This, in Cree, means “hello my friend.” It’s always amusing when I hear the Cree language in a movie. The first time I heard Cree on television was when I was watching a western movie.
I was probably around 12 years old and I spoke fluent Cree, as I do to this day. I was by myself when I was watching the show. All of the sudden the Indians in the movie started to speak Cree. I thought nobody would believe me, so I called my mom to come and watch the movie with me. She, too, started to laugh when she heard the language. It wasn’t that the actors were saying anything funny, but rather they were taking the language out of context. It was probably to feed the movie stereotype Indian at the time. Things haven’t changed that much since.
A few years back, there was a small northern town that wanted to pay tribute to the First Nations people and the early European settlers. It was decided a park would be built in the middle of town. It would be a park that would reflect the relationship of the two nations.
I was one of the people invited to attend the grand opening of the park. In fact, almost the entire town showed up. I suppose the town administration wanted to make sure there were Aboriginal people in attendance.
Being a writer and always willing to enjoy a free meal, I decided to attend. It’s a beautiful little park, located in the heart of the community. There was a barbecue, music and a host of activities. It had that festive spirit — a wonderful time for the whole family.
On one side of the park was a covered sign. Then came the big moment of unveiling the name of the park. The mayor and all the big shots stood by the covered sign. After a couple speeches, the sheet that covered the sign was removed. The name was Kemosabe Park. I almost choked on my food when I saw the sign – not because the food was bad, but rather because I was laughing so hard I couldn’t hold the food.
Apparently the town wanted an Aboriginal word that would bring together the indigenous people and early settlers. The word Kemosabe was popularized in the Tonto and Lone Ranger television series.
It was believed the word meant “faithful friend.” It was so widely used that it was entered into Webster’s New Millennium Dictionary as “various meanings in Native American languages.” Jim Jewell, director of the Lone Ranger, took the phrase from Kamp Kee-Mo-sah-Bee, a boy’s camp. It’s basically a word that was made up by Hollywood. And, like most things in Hollywood, it’s not real.
One of my cousins was floored when she saw the sign. She is one of those people who jumps at every opportunity to raise her voice and opinions. I didn’t even have to hear the words she was saying to the mayor. All I could see were hands flapping all over the place.
It didn’t take long before the park’s name was changed from Kemosabe Park to Friendship Park. Truth be told, I liked Kemosabe Park better.
There are many Cree words in Saskatchewan that have evolved into something totally different than their intended meaning. Even the word Saskatchewan has different definitions, depending on who you talk to. Try phoning Wanuskewin Park and asking them what the word means. I bet no one will give you a straight answer.
Last year I gave Cam Hutchinson, the editor of the Saskatoon Express, an Indian name. I thought about Kemosabe, but instead I called him Walking Eagle, because he is so full of BS he can’t fly. Besides, if I started calling him Kemosabe, he might start calling me Tonto. Instead when I see him again, I’ll say Tansi Nechi.