Native toCanada
RegionMétis communities in the Prairies; mostly Manitoba, Alberta, Saskatchewan Northeastern British Columbia and Northwestern Ontario, Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation in North Dakota
Native speakers
730 (2010 & 2011 censuses)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3crg
Michif is classified as Critically Endangered by the UNESCO Atlas of the World's Languages in Danger
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters. For an introductory guide on IPA symbols, see Help:IPA.
Métis French
Hand Talk
CountryMichif Piyii

Michif (also Mitchif, Mechif, Michif-Cree, Métif, Métchif, French Cree) is one of the languages of the Métis people of Canada and the United States, who are the descendants of First Nations (mainly Cree, Nakota, and Ojibwe) and fur trade workers of white ancestry (mainly French). Michif emerged in the early 19th century as a mixed language[2] and adopted a consistent character between about 1820 and 1840.

The word Michif is from a variant pronunciation of the French word Métis. Some Métis people prefer this word (Michif) to describe their nationality when speaking English and use it for anything related to Métis people, including any languages they happen to speak. According to the Gabriel Dumont Institute (GDI), the word Michif, when used for a language, is used to describe at least three distinct types of speech. Northern Michif (in Saskatchewan) is essentially a variety of Cree with a small number of French loanwords. Michif French is a variety of Canadian French with some Cree loanwords and syntax (word order). Michif used without any qualification can also describe the mixed language which borrows heavily from both Cree and French. According to theories of self-determination and self-identification, the GDI refers to all of these speech varieties as Michif because many Métis community members use the term that way, even though these varieties are widely different in their linguistic details.[3] The remainder of this article deals primarily with the mixed language that has many features from both French and Cree.

The number of Michif speakers is estimated at fewer than 1,000; it was probably double or triple this number at the close of the 19th century, but never much higher. Currently, Michif is spoken in scattered Métis communities in the provinces of Saskatchewan and Manitoba in Canada and in North Dakota in the U.S., with about 50 speakers in Alberta, all over age 60.[4] There are some 230 speakers of Michif in the United States (down from 390 at the 1990 census),[5] most of whom live in North Dakota, particularly in the Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation.[6] There are around 300 Michif speakers in the Northwest Territories, northern Canada.[7]

Michif combines Cree and Métis French (Rhodes 1977, Bakker 1997:85), a variety of Canadian French, with some additional borrowing from English and indigenous languages of the Americas such as Ojibwe and Assiniboine. In general, Michif noun phrase phonology, lexicon, morphology, and syntax are derived from Métis French, while verb phrase phonology, lexicon, morphology, and syntax are from a southern variety of Plains Cree (a western dialect of Cree). Articles and adjectives are also of Métis French origin but demonstratives are from Plains Cree.

The Michif language is unusual among mixed languages, in that rather than forming a simplified grammar, it developed by incorporating complex elements of the chief languages from which it was born. French-origin noun phrases retain lexical gender and adjective agreement; Cree-origin verbs retain much of their polysynthetic structure. This suggests that instead of haltingly using words from another's tongue, the people who gradually came to speak Michif were fully fluent in both French and Cree.

The Michif language was first brought to scholarly attention in 1976 by John Crawford at the University of North Dakota.[8] Much of the subsequent research on Michif was also related to UND, including four more pieces by Crawford, plus work by Evans, Rhodes, and Weaver.


Michif lacks a unified spelling standard. Some systems are phonetic, with each letter having only one sound (often based on English standards), while other are etymological, with French-derived words spelled by French standards, and Cree-derived words spelled using the "Standard Roman Orthography" system.

In 2004, Robert Papen proposed a new system that was mostly phonetic.[9]

The government of Manitoba published a translation of its annual report on The Path to Reconciliation Act in Michif in June 2017. Its choice of spelling system can be seen in this extract:

"Chimooshakinitoohk" aen itwayhk Kwaayeshchi Kanawaapinitoohk, chi nishtotaatoohk paarmii lii atoktonn pi lii blaan pour chi ooshitaahk chi li Trustiihk, mina kayaash chi nishtotamihk ka kii itawyhk mina chi kii kayhk pi mina kaahkiiyow chi maamoo atooshkayhk.[10]

Here, as in Papen's system, different vowel qualities are marked by writing the character doubled ("a" vs. "aa") instead of using diacritical marks as usual for Cree. For consistency, this system is also extended to the French-derived words so that French les blancs ('whites') becomes lii blaan but les autochtones ('the indigenous') becomes lii atoktonn.


