain private—what should remain in the community—and what can be appropriately shared. Finally—at the heart of this work—my findings confirm that the nêhiyaw itwêwina these authors have carefully woven into their poems are indeed profoundly important for understanding the layered meanings of these texts. Not only are there layers of meaning packed into the grammar and morphology of these words and phrases, but they are also tied to ceremonies, stories, histories, and to other nêhiyaw words and concepts. Without spending time with these words and with nêhiyaw teachers, readers will miss much of the wisdom, beauty, and teachings that these words—and therefore these texts—have to offer.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
    Fall 2019
  • Type of Item
  • Degree
    Doctor of Philosophy
  • DOI
  • License
    Permission is hereby granted to the University of Alberta Libraries to reproduce single copies of this thesis and to lend or sell such copies for private, scholarly or scientific research purposes only. Where the thesis is converted to, or otherwise made available in digital form, the University of Alberta will advise potential users of the thesis of these terms. The author reserves all other publication and other rights in association with the copyright in the thesis and, except as herein before provided, neither the thesis nor any substantial portion thereof may be printed or otherwise reproduced in any material form whatsoever without the author's prior written permission.