Native Languages of the Americas: Wesakechak Stories and other Cree Legends
This is our collection of links to Cree folktales and traditional stories that can be read online.
We have indexed our Native American mythology section
by tribe to make them easier to locate; however, variants on the same
legend are often told by American Indians from different tribes, especially if those tribes are kinfolk or neighbors to
each other. In particular, though these legends come from the Cree tribe, the traditional stories of
related tribes like the
Innu and Ojibwe are very similar.
Enjoy the stories! If you would like to recommend a Cree legend for this page or think one of the ones on here
should be removed, please contact us and let us know.
As in many Native American tribes, sacred Cree stories and myths are traditionally told only during the winter.
Myths about the culture hero Wisakejak, even the most humorous ones, were among the stories restricted to
wintertime. In some Cree communities, legends about animals were also forbidden during the summer.
Folktales and other stories, such as legends about human heroes, monsters, and historical events, have always
been told at any time of year. Some Cree families continue to follow this old tradition today, while others
Click on each character's name for more detailed information about his or her role in Cree mythology.
Wesakechak (also spelled Wisakedjak,
Whiskey-Jack, and several other ways.)
Wesakechak is the benevolent culture hero of the Cree tribe (sometimes referred to as a "transformer" by folklorists.)
His name is spelled so many different ways partially because Cree was originally an unwritten language (so English speakers just spelled it however it
sounded to them at the time), and partially because the Cree language is
spoken across a huge geographical range in both Canada and the US, and the name sounds different in different dialects.
The correct pronounciation in Plains Cree is similar to wee-sah-keh-chahk.
Wesakechak is a trickster character whose adventures are often humorous, but unlike Plains Indian tricksters he is portrayed as a staunch friend
of humankind, not a dangerous or destructive being. Wesakechak shares
many similarities with other Algonquian heroes such as the Wabanaki
Napi, and Anishinabe
Manabozho, and the same stories
are often told in different Algonquian tribes with only the identity of the protagonist differing.
Kisemanito (also spelled
Kihci Manito and other ways.)
This means "Great Spirit" in the Cree language, and is the Cree name for the Creator (God.) Kisemanito
is a divine spirit with no human form or attributes (including gender) and is never personified in Cree folklore. The name is pronounced
similar to kih-say muh-nih-toh or kih-chih muh-nih-tuh, depending on dialect.
(also spelled Wihtikiw, Wihtikow, and other ways.)
An evil man-eating spirit like the Windigo of the Anishinabe tribes.
Witikos play the roles of monsters and bogeymen in some legends; in others, Cree people who commit sins
(especially selfishness, gluttony, or cannibalism) are turned into a Witiko as punishment. It is pronounced wih-tih-koh or wih-tih-kew in the
Cree language, depending on dialect.
(also known as Mimikwisiw, Mannegishi, and other names.) These are small river-dwelling water
spirits (or "little people.") They are mischievous and often play tricks but are not usually dangerous,
although they sometimes capsize canoes if they are not treated with proper respect. They are the size of young children
and are often said to lack noses.
Their name is pronounced differently in different Cree dialects; "memekwesiw" is
pronounced similar to may-may-gway-sue.
(also spelled Apisciyenis, Apische'nes, and so on.) This literally means "little person" in Cree. In some Cree communities, this
name is used instead of Memekwesiw (or as a synonym of Memekwesiw), referring to the same noseless riverbank spirits.
In other Cree communities, Apiscinis is a different type of little person, a strong, hairy dwarf who lives in remote wilderness areas
and may steal people's belongings or even their children (conversely, if they are in a good mood, these dwarves may help people by
warning them of danger or leading lost hunters back to their camp.)
Ayas (also spelled Âyâs, Ayasi, and other ways):
An epic hero who defeats many monsters and changes the form of humans and animals to make life better. In many tellings, Ayas
is also said to be responsible for the World Fire in which the earth was destroyed and reborn.
Chahkabesh (also spelled Cahkâpêsh, Cahkapes, and other ways):
A Cree folk hero, sometimes referred to as the Man in the Moon. He is usually depicted as a dwarf.
In some Cree stories Chahkabesh acts in a rash or foolish way, but he is always brave and good-hearted
and never stays in trouble for long. His name is pronounced similar to chuh-kah-baish.
A minor animal spirit, a wise elder who appears sometimes in the form of a fox, other times in the form of an old lady.
Grandmother Fox plays an important role in the epic of Ayas, where she adopts the hero as her grandson and
gives him advice and items of power to use in his quest.
Misikinebik (also spelled
Msi-kinepikwa, Misi-Kinopik, and other ways):
An underwater horned serpent, common to the legends of most Algonquian tribes. Its name literally
means Great Serpent, and it is said to lurk in lakes and eat humans.
Great Lynx (Mishipizhiw): A powerful mythological creature something like a cross between
a cougar and a dragon. It is a dangerous monster who lives in deep water and causes men and women to drown.
(also spelled Pinesiw, Pithisiw, and other ways):
Thunderbird, a giant mythological bird common to the northern and western
tribes. Thunder is caused by the beating of their immense wings.
Although thunderbirds are very powerful beings, they rarely bother humans,
and were treated with reverence by most Cree people. The name is pronounced differently in different Cree dialects; in Plains Cree,
it is pronounced similar to pih-yay-syoo. In some communities they are also referred to as Onimiski, which is the
literal word for "thunder."
Stiff-Jointed Bear (Kacitowaskw):
A giant hairless bear monster. Some people associate this creature with ancient mammoths.