Michif as recorded starting in the 1970s combined two separate phonological systems: one for French origin elements, and one for Cree origin elements (Rhodes 1977, 1986). For instance, /y/, /l/, /r/ and /f/ exist only in French words, whereas preaspirated stops such as /ʰt/ and /ʰk/ exist only in Cree words. In this variety of Michif, the French elements were pronounced in ways that have distinctively Canadian French values for the vowels, while the Cree elements have distinctively Cree values for vowels. Nonetheless, there is some Cree influence on French words in the stress system (Rosen 2006). But by the year 2000 there were Michif speakers who had collapsed the two systems into a single system (Rosen 2007).


Consonants in Manitoba Michif[11]
Labial Alveolar Alveolo-palatal Velar Glottal
Nasal m n
Stop p t k
ʰp ʰt ʰtʃ ʰk
b d g
Fricative f s ʃ h
v z ʒ
Approximant w l j
Trill r


Michif has eleven oral vowels and four nasalized vowels.

Oral vowels

Oral vowels in Manitoba Michif[12]
Front Central Back
Close i ɪ y ʊ u
Mid e ɛ œ ɔ o
Open a ɑ

Nasalized vowels

The following four vowels are nasalized in Michif:


A schwa /ə/ appearing between two consonants in French-origin words is dropped in Michif. Examples of this process are listed in the table below.

/e/-deletion in Michif[13]
French Michif English
chemin shmen 'path'
cheveux zhveu 'hair'
petit pchi 'small'
cheval zhwal 'horse'

Elision in Michif

Rosen (2007) states that since all French-derived vowel-initial nouns in Michif have been lexicalized as consonant-initial, the French rule of elision, which deletes certain vowels (particularly schwa) before vowel-initial words, for ex., le copain 'the friend' but l'ami 'the friend'), cannot apply in Michif. Curiously, she admits that elision is potentially still active since vowel-initial English loanwords allow elision, as in un bol d'oatmeal 'a bowl of oatmeal'. Papen (2014) has countered that elision is, in fact, just as active in French-derived words as is liaison. For example, he examines Noun + di + Noun constructions (as in mwaa di zhanvjii vs. mwaa d'oktob 'month of January' vs. 'month of October') and finds that 100% of /i/ (from French schwa) are deleted before French-derived vowel-initial nouns. However, elision does not occur before Cree vowel-initial nouns. This strongly suggests that French phonological rules, such as liaison and elision still function in Michif, but that they apply only to French-derived words and not to Cree-derived ones, implying that Michif phonology is at least partially stratified, contrary to what Rosen (2007) proposes.

Liaison consonants

In French, a liaison is used to bridge the gap between word-final and word-initial vowel sounds. Whether liaison still exists in Michif is a much discussed theoretical issue. Scholars such as Bakker (1997),[14] Rhodes (1986),[15] and Rosen (2007)[16] have suggested that liaison no longer exists in Michif and that all words that etymologically began with a vowel in French now begin with a consonant, the latter resulting from a variety of sources, including a liaison consonant. Their arguments are based on the fact that the expected liaison consonant (for example, /n/) will not show up and instead, the consonant will be /z/, as in in zur 'a bear' The above authors cite over a dozen words with an unexpected initial consonant. Papen (2003, 2014)[17] has countered this argument by showing that, statistically, the vast majority of so-called initial consonants in Michif reflect the expected liaison consonant and that only about 13% of so-called initial consonants are unexpected. Moreover, Papen points out that one of the so-called initial consonant is /l/, which in nearly all cases, represents the elided definite article l (from li), in which case it cannot be a liaison consonant, since liaison consonants may not have grammatical or semantic meaning. Thus in a sequence such as larb the meaning is not simply 'tree' but 'the tree', where initial l has the meaning of 'the', and /l/ is initial only in a phonetic sense, but not in a phonological one, since it represents a distinct morpheme from arb, and thus arb must be considered phonologically vowel-initial.

