Grateful Prey: Rock Cree Human-Animal Relationships


396 pages
Contains Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-88977-137-5
DDC 299'.783




Reviewed by John Steckley

John Steckley teaches in the Human Studies Program at Humber College in
Toronto. He is the author of Beyond Their Years: Five Native Women’s


Grateful Prey is a rewritten version of Brightman’s 1983 doctoral
dissertation concerning what he terms the “spiritualizing” of
hunting by the Woods Cree–speaking people who identify themselves as
the Rock Cree. These people, from the communities of Granville Lake and
Pukatawagan on the Churchill River in northwestern Manitoba, whom the
author worked with from 1977 to 1979 and returned to in 1986, had never
previously been visited by an anthropologist, so the potential for
groundbreaking work was high.

And, when the Cree speak through their language and stories, there are
intellectual gems that can be mined. This is especially true in the
discussion of the role of dreams and songs, and of such terms as
pastamowin (“blasphemous or dangerous speech”), pawakan (“dream
spirit”), and pikisiw (“clean” or “pure”). Also significant is
Brightman’s use of Cree spiritual concepts to challenge the notion
that they were “natural conservationists.”

There are, however, two main problems with the book in terms of how
readily it can be used by students of Cree culture. First, the author
uses too much esoteric language in his prose: “As Boas argued
cogently, the distal origins of myths are irretrievable and the proximal
origins manifestly the product of diffusional combinatorics.” This
weakness stems primarily from his use of the always dense language of
semiotics, in particular the cumbersome terminology of 1960s writer
Charles S. Peirce, a terminology that Brightman himself admits is
“arcane.” Second, Brightman fails to use the index to link
discussions of important terms that come from the Cree language (e.g.,
pikisiw and pastamowin).

Still, this is an important book from which the reader can learn much
that has not appeared in the literature before.


Brightman, Robert., “Grateful Prey: Rock Cree Human-Animal Relationships,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 24, 2024,