Canadian History/The People of the Lands/Cree
The Cree were a First Nations people that mostly lived on the territory of modern Saskatchewan, Alberta, and Manitoba, though they spread as far east as Quebec. Their culture and lifestyle were that of the Plains people, a large group of tribes living in the Interior Plains. There were three general types of Cree-the Plains Cree, in Alberta and Saskatchewan, the Woods Cree, in Saskatchewan and Manitoba, the Swampy Cree, in Manitoba, Ontario, and Quebec.
The culture and lifestyle of the Cree depended largely on the bison. Bison made up a large part of their lives, including clothing, shelter, and food. Items such as clothing, cups, spoons, teepees, strings, and weapons were created using the various parts of the bison, among others.
The Cree language was a language of the Algonquin family. Despite not developing a written syllabary until the early nineteenth century with contact with Europeans, by the beginning of the twentieth century the Cree had one of the highest literacy rates in the world.
Cree spirituality was based on interactions with animals and other spirits that appeared in dreams, as was common among Native Americans.
An event called the Thirsting Dance by the Cree, and the Sun Dance by other Plains Nations, was central to Plains spirituality. The Sun Dance was an annual event, taking place in the summer generally right before the big bison hunt, as that was when most members of a nation were present in one place. The sponsor of the event would often be either a much-admired woman or a man who had experienced success in a war raid.
A lodge would be built for the ceremony, and when it was completed, the dances would begin. The dancers were those who had made a vow to the tribe. Without food, drink or rest, they danced for the several days the ceremony took place. Staying on the spot, they danced with their eyes permanently focused on the top of the centre pole. To prove themselves, the young men of the tribe would have their chests pierced with skewers of bone, which were attached by a rope to the centre pole. While dancing, they would lean back until the skewers were ripped out.
Cree in Modern Times
Today, the Cree is the largest First Nations group in Canada, with 200,000 people members and 235 registered bands. A Cree band, the Lac La Ronge band, is the second largest in Canada.
Michael Cranny,"Crossroads: A Meeting of Nations"