Liaison consonants in Michif[13]
French Michif English
arbre zarbr 'tree'
étoile zetwel 'star'
œuf zoeuf 'egg'
os zo 'bone'
oignon zawyoun 'onion'


The voiced alveolar stop /d/ in French-origin words is palatalized to /dʒ/ in Michif, as in Acadian French. This may occur word-initially or word-internally before front vowels.

Palatalization of /d/ in Michif[13]
French Michif English
dix jis 'ten'
diable jiab 'devil'
dieu Bon Jeu 'God'
mardi marji 'Tuesday'
radis rawjee 'radish'
diner jinee 'dinner'
dimanche jimawnsh 'Sunday'


A comparison of some common words in English, French, Michif, and Cree:[18]

English French Michif Cree
one un haen, peeyak pêyak
two deux deu nîso
three trois trwaa nisto
four quatre kaet nêwo
five cinq saenk niyânan
man homme (l'homme) lom nâpêw
dog chien shyaeñ, shyen atim
sun soleil saley pîsim
water eau (de l'eau) dilo nipiy
white blanc blañ wâpiskâw
yellow jaune zhun osâwâw
red rouge ruzh mihkwâw
black noir nwer kaskitêwâw
eat manger miichishow; miitshow mîcisow
see voir waapow wâpiw
hear entendre peehtam pêhtam
sing chanter nakamow nikamow
leave partir shipweeteew; atishipweeteew (ati-)sipwêhtêw


Noun phrase

Nouns are almost always accompanied by a French-origin determiner or a possessive.[19]

English French Michif
a gun un fusil /œ̃ fyzi/ aeñ fiizii
a house une maison /yn mɛzɔ̃/ aen meezoñ
the boy le garçon /lə ɡarsɔ̃/ li garsoñ
the rock la roche /la ʁɔʃ/ la rosh
the knives les couteaux /le kuto/ lii kutu
his (her) food son manger /sɔ̃ mɑ̃ʒe/ su mañzhii
his (her) hand sa main /sa mɛ̃/ sa maeñ
my dogs mes chiens /me ʃjɛ̃/ mii shyaeñ

Cree-origin demonstratives can be added to noun phrases, in which case the Cree gender (animate or inanimate) is that of the corresponding Cree noun.[20]

English French Michif Plains Cree
this boy ce garçon-là awa li garsoñ awa nâpêsis (animate)
this egg cet œuf-là ôma li zaef ôma wâwi (inanimate)
this rock cette roche-là awa la rosh awa asinîy (animate)
those men (over there) ces hommes-là neekik lii zom nêkik nâpêwak (animate)

Adjectives are French-origin (Cree has no adjectives), and as in French they are either pre- or postnominal. Prenominal adjectives agree in gender (like French), however, postnominal adjectives do not agree in gender (unlike French).

Verb phrase

The verb phrase is that of Plains Cree-origin with little reduction (there are no dubitative or preterit verb forms).

Word order

Michif word order is basically that of Cree (relatively free). However, the more French-origin elements are used, the closer the syntax seems to conform to norms of spoken French.


Nouns: 83-94% French-origin; others are mostly Cree-origin, Ojibwe-origin, or English-origin
Verbs: 88-99% Cree-origin
Question words: Cree-origin
Personal pronouns: Cree
Postpositions: Cree-origin
Prepositions: French-origin
Conjunctions: 55% Cree-origin; 40% French-origin
Numerals: French-origin
Demonstratives: Cree-origin

The Lord's Prayer in English, French, and Michif:

Michif French English
Toñ Periinaan Notre Père Our Father
Toñ Periinaan, dañ li syel kayaayeen kiichitwaawan toñ noo. Kiiya kaaniikaanishtaman peetoteiie kaandaweetaman taatochiikateew ota dañ la ter taapishkoch dañ li syel. Miinaan anoch moñ paeñiinaan poneeiiminaan kamachitotamaak, niishtanaan nkaponeemaanaanik anikee kaakiimaiitotaakoyaakuk kayakochii'inaan, maaka pashpii'inaan aayik ochi maachiishiiweepishiwin. Answichil. Notre Père, qui est aux cieux, Que ton nom soit sanctifié, Que ton règne vienne, Que ta volonté soit faite Sur la terre comme au ciel. Donne-nous aujourd’hui notre pain de ce jour Pardonne-nous nos offenses, Comme nous pardonnons aussi à ceux qui nous ont offensés, Et ne nous soumets pas à la tentation, Mais délivre-nous du mal. Ainsi soit-il. Our Father, who art in Heaven, Hallowed be thy Name. Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, As we forgive those who trespass against us And lead us not into temptation; But deliver us from evil. Amen.

