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SSNS Home > Home & Community > Aboriginal Roots > Frontier Sources > Frontier Families > Nabaise


Nabaise Vqh [Naa-pay-s][1]

Researched by Frontier School Division
Note: For best viewing, please download the Cree syllabics file (more information)



Nabaise Vqh [Naa-pay-s] is a surname that may have originated southeast of York Factory in the region about Trout Lake.[2] The first man to bear the name was of mixed Northern Ojibway (or Cree) and European background, born circa 1795, according to his baptismal record at Norway House in 1843. The name given to him by the missionary James Evans was “Mark” Vqh [Naa-pay-s], although there is evidence suggesting he was also known as “John.” Mark/John had a son named John Nabaise, who was eventually associated with the Cumberland House Band. John had one son Donald Nabaise, who had at least three sons. More research is required to find out whether they have any descendants. There is another family named Nabess at Cumberland, The Pas, and Cormorant, but apparently it is unrelated.

Mark/John Vqh [Naa-pay-s] probably only travelled to York Factory on occasion to trade his furs prior to 1810-1815, when such travel apparently ceased. By 1823, “Napish” was in the trade area associated with Oxford House, and he was listed in the census there that year with a wife, three sons, and a daughter. In the 1838 Census at Oxford House, “Nappaish” had a wife, two sons, and a daughter living with him, and three sons listed separately.

Mark/John’s wife was baptised “Martha” by James Evans at Norway House in 1843, although there is evidence that she was also known as “Nancy.” Martha/Nancy was described as thirty-six years of age at that time, meaning she would have been born circa 1807. This would have made her sixteen years of age when the 1823 Census was taken, but evidence suggests that she was the mother of at least two of the older sons of “Nappaish,” who were probably listed on the 1823 census, so Evans may have underestimated her age. In that case, she could have been the mother of all of Mark/John’s children listed below.

  1. “Young Nappish” or “Napesis” may have been the eldest son of Vqh [Naa-pay-s], the son employed by the Hudson’s Bay Company at Oxford House in 1833-1834. He was listed separately from his father on the 1838 Census and also appeared on the 1838 Census at Norway House. At Oxford House, he was listed as Wee yas see passeau, or young Nappish. At Norway House, he was listed as Napesis, which was the diminutive of “Napes” or “Napesh” and had the same meaning as “young Nappish.” Napesis was further identified at Norway House as a son-in-law of “Miskeecunit” [Muchikekwanape], who was a hunter clearly associated with the Norway House District. Evidently, “Napesis” had married a daughter of Muchikekwanape and spent some time with his in-laws before returning to Oxford House. Interestingly, he was recorded at Norway House with only a wife, but at Oxford House he had a wife and son, suggesting that the birth had occurred sometime around 1838. Napesis was baptised at Norway House in 1846 by William Mason under the name John Vqlh [Nah-pay-si-s]. His wife’s name is unknown, and there is no evidence they had any children living into adulthood.

  2. Mee nah way hoot was a single man listed separately from his father on the 1838 Census at Oxford House. In 1843, John sVWnQt [Mi-nah-wee-way-t], son of “Mark” and “Martha” Vqh [Naa-pay-s] was baptised at Norway House by James Evans. John married Eliza Muchikekwanape at Norway House in 1846, and they had one son Donald. More research needs to be done to determine what became of the descendants of John and Eliza Nabaise.

  3. Wapistan or Martin was the third son listed separately from his father on the 1838 Census. He has not been found in church records under that name, but “Nappaish” only had five sons listed on the 1838 Census, and two of the older sons have already been identified. Of the three remaining sons, only one was old enough to have been listed separately from his father in 1838. That was Andrew aVQnunolB [May-nah-way-kwah-ki-si-n], son of “Mark” and “Martha” Vqh [Naa-pay-s], who was baptised by James Evans in 1843. He was listed as nineteen years of age at that time, but this would only have been an estimate. However, it was old enough for him to be listed separately from his father in 1838. Andrew married Agnes, a third daughter of the hunter Muchikekwanape in 1844. They had a daughter Fanny in 1844, and she had a daughter Elizabeth in 1862. No more is known of this family at present.

