East Lansing, MI
The Omaskêko Cree word for berries is minisa. This is the plural form of the word, so it is more than one. A very specific and interesting characteristic of the Cree language is how things are pluralized. It reveals each word’s animacy or inanimacy—a dubious and interesting categorization—and it reveals its relationship to the speaker of the word. Minisa is considered a pluralized inanimate noun, but that does not necessarily mean that they (or it) are not alive.
In the specific case of blueberries, the word is shâpomina, which is considered both an inanimate and an animate noun. In its animate, pluralized form, it would be shâpominak (like a person or a sock). It is an interesting ambiguity that this particular berry can be simultaneously animate and inanimate: shâpominak inhabits both categories uneasily. And in doing so, they reveal themselves as active agents of Omaskêko language and ideas, coming from the lands of Omaskêkowak people and Anishinâbêk peoples and the social system in which they are embedded.
Credit: Exhibition overview from museum website.