Language genesis

Michif engraving at Batoche

In languages of mixed ethnicities, the language of the mother usually provides the grammatical system, while the language of the father provides the lexicon.[21] The reasons are as follows: children tend to know their mother's language better;[dubious ] in the case of the Métis, the men were often immigrants, whereas the women were native to the region.[22] If the bilingual children need to use either of their parents' languages to converse with outsiders, it is most likely to be the language of their mothers. Thus, the model of language-mixing predicts that Michif should have a Cree grammatical system and French lexicon. Michif, however, has Cree verb phrases and French noun phrases. The explanation for this unusual distribution of Cree and French elements in Michif lies in the polysynthetic nature of Cree morphology. In Cree, verbs can be very complex with up to twenty morphemes, incorporated nouns and unclear boundaries between morphemes. In other words, in Cree verbs it is very difficult to separate grammar from lexicon. As a result, in Michif the grammatical and bound elements are almost all Cree, and the lexical and free elements are almost all French; verbs are almost totally Cree, because the verb consists of grammatical and bound elements. Seen in this way, it can be argued that Michif is fundamentally Cree, but with heavy French borrowing (somewhat like Maltese, a mixed Arabic-Italian language classified as fundamentally Arabic). The Métis in addition have their own variety of French with Cree borrowings -- Métis French.

Language revitalization

Revitalizing the Michif language is important to Métis people. Language is regarded as culturally significant and holds more value than just the attributes studied by linguists. Elder Brousse Flammand [23] writes "Language is central to nationhood" and that "A government cannot legislate this identity and nationhood; the government can only recognize what is already in existence."[24] Michif was (and is) central to the independent culture and nationhood of the Métis people. The Métis community is working toward language revitalization to keep this connection to their independent culture and nationhood.

The reason why Michif has so few speakers and is in need of active revitalization efforts is a direct result of colonization.[25]

Métis cultural centres such as the Michif Cultural and Métis Resource Institute in St. Albert, Alberta,[26] the Métis Culture and Heritage Resource Centre in Winnipeg,[27] and the Gabriel Dumont Institute of Native Studies and Applied Research are attempting to revive the language through public outreach.[28]

As of 2013, the Northern Journal reports that "Aboriginal language and culture is becoming increasingly visible" in Alberta, as Alberta's Northland School Division, "serving mostly First Nations and Métis students in the northern part of the province" has expanded its community partnerships and culture camps.[29]