  4. The daughter of “Napish” from the 1823 Census has not been identified. It is unknown whether she was listed on the 1838 Census or whether the girl listed there was a second daughter of “Nappaish.”

  5. William born circa 1830 was baptised in 1840 at Oxford House, and although no parents were listed he was undoubtedly one of the two younger sons listed with their father “Nappaish” in the 1838 Census at Oxford House. No more is known about him.

  6. Peter, born circa 1833, was probably the other, and youngest, son listed on the 1838 Census. He may have married Peggy and had a daughter Mary in 1862, but no further information is known about her.

The combined information from the census and church records suggest that Mark/John Vqh [Naa-pay-s] had five living sons and possibly two daughters. A question arises as to why two of those sons were named “John.” John Vqlh [Nah-pay-si-s], No. 1 above, was baptised by William Mason in 1844, while his brother John sVWnQt [Mi-nah-wee-way-t], son of “Mark” and “Martha” Vqh [Naa-pay-s], No. 2 above, was baptised by James Evans in 1843. The fact that brothers had the same Christian name is not all that surprising at the time. Since two different clergymen officiated at these baptisms, it is possible they inadvertently used the same name for both. However, each of the young men may have chosen the name John himself. When John [Mi-nah-wee-woo-t or Mi-nah-wee-way-t) Nabais applied for “Half-Breed” scrip in 1887, he listed his parents as “John and Nancy Nabais.” If these were in fact the real names, and the names “Mark” and “Martha” arbitrarily chosen by the missionaries, then it is quite possible that two sons would have chosen to be named after their father.


For more information, see the following Evidence:

  • 1810-1828: Trapping at Trout Lake, Island Lake, and Oxford House
  • 1828-1829: Employed as fisherman on the Winter Road
  • 1829-1830: Winter Road proceeds and labour problems develop
  • 1831-1833: Trapping and Tripping Associates among the Oxford House Cree
  • 1833-1835: Nappish's Son employed as labourer for H.B.C.
  • 1838-1848: Family grows and moves to Norway House
  • 1862-1894: Nappish's Family moves west to Cumberland House



Click on the footnote number to return to the text.

[1] The syllabics are more correctly written with a dot over the first symbol. The “aa” sound is like the “a” in cat.

[2] The evolution of “Nabaise” in Hudson’s Bay Company records is an important clue concerning the origins of the first man to bear that name. Between 1810 and 1823, “Nappish” (or variant forms such as “Na pish”, “Nappaish” and “Napesh”) prevailed, but between 1827 and 1830, “Napis,” and “Nabaise” were more often used. Then, there was a return to variants of Nappish during the 1830s and early 1840s, followed by another shift back to Napis and to Nabaise, which became the final form. The subtle change from “sh” in “Nappish” to “s” in “Napis” probably reflected a linguistic shift from the “sh” typical of Northern Ojibway or Oji-Cree to the “s” found in Cree. This is evidence that Napish was Northern Ojibway or Oji-Cree, or at the very least had lived among them long enough to have that fact show up in his name. He traded at York Factory as early as 1810, but he was not from there. In fact, in 1814, he was reported at Trout Lake in Northern Ojibway or Oji-Cree country far to the southeast, suggesting that this was where he originated. However, he lived among the Cree at Oxford House for many years after, and that influence was evident when his sons were baptised in 1840. James Evans gave them the Christian names of William and Peter, with the Cree form of Vqh [Naa-pay-s] as their surname. In all likelihood Evans, who was thoroughly familiar with Ojibway and Cree, transcribed the surname as he heard it, even though the Ojibway form still appeared in the HBC records at Oxford House after 1840, probably because that was the way it had been written in previous years. The syllabics provide the key to pronunciation. Ordinarily, the first syllabic V is written with a dot over it to reflect the sound “naa” (rhyming with “cat”). The second syllabic q sounds like “pay” with the raised final h sounding like “s” (thus, “pay-s” rhyming with “chase”). The shift from “Nap” to “Nab” occurred because non-speakers of Cree often heard “b” when a Cree speaker intended “p.” Non-speakers sometimes missed the subtle shift from “is” to “aise,” too. The spelling privileged in this account is “Nabaise” because that is the spelling that prevailed in the end.


Last updated: November 17, 2010


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