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Setting the Record Straight About Native Languages: "Ishmay Ohmay"

Q: I heard that "Ishmay Omay" is the tenet of Blackfoot spirituality and it means "Never lie, never quit." Is that true?
A: No. This phrase comes from the 1950's TV show "Gunsmoke." In those days writers really did not bother finding Indian people to teach them real words for the script, the way modern movies like "Dances With Wolves" or "Windtalkers" do. They just made up something that they thought sounded good. In this case, the writer may have adapted the word "Ishmay" from the town of Ismay in Montana. However, this town's name does not come from Blackfoot or from any other Indian language. George Peck named this town by combining his daughters' names, Isabelle and Mary.

In any event, these are definitely not real Blackfoot words. There is no "sh" sound in the Blackfoot language, and Blackfoot negative commands begin with Miin or Piin (which sound like "mean" or "peen.") "Don't lie" is Miinisaayit in Blackfoot, and "Don't quit" is Miiniki'tsiiksowoot. And the words have no special spiritual significance in Blackfoot, though "Gunsmoke" is correct that truthfulness and determination are valued traits in Blackfoot culture both in the past and today.



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