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Cree

Closely related to the Ojibwa or Chippewa, the Cree are one of North America's most influential indigenous peoples, especially regarding their entangled history with Canada. Their geographic territory and near-monopoly of the fur trade made them an economically and culturally powerful indigenous tribe that significantly influenced the European settlers who interacted with them. Keep on reading to learn more about the history of the Cree, their traditions, and more.

Cree Tribe History

The Cree were first contacted in the early seventeenth century by the French. Soon after this contact, the Cree became an integral part of the French fur trade in the region. After 1670, the Hudson Bay Company entered the area, and the Cree began extensive trade with both the French and British. Most of the European trading posts were located along rivers and the Hudson Bay, leaving much of the interior of the woodlands under Cree control.

Cree Indian Sun Dancers StudySmarterFig. 1 Cree Indian Sun Dancers

The Cree held primarily friendly relations with the Europeans through the 1880s when the Cree and other indigenous peoples began to have concerns about land rights and access to staple foods such as buffalo and moose. Cree trappers served as mentors for the European traders and eventually became intermediaries for other indigenous traders. By 1821, the Hudson Bay Company had gained control of most of the fur trade in northern North America, influencing some Cree to move permanently into the trading posts or migrate west and east, while a lack of wild game forced others to move.

The Cree maintained their trading advantage, and by the late 1800s, they had become the dominant indigenous group in northern North America. Many Cree women married European traders, and their descendants constitute the Metis, a separate aboriginal group distinct from the Cree and the Inuit. In the 1840s, to help facilitate trade, the Cree created a written language.

It became difficult for the Cree to support themselves by the early nineteenth century. Poverty and illness increased, and traditional culture began to break down. The Great Depression of 1929 hit the Cree exceptionally hard as the demand for furs plummeted and the lack of access to wage work. As late as the 1940s, the Cree maintained their traditional fur trade economy, and some western bands of the Cree carried their traditional way of life well into the twentieth century.

Cree Tribe Map & Location

The Cree has two major indigenous groups, the Plains Cree and the Woods Cree, with many band sub-divisions within each group. The territory occupied by the Cree lies south and west of the southern extension of Hudson Bay and into most of the northern portions of the present-day Canadian provinces of Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and Ontario.

Cree Cree map StudySmarterFig. 2 Cree map

The region is relatively flat, with the far western area of the Cree territory ending near the Rocky Mountains. The region is characterized by rolling hills, small basins, rivers, streams, and lakes. The Cree lived mainly in forests and did not occupy the coasts of the Hudson Bay until fur trading necessitated the creation of trading posts.

Cree Tribe Traditions

The Cree are members of the Algonquin language group, closely related to the Chippewa or Ojibwe, and share many of the same customs and traditions. Cree is a shortened version of "Kristineaux," a French mispronunciation of Kenistenoag, their Native name. The table below summarizes the Cree Facts and Traditions:

Cree Woman of the Snake and Cree tribe StudySmarterFig. 3 Woman of the Snake and Cree tribe

Cree Tribe Facts

TopicFact and Tradition

Cree Politics

  • Cree did not have a single tribal identity. Instead, they identified themselves by their local band and function independently during the fall, winter, and spring. Local bands would unite into larger bands to hunt and fish in the summer.

  • Membership in local and regional bands was flexible and depended on various conditions, including the game's availability.

  • The leader of a band, local or regional, was the most experienced man and most respected or believed to have supernatural power. If the performance of a headman declined, the band would replace him, or individuals from that band would join another more prosperous band.

  • The Cree had a reputation for being skilled at war. Though few military conflicts occurred, the Cree knew their territory better than anybody and possessed rifles through trade with the Europeans, making them a strong adversary.

Social organization
  • The basic social unit of the Cree was the nuclear family; the Cree did not recognize lineages or descendants, as the Cree did not pass political power along family lines but through bilateral marriage.

  • The division of labor was based strictly on sex:

    • Men hunted, fished, trapped, engaged in warfare, and manufactured all necessary tools for those tasks

    • Women performed domestic duties: set up and cared for children, collected firewood made clothing.

Social traditions
  • The practice of infanticide was present, but only as a necessity based on the availability of food a mother's ability to nurse.

  • As children grew up, they were expected to help adults learn their roles.

  • Youths of both sexes went on Vision Quests by themselves, and in Cree tradition, children did not share the vision with anyone else as the vision showed their individual purpose in life.

  • Parents often arranged marriages of their children, sometimes even before birth, and women often had little choice.

  • The marriage did not involve a ceremony, just the exchange of gifts.

  • Some men had more than one wife, usually the sisters of their first wife, although adultery in Cree society was a cause for divorce.

  • The Cree practiced dispersing personal items after one's death through a verbal will.

Economics
  • Most Cree bands subsisted primarily by hunting and fishing, and a successful hunter or fisherman would share his catch with the rest of the band.

  • The moose was the primary prey.

  • Fish were the most significant resource in the summer, as many lakes and basins would freeze over in the winter months.

  • Trapping and fur trade was critical to the Cree economy, especially during the winter when furs were best. Over the centuries after trade began in earnest with the Europeans, the Cree shifted from subsistence hunting and fishing to an emphasis on trapping and using the profits to purchase food at trading posts.

Cree Religion
  • Group ceremonies did not exist with the Cree, as most religious activities were at the individual level and associated with the individual's spirit from their childhood vision quest.

  • The Great Spirit was called Manitou, who could possess most beings and things.

