Tân’si. I think a good start for a first post is that word, “tân’si”. I use it when I answer my phone, when I prepare to introduce myself, when I write an email.
It’s full of layers, that word.
First of all, I spell it wrong. I know I spell it wrong, but it’s the spelling I grew up with and for some stubborn reason I stick to it. I’ve since become suitably converted by the linguistic approach which rejects apostrophes and capitals when using Roman Syllabic Orthography to spell Cree. I should be writing “tânisi”, knowing that when you say the word, it loses that middle ‘i’.
I will, however, allow myself this heresy. Just like I catch myself saying, “my kookum”. Most Prairie folk, native or not, are more familiar with that than ‘nôhkom’ anyway. I get a certain feeling when I see the word “tân’si” that I just don’t get when I see it spelled tânisi. I honestly think part of it is because I associate the one with English, and not Cree. It’s a Cree word, subverting the English text.
Then there’s what it means. Not, “hello”. Literally it is “how”. Like a stone-faced Hollywood Indian…isn’t that all they ever managed to say? Other than kemosabe? I giggle to myself sometimes when I say it and then imagine a wooden Indian with his palm facing out in that stereotypical gesture. How. But not really just “how”. “How are you”. It’s a question, not just a greeting. For many it is the first part of a short exchange in a language they are not fluent in, but which affirms their Cree-ness. Or in my case…their Métis-ness.
‘moy’nan’daw ‘gwa g’ya?
Forget trying to replicate the exchange unless you’ve heard it a million times before and are used to how the sounds just disappear behind the teeth. If you’re using it, you know what it means even if you might not be able to break the words up or understand the constituent parts. The first time I saw this exchange written out properly, in full, I had no idea what the hell it said.
namoya nânitaw êkwa kîya
Well I suppose that isn’t really much different than ‘gotcha’ or ‘whatchadoin’. How it is spelled is not necessarily how it gets spoken.
“Tân’si” also clearly identifies me as being from the Plains. My Cree is Plains Cree, and I transmit this fact very clearly the second I use this greeting. I am Métis (in Cree: âpihtawikosisân) from Lac Ste. Anne, Alberta but I have been living in Montreal, Quebec for the past two years. Over here the James Bay Cree say ‘wachiya’ or ‘kwei’.
So it isn’t just a word…it is an invitation into my identity, and an expression of where I come from. I carry it and wrap it around me like a blanket when I feel strange and alienated here in wemistikôsînâhk…French country.