Language: Atikamekw is an Algonquian
language closely related to Cree; indeed, some consider it to be
a dialect of Cree. Like Cree, Atikamekw is a polysynthetic
language with long, complex verbs.
Most people in the Atikamekw tribe (four to five thousand in total) speak their native language, but few are literate in it, and the
lack of printed materials in Atikamekw has some Indian language advocates concerned about the future of the language.
French, rather than English, is the second language of choice among the Atikamekw people.
Names:Atikamekw is the tribe's endonym (that is to say, their name for themselves in their own language.)
It means "whitefish," and can also be seen spelled many other ways such as Attikamek, Attikamekw, Atikamekw, Attimewk,
or Attikamegue. The Atikamekw have also been known by the name
Tete-de-Boule, which is a local French
Canadian word for the same kind of fish, or by the indigenous names Iriniw or Nehiyaw, which mean
"person" and "Native American" respectively.
People: The Atikamekw Nation is located in Quebec, in three communities:Manawan,
The Atikamekws are traditional allies of the
Montagnais (Innu) and adversaries of the
Inuit. There are around 5,000 Atikamekw Indians living on
reserves in Quebec today.
History: The Attikameks had little direct contact with Europeans, and no armed
conflict with them; indirect contact, though, brought them no end of grief. From their allies
the Innu they caught several devastating European epidemics. The fur trade
between the Montagnais and the French wound up drawing the Attikamekw into a war between the Montagnais Innu
and the powerful Iroquois, a war in which the Innu didn't fare so well. Dams and
reservoirs built near their territories flooded them out on more than one occasion, and most
recently the Attikameks, like the Innu, are suffering from mercury poisoning Canada's
hydroelectric plants have been contaminating their water supply with. For all these woes,
though, the Attikamekw people have not been displaced from their traditional lands, and they have
lost neither their language nor their traditional culture.
The best Atikamekw reference I know of is Jean Pierre Béland's two-volume
Atikamekw Morphology and Lexicon, published in 1978, which contains a
grammatical description and dictionary. Good luck finding a copy (a university library is your best bet).