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Cree Indians of Canada

Cree. Contracted from Kristinaux, the French form of Kenistenoag, given as a name they applied to themselves. Also called:

Ana, Annah, Ennas, Eta, various forms of an Athapascan word, meaning "foes."
Iyiniwok, or Nehiyawok, own name, meaning "those of the first race."
Nathehwy-within-yoowuc, meaning "southern men" (Franklin, 1823).
Nehiyaw, Chippewa name.
O'pimmitish Ininiwuc, meaning "men of the woods."
Shahe, Hidatsa name.
Saiekuun, Siksika name.
Sha-i-y, or Shi--ya, Assiniboin name, meaning "enemies."
Shi-e--la, Dakota name.
Southern Indians, by the Hudson Bay traders.

Connections. The Cree are one of the type people of one of the two greatest divisions of the Algonquian linguistic family.

Location. When the Cree first came to the knowledge of Europeans they extended from James Bay to the Saskatchewan, the Tte de Boule of the upper Ottawa forming a detached branch. For their later extensions see History below.


A major distinction is usually drawn between the Paskwawininiwug (Plains Cree) and Sakawininiwug (Woodland Cree). The former are subdivided into the Sipiwininiwug (River Cree) and Mamikininiwug (Lowland Cree). Hayden (1862) gives the following band names, nearly all said to have been derived from the name of a chief: Apistekaihe, Cokah, Kiaskusis, Mataitaikeok, Muskwoikakenut, Muskwoikauepawit, Peisiekan, Piskakauakis, Shemaukau, Wikyuwamkamusenaikata. These are probably identical in part with the following bands of Plains Cree given by Skinner (1914): Katepoisipi-wnuk (Calling River (Qu'Appelle) Band) also called Kagiciwuinuwuk (Loud Voices Band, from their famous chief), Wabuswaiank (Rabbit Skins), Mmkitce-wnuk (Big Gizzard People), Paskokopa-wnuk (Willow People), Nutimi-iniuk (Poplar People), Cipiwiniuk (River People), Saka-winouk (Bush People), Masnipiwink (Painted or Pictured People), "Little Dogs," (Piapot's Band), Asinskau-winiuk (Stone People), Tcipoaian-winiuk (Chipewyan People), Niopwtk (Cree-Assiniboine), Sakbwatsk (Bush Assiniboine). Skinner (1914) expresses uncertainty as to whether the names of the last three were nicknames due to intimacy between the bands so designated and the foreign tribes mentioned, or whether the tribes themselves were of mixed ancestry. For the following names of bands of the Woodland Cree I am indebted to Dr. John M. Cooper (personal information): Barren Ground Cree (on the west side of James Bay at its entrance), Fort Albany Band (on the lower course of Albany River), Kesagami Lake Band (at the southern end of James Bay), Moose Factory Band (the Monsoni proper), on the lower course of Moose River, Northern Tte de Boule (at the head of St. Maurice River), Southern Tte de Boule (on the middle course of St. Maurice River). This list is incomplete, leaving out of consideration particularly the bands later formed toward the west, though two of these latter were the Sakittawawininiwug (Cree of Cross Lake) and the Ayabaskawininiwug (Athabaska Lake Cree). It must not be supposed that any of these have had a connected history from early times. They represent, for the most part, the later rearrangement following on the establishment of trading posts. However, the location of some of them was no doubt determined in the first instance by that of the old bands or by the same geographic advantages originally responsible for them. (See section on History.)

History. The Cree were known to French traders and missionaries as early as the first half of the seventeenth century, and about the end of that century they rose to a position of importance owing to the use made of them as guides and hunters in the prosecution of the fur trade. The English first came in contact with them through the posts of the Hudson's Bay Company established in their territory on Hudson Bay beginning in 1667 and for a time there was great rivalry between the French and English for their favor and patronage. At an early period the Cree formed an alliance with the Assiniboin, who wished to be on good terms with them so that they could have access to the Hudson Bay posts where they could obtain guns and powder to assist them in their wars with their kindred, the Dakota. This alliance also enabled the Cree to push southward as far as Red River and territories of the present United States. Acquisition of rifles and the impetus given by the fur trade also induced them to undertake adventurous journeys to the west and north. A party of Cree reached the delta of the Mackenzie River just before Sir Alexander Mackenzie, and other Cree bands were raiding the Sekani up the Peace River into the Rocky Mountains at the same time. Today there are many of the Cree descendants in the north and west, around Little Slave Lake, at Hudson Hope on Peace River, along the Lower Peace, and on Lake Athabaska and Slave River down to Great Slave Lake. The trails they blazed in their raids were followed by Mackenzie and other fur-traders. There is a little band among the Sarsi, and they have mingled their blood with every Plains tribe, even including the Blackfeet.1

Their later history has been closely bound up with the activities of the Hudson's Bay and Northwest Fur Companies, and though Europeans and European influence have steadily filtered into their country, the utility of the Cree in the promotion and preservation of the fur trade has prevented that displacement and depletion so common among the tribes of the United States.

Population. Mooney (1928) estimated 20,000 Cree at the period of first white contact, including 5,000 Monsoni and related peoples in 1600 and 15,000 Cree proper and Maskegon in 1670. This agrees very closely with another estimate for the year 1776. At the present day they are supposed to number all told about 10,000.

Connection in which they have become noted. The principal claim of the Cree to notoriety has been in connection with the activities of the Hudson's Bay Company and the fur trade.

Footnote 1 For much of this information I am indebted to Mr. D. Jenness, formerly Chief of the Anthropological Division of the National Museum of Canada, Ottawa, Canada.

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