The Cree Nation is the most widespread of any of the indigenous nations in Canada. Their traditional territory extended from Quebec in the east all the way to the Rockies in the west, from subarctic regions in the north all the way to the plains of Alberta and Saskatchewan and the north shores of the great lakes in Ontario and into Quebec to the south.
The Cree language is part of the Algonquian family group, which includes Blackfoot, Saulteaux, Mi’qmak, Naskapi, Montagnais, Algonquin, Chippewa and Ojibwa in Canada. Cree is spoken in nine major dialects: Plains Cree or Y Dialect found in the Plains and western woodlands, Woods Cree or Th Dialect spoken in the central woodlands of Saskatchewan and Manitoba, Swampy Cree or N Dialect is further subdivided into East and West Swampy Cree and spoken to the west of Hudson Bay and James Bay in the lowlands, Moose Cree (L Dialect) is spoken to the south of James Bay while East Cree is spoken in subarctic Quebec to the east of James Bay, Attikamek or R Dialect is spoken in Saint-Maurice River region of Quebec. Although Naskapi and Montagnais have a distinct identity, their languages are included as dialects of Cree and are spoken in eastern Quebec and Labrador. Naskapi and Montagnais people are also better known as Innu people.
Cree is a word that originated from a cross between “kistanowak”, an Ojibwa word meaning people of the north and the Jesuit word “kristinue”. Cree people call themselves Nehiyawak for Plains Cree, Nihithawak for Woodland Cree, Nehinawak for Swampy Cree.
Primarily hunters, the Cree people formerly relied mainly on moose, caribou, bear and beaver. They also hunted geese and other fowl particularly in the Swampy Cree areas. They hunted with snares, traps, bows and arrows. Fishing also played a role particularly in the woodlands and eastern regions. They travelled by light birchbark canoe until the waterways froze and then by snowshoes, toboggans and sleds.
The Cree lived in wigwams, a conical structure usually covered with moose or caribou hides. Their clothing was made of moose or caribou hides and often was embellished with porcupine quills. Later, the decoration of clothing changed and was done with coloured threads and beadwork.