  • Illness, injury, or death was considered the result of evil forces or enemy shamans and required the expertise of a band's shaman.

  • Shamans were always men who possessed considerable Manitou power.

Cree Cree hunting moose StudySmarterFig. 4 Cree hunting moose

Cree Tribe Arts and Crafts

They wore decorated clothing and tattooing as artistic expressions of their beliefs. Musicians played drums made of animal skin and a "bull-roarer," a device that made noise when twirled in the air. The Cree played several types of games of chance and skill. Stories told by elders provided great entertainment, and boys typically played games that mimicked hunting.

Cree Tribe Clothing

Essential clothing for both men and women consisted of a tunic or parka of caribou, elk, or moose skin, with detachable sleeves removed in the summer leggings and moccasins. Children's clothing was similar to that of adults, and when it was cold, everyone wore a second tunic with the fur intact.

Cree Tent that shows traditional clothing StudySmarterFig. 5 Cree Tent that shows traditional clothing

Cree Transportation

The Cree made canoes out of birch frames and birchbark coverings, much like their Algonquin ancestors in the northeastern area of North America. The Cree also made snowshoes, sleds, and canoes; these were the primary forms of transportation utilized by the Cree. They then would move equipment and goods with canoes and sleds, usually pulled by women or pack dogs.

Modern Cree Tribe

The Canadian government recognized the modern Cree Tribe Forty-five bands of Cree in 1978. Each of the various bands is considered independent by the government. However, in 1971, the Grand Council of Crees was created to form a joint political entity.

Most Cree currently live in permanent towns associated with government centers or commercial enterprises, schools, and health facilities. Many Cree still practice hunting and trapping during the winter, with men leaving the towns for extended periods during those months.

Cree society - Key takeaways

  • Closely related to the Ojibwa or Chippewa, the Cree are one of North America's most influential indigenous peoples.

  • The territory occupied by the Cree lies south and west of the southern extension of Hudson Bay and into most of the northern portions of the present-day Canadian provinces.

  • The Cree were first contacted in the early seventeenth century by the French, and soon after this contact, the Cree became an integral part of the French fur trade in the region.

  • Cree did not have a single tribal identity. Instead, they identified themselves by their local band and function independently during the fall, winter, and spring. Local bands would unite into larger bands to hunt and fish in the summer.

  • Trapping and fur trade was critical to the Cree economy, especially during the winter when furs were best. Over the centuries after trade began with the Europeans, the Cree shifted from subsistence hunting and fishing to an emphasis on trapping and using the profits to purchase food at trading posts.


References

  1. Fig. 2 Cree map blurred (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Cree_map_blurred.svg) author: Noahedits, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Noahedits, CC by SA 4.0 https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Cree_map_blurred.svg#:~:text=Attribution%2DShare%20Alike%204.0%20International

Frequently Asked Questions about Cree

Closely related to the Ojibwa or Chippewa, the Cree are one of the most influential indigenous peoples of North America, especially regarding their entangled history with Canada. Their geographic territory and near-monopoly of the fur trade made them an economically and culturally powerful indigenous tribe that significantly influenced the European settlers who interacted with them. 

The Cree are members of the Algonquin language group, closely related to the Chippewa or Ojibwe, and share many of the same customs and traditions. Cree is a shortened version of “Kristineaux,” a French mispronunciation of Kenistenoag, their Native name.  

The Cree were first contacted in the early seventeenth century by the French. After 1670, the Hudson Bay Company entered the area, and the Cree began extensive trade with both the French and British. The Cree held primarily friendly relations with the Europeans through the 1880s  

The Cree are members of the Algonquin language group, closely related to the Chippewa or Ojibwe, and share many of the same customs and traditions. Cree is a shortened version of “Kristineaux,” a French mispronunciation of Kenistenoag, their Native name.   

Group ceremonies did not exist with the Cree as most religious activities were at the individual level and associated with the individual's spirit from their childhood vision quest. The Great Spirit was called Manitou, who could possess most beings and things. Illness, injury, or death was considered the result of evil forces or enemy shamans and required the expertise of a band's shaman. Shamans were always men who possessed considerable Manitou power. 


Final Cree Quiz

Question

What was the most important social unit in Cree Society? 

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Answer

The nuclear family 

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Question

True or False: For most of Cree history, the tribe saw themselves as one unified nation of indigenous people. 

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Answer

False

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Question

True or False: Much like their indigenous ancestors, the Algonquin and the Chippewa, the Cree practiced large religious tribal rituals. 

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Answer

False

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Question

True or False: Much like their lingual and traditional ancestors, the Ojibwe, the Cree became a powerful indigenous people in the 1700s through trade with Europeans. 

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Answer

True 

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Question

In Cree Society, who was responsible for making the tools and materials necessary for hunting, fishing, and warfare? 

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Answer

Men 

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Question

To the Cree and other Algonquin related indigenous peoples, what was the name of the Great Spirit? 

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Answer

Manitou

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Question

Cree women began to marry European traders in the 1700s, their descendants are know as what? 

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Answer

The Metis

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Question

Fur Traders from which European nation were the first to engage in trade with the Cree? 

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Answer

France

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Question

What British corporation became the largest trading partner with the Cree by 1821? 

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Answer

The Hudson Bay Company

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Question

What unique tool did the Cree craft to assist them in walking through snow and rough terrain? 

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Answer

Snowshoes

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Question

True or False: In Cree Society, women were expected to have arranged marriages, sometimes even chosen before they were born. 

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Answer

True

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