In Canada, between Alberta and Quebec, live one of the First Nations of Canada–The Nehiyawak . These people have been called Kiristinon in French and Cree in English. The English term “Cree” originated in James Bay. They were first discovered by the European settlers in the year 1682 by the Haynes and Nelson rivers.
As I mentioned briefly above the Nehiyawak (one of their preferred names) live in the subarctic region between Alberta and Quebec, Canada. They are one of the largest First Nations. A title they share with the Haida, Salish, Kwakiutl, Nuu-chah-nulth, Nisga’a and Gitxsan. These North American people are best known for their birchbark canoes. They used dogs as pack animals as well as snowshoes and sleds to travel in winter. In Canada there are +/-356,000 Cree or people of Cree descent.
The language spoken by the Cree come from a series of languages all derived from the Algonquian language. Some names of which are Cree, Montagnais or Naskapi. If you were to look at this dialect continuum as one language, it would have one of the highest number of speakers in Canada. The Northwest territories are the only place where Cree is an official language.
The Cree live north and west of Lake Superior in Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and the Northwest Territories. +/-27,000 Cree people live in Quebec. The Cree people were known as hunter-gatherers and had formed communities of families that they referred to as a “lodge”. This lodge consisted of 8 – 12 people. These lodges were made up of families which were normally from 2 married couples. They would live together in wigwams or tipis. It’s very rare for them to live together in wigwams and in what they called “bands”. These “bands” would be what we would call suburbs or communities. They were a group of lodges that had opted to live and hunt together. The bands were thought to be safer since there’d be more people to defend the lodges as opposed to a handful of men having to fight an opposing tribe or any other danger. In the case of an argument or fight they offending party would be banished or the lodges would leave. This was considered the worst punishment a Cree could experience.
Like most native American cultures, the Cree worship nature and in a lesser way animals such as bears, elk and buffalo as well as certain objects. Elements of nature such as the sun, moon and heavenly bodies, thunder and other natural occurrences.
When an animal is killed by a Cree the animal’s skull/stone representing his spirit was placed near the fireplace. The hunter would burn tobacco or sweet grass so that the words he spoke would arise with smoke to the spirit of the animal. The person would request certain blessings during this process. An example of such is, “Give me life, food, clothes and good hunting” or whatever else he wanted.
The Cree believe in the Spirits, dreams and visions. They will often consult mediums to enlighten them about the universe around them. They also believe that the Creator has put spirits into each part of his Creation, specifically humans and animals. They believe in eternal spirits and that after death life goes on and we become part of the circle of life. According to the Cree, the Spirits can communicate with us and manifest themselves to us. An example of this are the Northern Lights which they believe occurs when the Spirits dance.
During the Purification Ceremony or, as they call it, the Sweat Lodge, they often encounter the Old Woman, the bear or a buffalo during their prayer. Sometimes the Cree will call upon specific Spirits to assist them with their specific needs. These often coming during dreams and visions. They also incorporate what is known as Trickster mythology into their worldview. They believe that this Trickster could either be good or bad and could either set a good example or a bad example. The Trickster is a cultural and spiritual figure using his great intellect to cause mischief.
I think it\’s fair to say that the Cree are a really fascinating people with a really interesting mythology. Their idea of community is so similar to ours and the diversity of their language is just amazing to me. They share so much with the European nations. Just goes to show we are all one people regardless of where we come from or what culture we are in. It\’s truly beautiful. One people. One world.
God bless all of you, my darling avidReaders. Stay safe out there