Wesakechak “whisky jack” may become Canada’s national bird

TURTLE ISLAND – The Royal Canadian Geographical Society has ended its two-year National Bird Project by unveiling its pick for Canada’s newest national symbol — the whisky jack — also known as the grey jay or the Canada Jay.

The society will now be seeking the federal government to officially adopt the whisky jack as Canada’s national bird in an Act of Parliament in 2017 to mark Canada’s 150th birthday.

“We are honoured to recommend the grey jay as a fresh symbol of our collective passion for natural environments, and our concern for their conservation and stewardship,” Aaron Kylie, Canadian Geographic editor, said in press release.

After a countrywide vote, the grey jay did not lead the national poll and did not even make second place. First and second place went to the loon and snowy owl, but a spokesperson said staff vetoed the two from the running because they are already provincial symbols in Ontario and Quebec. The society was looking for a new and fresh symbol for the country.

“Quick to learn that humans can be an excellent source of food, the gray jay often visits lumber camps, kills made by hunters, and the campsites of canoeists, looking for scraps of anything edible,” says Hinterland’s wildlife website.

Whisky jack was taken from Wesakechak, Wisagatcak, Wisekejack, or other variations of the word used in the Algonquian family — mostly Cree — of aboriginal languages of eastern Canada to designate a mischievous, transforming spirit who liked to play tricks on people

The grey jay is the only Canadian bird for which a name of aboriginal derivation has been commonly used in English and has nothing to with references to whisky alcohol. Early settlers didn’t know how to pronounce the original Cree word so they settled for “whisky jack”.

Wesakechak is a well-meaning and kind-hearted cultural hero of the Cree tribe, and has been sometimes referred to as a “transformer” by folklorists. His name is spelled so many different ways partially because Cree was originally an unwritten language, so English speakers and early settlers spelled it however it sounded to them at the time. Some legends and myths of Wesakechak claim he has defeated evil spirits and monsters such as the Wendigo — a cannibal monster or evil spirit native to the northern forests of the Atlantic Coast and Great Lakes Region of both the U.S. and Canada.

The Cree language is spoken across a huge geographical range in both Canada and the U.S., so it has many different dialects which is why there are so many different ways to spell Wesakechak.

Wesakechak is a trickster character whose adventures are often humorous. Unlike Plains Indian tricksters, however; Wisakedjak is usually portrayed as a staunch friend of humankind, and never as a dangerous or destructive being.

Whatever you choose to call the bird — whisky jack, the grey jay or Canada jay — it is known as a very friendly and tameable bird and may be Canada’s newest symbol by 2017.

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