See also


  1. ^ Michif at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015) (subscription required)
  2. ^ L. Lee Scott (2007-07-02). "The Turtle Mountain Michif: A People and Their Language". Yahoo! Voices - voices.yahoo.com. Archived from the original on 2014-07-29. Retrieved 2013-03-24.
  3. ^ "The Virtual Museum of Métis History and Culture". Metismuseum.ca.
  4. ^ Ma, Kevin (2013-03-13). "Researcher digs into near-extinct Métis language". St. Albert Gazette. Archived from the original on 2016-03-03. Retrieved 2013-03-24.
  5. ^ "Michif". Ethnologue.
  6. ^ "Data Center States Results". Archived from the original on 2011-05-22. Retrieved 2020-04-02.
  7. ^ "Fort Smith man wants Michif made an official language of N.W.T." Cbc.ca. Retrieved 2021-11-30.
  8. ^ Michif: A new language. North Dakota English 4.1:3-10.
  9. ^ Robert Paper, Linguistica atlantica No. 26. 2005 75-97
  10. ^ "Li shmayn chi Mooshakahkinitoohk Ayshkum awn achimoohk daan laanii" (PDF). Gov.mb.ca. Retrieved 2021-11-30.
  11. ^ Rosen 2007:109
  12. ^ Rosen 2008:617
  13. ^ a b c Barkwell & Fleury 2004:11
  14. ^ Bakker, P. 1997. A Language of our own. The genesis of Michif, the mixed Cree-French language of the Canadian Métis. Oxford, Oxford University Press.
  15. ^ Rhodes, R. 1986. Métchif: A second look. In Actes du Dix-septième Congrès des Algonquinistes, ed. W. Cowan, Ottawa, Carleton University Press, p. 287-296.
  16. ^ Rosen, N. 2007. Domains in Michif phonology. PhD thesis, University of Toronto.
  17. ^ Papen, R. 2003. 'Michif: One phonology or two?', in Y. Chung, C. Gillon, and Wodjak (eds) Proceedings of the Eight Workshop on the Structure and Constituency in Languages of the Americas, University of British Columbia Working Papers in Linguistics 12, p.47-58; Papen, R. 2014. 'La liaison en mitchif : un cas d’acquisition incomplète fossilisée?' in C. Soum-Favaro, A. Coquillon and J.-P. Chevrot (eds.), Liaison : Approches contemporaines. Berlin, Peter Lang, p. 213-238.
  18. ^ Taken from: Redish, Laura and Orrin Lewis. "Vocabulary Words in Native American Languages: Michif". Native-Languages.org. Retrieved 2007-08-08.
  19. ^ Taken from Rhodes (1977)
  20. ^ Rhodes (1977), Bloomfield (1984)
  21. ^ Bakker, Peter. A Language of Our Own: The Genesis of Michif, the Mixed Cree-French Language of the Canadian Metis, Oxford University Press, 1997.
  22. ^ Barkwell, Lawrence J., Leah Dorion and Darren Préfontaine. Métis Legacy: A Historiography and Annotated Bibliography. Winnipeg: Pemmican Publications Inc. and Saskatoon: Gabriel Dumont Institute, 2001. ISBN 1-894717-03-1.
  23. ^ "About Brousse Flammand". Thinking in Michif. 6 November 2020. Retrieved 2023-06-23.
  24. ^ "The Genesis of the Michif Peoples". Thinking in Michif. 6 November 2020. Retrieved 2023-06-23.
  25. ^ Tricia Logan (2015). "Settler colonialism in Canada and the Métis". Journal of Genocide Research. 17 (4): 433–452. doi:10.1080/14623528.2015.1096589. S2CID 74114618. Retrieved 2023-06-23.
  26. ^ "NAIT | Métis history to be preserved in one-of-a-kind virtual museum". Archived from the original on 2017-10-10. Retrieved 2012-07-19.
  27. ^ MCHRC Profile Archived 2012-07-31 at the Wayback Machine
  28. ^ "Overview of the Curriculum and Publishing Department". Gabriel Dumont Institute. Retrieved 2013-03-24.
  29. ^ Renée Francoeur (2013-03-12). "Northland improves use of Aboriginal languages". Northern Journal. Archived from the original on 2017-10-11. Retrieved 2013-03-24.


