Small Number Counts to 100 – Cree

Written by Veselin Jungic & Mark MacLean
Illustrated by Simon Roy

The first story, Small Number Counts to 100 was inspired by narration from Ms. Rina Sinclair of the Siksika Nation. The story can be shown to elementary school students as a counting practice/puzzle or as a pattern recognition problem. For high school students it can be a way to introduce arithmetic progressions, modular addition, or an idea of number systems with a base different than 10.

Apsch Akichikiwan akichikeet isko mitatomitano
(Cree Translation)

Cree Translation by Barry Cardinal

Story Transcript: English and Cree

Seven tipis in a circle

Group shot of Small Number and grandparents
Small Number is a 5 year-old boy who gets into a lot of mischief.  He lives with his Grandma and Grandpa, who patiently put up with his antics, in a small settlement with 7 tipis arranged in a circle.

Apsch Akichikiwin  niyanan tahtohpuneet aya isa mana igee natohkunkeet. Ohkuma ikwa Ohmoosuma iwitookeemat aya isa mana peyahtik ke nakateemkut uma kanatohkunkeet. Tepakohp esa  wasagamaskiteekaw megwahpah  etah kaweekihtaw.


One day Small Number wanders out into the woods and sees a beautiful black cat with a long white stripe down its back.

Small Number spots a skunk

Peyuk kesikaw esa Apsch Akichikiwan sakahk papamohteet kawapimat esa mimosa, paskutch esa wapskiyk upskun awa minos.

Wanting to take the cat home to show Grandma, he tries to catch it and learns that the black cat is really a skunk.

A skunk sprays Small Number

Kakoykatinat esa ikewkiwitahat Ohkuma iki- ywapahteehat. Ikohta esa kakskituhk Sikakohk chikana esa ohi.

Smelling strongly from the skunk spray, he runs home to Grandma, who quickly takes him out to wash the smell off him.  As hard as she scrubs him down, she can’t quite get rid of all the bad smell.  

Small Number receiving a bath

Katakohpatat esa wekowak Ohkuma esa iksipi- kusteenkoot ohsam oma wihcheeksit. Maka esa pohkeekohk ata kaksipikusteenkoot peyakun esa kasimakohsit.

Grandma doesn’t want Small Number spending time in their tipi until he smells better, so she decides to set him a task she thinks will take him a long time. She knows Small Number can count to 100.  

Grandma and Small Number

Ohkuma esa awa Apsch Akichikiwan igiya in- taweemkut koonta kahuyapit uma migwapihk usam wihcheeksit, machik esa atoskeyan meegoot uma kinoys uma kahnoochitat machik nowach kakunatchmaksit. Ikseytumeet esa uma kuskitaat akichikeet iskoh mitatomitano. 

She tells him to start at their tipi, which is right beside the entrance to the settlement at the east point of the circle, and to walk around the circle of tipis by first heading south.

Aerial view of the village

Wihtumakoot esa uma kamachitat eta kaweekitaw, ekotawchi sakasteenohk isih keetohteet, ekootawchi kawasakateet ohi megwahpah apihtaakesikunohk sih.

His task is to count the tipis going round and round until he can tell her which tipi he gets to when he reaches 100.

Small Number counts tipis

Otatoskewin esa uma, kawasakateet kagihtahk megwahpa iskoh mitatomitano. Ikohtawchih kawi- htumowat Ohkuma tanimah ikonma migwahp etah kakisukichikeet mitatomitano.

Small Number starts walking around the circle counting.  He starts at 1 at his tipi, and when he gets back there, he has counted to 8. 

Small Number counting tipis

Apsch Akichikiwin esa machi wasakateet akichikeet. Mach akichikeet esa “Peyuk” etah uma kawekitaw, igwa kowih ikota katuksihk “ayinanew” mamowih agihtum migwapah.

When he gets to 15 and is back at his own tipi, he stops and sits down. He counts on his fingers for a while...

Small Number counting fingers

Niyanosap esa kakisakichikeet takohtew kowih wekowahk, ikota esa ikwa kanugeet pita ayapit. Ohchicheesik esa akichikeet noomih.

...and then runs in to see his Grandma and yells: “It is Auntie Rena’s tipi!” which is one tipi south of his grandparents’. 

Small Number running in with answer

Igutowchih esa Ohkuma spahtaht wihtumowat “nimamaas Rena omigwahpim” igonma igotah migwahp apihtakisihkunohk ohchi eta Ohkuma kawigeet.

Question:  How did Small Number know that the 100th tipi is the one just south of his grandparents’ tipi without actually counting them?

Portrait of Small Number

Tansi? Apsch Akichikiwan isihskitum mitatomi- tano migwapah, apihtakisihkunohk ohchi Ohkuma etee kawikeet atah kiya ahgihtahk?

About the Cree language

Map of traditional Cree territory

“Be truthful and respectful in our speech, which in itself is a miracle and a gift from the Creator, that we might use it only to speak good of each other and pass on the good things of life.”

“óma ka-píkiskwíyák ta-kí kistíthimitomowak mina ta-kí-tapwíyak, íyako áyamíwin mitoni mamáhtáwisíh cikíwin óma ki-mámawóhtawímawánaw ká-kí-mitho- mithikowak, ka-tahkaki-píkiskwatówák íkwa mina ka- mitho-aniskowinimak pimatisiwiwina.”

- Cree Proverb

Cree is part of the very widespread Algonquian language family. There are six main Cree dialects: Eastern Cree (Labrador and eastern James and Hudson Bay), Attikamek Cree (Quebec), Moose Cree (Ontario side of Hudson and James Bay), Swampy Cree (Manitoba and Ontario), Woods Cree (Manitoba and Eastern Saskatchewan), and Plains Cree, spoken mainly in Saskatchewan, Alberta and Northern BC.

The word ‘Cree,’ itself probably came from a French version of an Ojibwa word, ‘kistanowak,’ meaning “people of the north.” Plains Cree call ourselves Nêhiyaw. Many Elders tell us that Nêhiyaw means, “People of the Four Directions”.

When French and English colonizers came to this land, they were mostly welcomed by Aboriginal people, who helped them survive in our territories.

But the colonizers didn’t think we should keep our languages or cultures. Laws were passed, assimilation policies were developed and, ultimately, residential schools were set up to eliminate Aboriginal languages and cultures. Residential schools took children from their parents and communities, and Aboriginal children were denied the right to speak their language, including Cree.

But Cree has never disappeared because of the strength of our people, and especially our Elders who were determined to keep the language living. Today, there are well over 90,000 Cree speakers in Canada, and there are many initiatives in Cree communities to make sure the language remains strong.

Loretta Todd 

Credits and Acknowledgements

  • Inspired by narrations from Rena Sinclair of the Siksika Nation
  • Special thanks to all participants of the BIRS First Nations Math Education Workshop, Banff, AB, November 22-27, 2009, for their help in starting Small Number’s first adventure
  • Special thanks to Staahtsistayaiki Genevieve A. Fox of the Kainai First Nation
  • Special thanks to Karen Manders, PIMS Communications Manager
  • Financial support provided by NSERC, PIMS, UBC, the IRMACS Centre, and SFU