When the French and English first came to northern North America, they encountered speakers of a language that spread inland from the Atlantic ocean to the Rocky Mountains. They came to call the language by a variety of names: Montagnais in the east along the St. Lawrence river and Gulf, Atikamekw in the upper St. Maurice drainage, Naskapi to the north of the Montagnais, Cree along the shores of James Bay and west across the plains and northern forests. Speakers of the language, however, had other names. These generally associated the language with one of two historic ethnonyms used by the speakers themselves, Nehiraw and Iriniw. Thus, those who identified as Nehiraw named their language Nehirawewin (today dialects named in this way include Nêhiyawêwin, Nîhithawîwin, Nehirâmowin, Nêhinawêwin, and Nehlueun), while those who identified as Iriniw named their language Iriniw-ayamiwin (today dialects named in this way include Ililîmowin, Innu-aimun, Iyiyiw-ayamiwin, and Iyiniw-ayamiwin). These dialects all belong to the same language, a fact too often obscured by regional differences.
From the early seventeenth-century through to the twentieth-century, many of the Europeans who worked in these communities had no alternative but to work in this language. Some, principally missionaries, began to write and produced dictionaries, grammars, prayer books, hymnals, and other religious works. This website aims to facilitate access to these early manuscripts and books.
Massinahigan grew out of a collaboration between the French Atlantic History Group, Aanischaaukamikw Cree Cultural Institute, and the Deschâtelets Archives. The project was originally developed to digitize and provide access to Jesuit manuscripts in Nehirawewin - dialects encountered by the French in the seventeenth- and eighteenth-centuries. It was subsequently expanded to offer a guide to the large number of early texts available on other sites like the Internet Archive.