  • Barkwell, Lawrence J., Leah Dorion, and Audreen Hourie. Métis legacy Michif culture, heritage, and folkways. Métis legacy series, v. 2. Saskatoon: Gabriel Dumont Institute, 2006. ISBN 0-920915-80-9
  • Barkwell, L.J., (Editor). 2004. La Lawng: Michif Peekishkwewin, The Heritage Language of the Canadian Metis, Volume One, Language Practice Winnipeg: Pemmican Publications. ISBN 1894717228
  • Barkwell, L.J., (Editor). 2004. La Lawng: Michif Peekishkwewin, The Heritage Language of the Canadian Metis, Volume Two, Language Theory. Winnipeg: Pemmican Publications. ISBN 1894717287
  • Barkwell, Lawrence J., Leah Dorion and Darren Prefontaine. "Metis Legacy: A Historiography and Annotated Bibliography". Winnipeg: Pemmican Publications Inc. and Saskatoon: Gabriel Dumont Institute, 2001. ISBN 1-894717-03-1
  • Bakker, Peter: Spelling systems for Michif: an overview. In: La Lawng: Michif Peekishkwewin. The Heritage Language of the Canadian Metis. Vol 2: Language Theory. Barkwell, Lawrence (Ed.). Pemmican Publications/Manitoba Métis Federation Michif Language Program, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada: pp. 11‑28, 2004. ISBN 1-894717-28-7
  • Bakker, Peter: The Michif language of the Métis. In: La Lawng: Michif Peekishkwewin. The Heritage Language of the Canadian Metis. Vol 2: Language Theory. Barkwell, Lawrence (Ed.). Pemmican Publications/Manitoba Métis Federation Michif Language Program, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada: pp. 5‑9, 2004. ISBN 1-894717-28-7
  • Bakker, Peter: The verb in Michif. In: La Lawng: Michif Peekishkwewin. The Heritage Language of the Canadian Metis. Vol 2: Language Theory. Barkwell, Lawrence (Ed.). Pemmican Publications/Manitoba Métis Federation Michif Language Program, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada: pp. 63‑80, 2004. ISBN 1-894717-28-7
  • Bakker, Peter: What is Michif? In: La Lawng: Michif Peekishkwewin. The Heritage Language of the Canadian Metis. Vol 1: Language Practice. Barkwell, Lawrence (Ed.). Pemmican Publications/Manitoba Métis Federation Michif Language Program, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada: pp. 5‑7, 2004. ISBN 1-894717-22-8
  • Bakker, Peter; Barkwell, Lawrence: Storytelling and Mythology. In: La Lawng: Michif Peekishkwewin. The Heritage Language of the Canadian Metis. Vol 2: Language Theory. Barkwell, Lawrence (Ed.). Pemmican Publications/Manitoba Métis Federation Michif Language Program, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada: pp. 83‑96, 2004. ISBN 1-894717-28-7
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  • Bakker, Peter and Robert Papen. 1997. Michif: A mixed language based on Cree and French. In S. Thomason (ed.) Contact languages: A wider perspective. Philadelphia: John Benjamins, p. 295-363.
  • Bloomfield, Leonard (1984) Cree-English Lexicon Human Area Relations Files, New Haven, CT.
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  • Crawford, John. "Linguistic and sociolinguistic relationships in the Michif language." Proceedings of the Linguistic Circle of Manitoba and North Dakota 3 (1973): 8-22.
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  • Fleury, N. and L. J. Barkwell. 2000. La Lawng: Michif Peekishkwewin: The Canadian Michif Language Dictionary. Winnipeg: Metis Resource Centre.
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  • Papen, Robert. 2003. "Michif: One phonology or two?" In Y. Chung, C. Gillon and R. Wokdak (eds) University of British Columbia Working Papers in Linguistics, Vol. 12, Proceedings of the Eighth Workshop on Structure and Constituency in Language of the Americas, p. 47-58.
  • Papen, Robert. 2004. "Michif spelling conventions: Proposal for a unified Michif writing system. In L. Barkwell (ed.) La lawng: Michif peekishkwewin. Winnipeg, MB: Pemmican Publications, p. 29-53.
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  • Rhodes, Richard A. 1986. Métif—a second look. Actes du Septième Congrès des Algonquinistes. Wm. Cowan (ed.), Ottawa: Carleton University. p. 287-296.
  • Rhodes, Richard A. 1987. Les Contes Metif—Metif Myths. Papers of the Eighteenth Algonquian Conference. Wm. Cowan (ed.), Ottawa: Carleton University. p. 297-301.
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  • Rhodes, Richard A. 2001. Text Strategies in Métchif. Papers of the Thirty-second Algonquian Conference. H. C. Wolfart (ed.), Winnipeg: University of Manitoba. p. 455-469.
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  • Papen, Robert. 2005. Le mitchif: langue Franco-crie des Plaines. In A. Valdman, J. Auger & D. Piston-Hatlen (eds). Saint-François, QC: Presses de l'Université Laval, p. 327-347.
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  • Zoldy, Grace. 2003. The Lord's Prayer. In Li Liivr Oche Michif Ayamiiawina - The Book of Michif Prayers. Camperville Michif Cree Ritual Language Project.