name Cree comes from the word French fur traders used
for the First Nations people near James Bay. The French
called these people Kristineaux, their adaptation of the
name these people called themselves. Kristineaux became
shortened to Kri, spelled Cree in English. Most Cree use
this name only when speaking or writing in English. Canada
has several groups of Cree-speaking people. In Alberta
there are the Woodland Cree and the Plains Cree.
Although there is evidence to indicate that the Cree have
lived in the parkland regions of the west for sometime,
the Plains Cree originated in the east and moved to the
Plains through their involvement in the fur trade. While
the term "Cree" most likely originated from
a French name of unknown origin, Kristineaux, their own
term is Nehiyawak or "exact people." There are
many branches of the Cree nation spread across the country
and are typically divided into the Plains Cree, Woodland
Cree, Swampy Cree and Moose Cree. Originally they were
all woodland people and spoke the Algonquian language
of Eastern Canada.
last of the buffalo in the Plains Cree country were killed
off about the year 1880. During the three decades prior
to that date, the tribal culture was a full-fledged Plains
way of life, sharing almost all of the traits and complexes
commonly regarded as appertaining to the buffalo hunters
of the northern plains. Yet, the historic literature and
tribal traditions make it clear that the Cree were recent
arrivals in the prairie country, coming in as invaders
from the north and east.
Cree are North American Indians who spoke an Algonquian
language and formerly inhabited the boreal forests south
and west of the Hudson Bay and Lake Nipigon regions of
Canada. As hunters and prime suppliers of pelts, they
were early drawn into the fur trade with the French and
English. By the mid-17th century a series of western and
northern migrations were underway that eventually saw
Cree bands scattered from near Lake Mistissani in northern
Quebec to the foothills of the Canadian Rockies.
extensive migrations and fur-trapping activities brought
them into frequent conflict with their tribal neighbors.
Allied with the Assiniboin in Manitoba, they drove the
Skisika and their allies from the Saskatchewan River valley.
Three distinctive groups evolved the Woodland Cree, the
Swampy Cree, and the Plains Cree, the latter subsisting
as mounted buffalo-hunters on the northern plains. Many
of the Plains Cree intermarried with the French, creating
the distinctive metis subculture of the Red River valley.
In 1986 the Cree population was estimated to number about