“WHO IS CARIBOU?” is an idiom that surfacing from early North American Indian oral traditions. Originally, from Labrador, the phrase describes one of many battles between the tribes and the non-Indigenous peoples in the area. This idiom has been adopted into Canadian English by a few notable authors such as Daniel Victor Snaith, Robert Sherry, Peter Seaman, Glen Cook and Don Cherry. Wikipedia
Description: “WHO IS CARIBOU?” can be heard almost as a mantra in many First Nations communities. It appears to have entered into the diction of many in urban centres with its adoption into the phrase “you’re not the only one” or “there’s more than one of them.” Though there are no clear answers to who came up with the phrase or why, one thing that can’t be denied is the fact that it has become part of our everyday lives. For example, if you asked someone whose grandfather was killed at the hands of armed Indians “are you from the Six Nations?”
The phrase “who is caribou” actually came from an old oral story about how the Wendat, the French-speaking community near Port Huron, would tell stories about the dangers that the “crows” (the Indians they were referring to as “crows” since it was believed that they roosted in large groups like the crow) posed for the French-speaking settlers on their territories. These stories became the basis for many songs. Some of these songs focused on the dangers facing the settlers, while others spoke of the courage of the people. Among these, some popular examples are “Who is Caribou” and “Fishers of the Long White Cloud”. There are many stories about how the Wendat would gather near the white crows to spot a passing ship and cheerily announce, “There’s not a soul in the canoe but the Queen.” The “Queen” is supposed to be Stanneine, the local women who supposedly provided food and shelter for the “crows”.
In recent years, the phrase “Who is Caribou” has taken on a life of its own. In the pages of North American Indian Folklore and song, one can find references to the Crow, the Fox, the Sioux and the Menominee. One of the most popular motifs of this sort is the story about the Three Kings. According to this legend, the Crow, the Fox, the Sioux and the Menominee were given land by the Creator. Their tribes each held a sacred place on this land, while the “king” (or chief) of each tribe kept a “sacred” fire that was supposed to light whenever three things happened. When these three things happened, the “king” would light his sacred fire and say “All meet in the name of the Three Kings”.
These stories have given the phrase “Who is Caribou” a very wide meaning. While some groups consider it to be sacred organic language, some consider it to be merely a creation of the American Indian imagination. Because of this, there have been many bands of “crow” hunters across the continent who swear they have killed a “crown” or “helix” deer while on a “crown hunt”.
One group that has taken on the “Who is Caribou” question in more detail is the Ojibway Native Language Association. They have used the phrase “Who is Caribou” many times in their media materials, including song lyrics and chants. Because of the confusion that has resulted from the “crown” concept, many Ojibway communities have decided to take a completely different approach to the question. By using spiritual songs and cultural practices, the communities are hoping to reclaim the “crown” language and to position it as a part of their heritage instead of its misuse by outside cultures.