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Cree is one of the largest group of First Nations/Aboriginal in North America, located mainly across Canadamarker. In the United Statesmarker, this Algonquian-speaking people lived historically from Minnesotamarker westward. Today they live mostly in Montanamarker.


The Cree Nation is generally divided into 8 tribes (major groups):

I Naskapi and II Montagnais (sections of Innu) are inhabitants of an area they refer to as Nitassinan, which comprises most of what other Canadians refer to as eastern Quebecmarker and Labrador. Their population in 2003 includes about 18,000 people, of which 15,000 live in Quebec.

III Attikamekw are inhabitants of the area they refer to as Nitaskinanmarker ("Our Land"), in the upper St. Maurice valley of Quebec (about 300 km north of Montrealmarker). Their population currently stands at around 4500.

IV James Bay Cree- Grand Council of the Crees the approximately 16,357 Crees or “Iyyu” (Coastal Dialect)/ “Iynu” (Inland dialect) of the James Baymarker and Nunavikmarker regions of Northern Quebec.

V Moose Cree - Moose Factory, Ontariomarker in the Cochrane District, Ontariomarker. It is on Moose Factory Island, near the mouth of the Moose River, which is at the southern end of James Bay.

VI Swampy Cree in northern Manitobamarker along the Hudson Baymarker coast and adjacent inland areas to the south and west, and Ontario along the coast of Hudson Bay and James Bay. It has 4,500 speakers.

VII Woods Cree group in northern Albertamarker.

VIII Plains Cree 34,000 people in Manitoba, Saskatchewanmarker, Alberta, and Montanamarker.

However, the Cree referred to themselves collectively as Nēhilawē (those who speak our language). They called themselves "Cree" only when speaking English or French.

Skilled American bison hunters and horsemen, the Plains Cree were allied with the Assiniboine and the Saulteaux before encountering English, Scots (especially Orcadianmarker) and French settlers in the 16th century.


Cree camp south of Vermilion, Alberta, September 1871
The name "Cree" is an exonym derived from the French Christenaux (also as Knistenaux, Cristeneaux and many other variations) that is commonly shortened to "Cri", after their village of Kenisteniwak. However, among the Cree, depending on the community, they may call themselves the Nehiyaw, Nehithaw, Nehilaw, Nehinaw, Ininiw, Ililiw, Iynu or Iyyu. These peoples can be divided into two major groups: those who identify themselves using a derivative of their historical appellation Nēhilawē (meaning "[those who] speak our Nation's language") and those identifying themselves using a derivative of their historical appellation Iliniw (meaning "person" or "man").

Both groups share a common ancestry but are now divided mainly along linguistic lines. Those residing west of the Ontariomarker border to the Rocky Mountains tend to call themselves the first name, Nehilaw. The second group includes the Rocky Cree sub-group of the Swampy Cree and one group residing in Quebecmarker, who are mistakenly called Attikamek but who self-identify as Nehiraw, plus all the groups east of James Baymarker, who tend to call themselves Iliniw, the term for man.


The Cree language (also known as Cree-Montagnais, Cree-Montagnais-Naskapi) is the name for a group of closely related Algonquian languages spoken by approximately 117,000 people across Canadamarker, from the Northwest Territoriesmarker to Labrador, making it the most widely spoken aboriginal language in Canada. Despite numerous speakers within this wide area, the only region where Cree has official status is in the Northwest Territories alongside eight other aboriginal languages.

The aforementioned two major groups speak a mutually intelligible Cree dialect continuum, which can be divided by many criteria. In a dialect continuum, "It is not so much a language, as a chain of dialects, where speakers from one community can very easily understand their neighbours, but a Plains Cree speaker from Alberta would find a Québec Cree speaker difficult to speak to without practice."

One major division between the groups is that the Eastern group palatalizes the sound /k/ to either /ts/ (c) or to /tʃ/ (č) when it precedes front vowels. There is also a major difference in grammatical vocabulary (particles) between the groups. Within both groups, another set of variations has arisen around the pronunciation of the Proto-Algonquian phoneme *l, which can be realized as /l/, /r/, /y/, /n/ or /ð/ (th) by different groups. Yet in other dialects, the distinction between /e:/ (ē) and /i:/ (ī) has been lost, merging to the latter. In more western dialects, the distinction between /s/ and /ʃ/ (š) has been lost, both merging to the former.

If you compare the consonants /p/ /t/ /c/ and /k/* to their English counterparts, it is noticeable that there is little distinction of voicing. In English, voicing marks the difference of meaning in words such as bin : pin. Since there is not distinction of voicing in Cree, it is common for variants of /t/ to sound more like /d/ without any difference in meaning.

In Canada

Nehiyaw Girl (1928).
The Cree are the largest group of First Nations in Canada, with over 200,000 members and 135 registered bands. This population may be due to the Cree's traditional openness to inter-tribal marriage. Together, their reserve lands are the largest of any First Nations group in the country. The largest Cree band and the second largest First Nations Band in Canada after the Six Nations Iroquois is the Lac La Ronge Band in northern Saskatchewanmarker.

The Métis (from French Métis - any person of mixed ancestry) are people of mixed ancestry, such as Nehiyaw (or Anishinaabe) and French, English, or Scottish heritage. According to Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, the Métis were historically the children of French fur traders and Nehiyaw women or, from unions of English or Scottish traders and northern Dene women (Anglo-Métis). Generally in academic circles, the term Métis can be used to refer to any combination of persons of mixed Native American and European heritage, although historical definitions for Métis remain. Canada's Indian and Northern Affairs broadly define Métis as those persons of mixed First Nation and European ancestry.

In the United States

Though at one time located in northern Minnesotamarker, North Dakotamarker and Montanamarker, today the Cree population in the United States can be found as part of the Chippewa Cree tribe, located on the Rocky Boy Indian Reservationmarker in Montana. The reservation is shared with the Pembina Band of Chippewa Indians who form the "Chippewa" half of the Chippewa Cree tribe. Traditionally, the southern limits of the Cree Territory in the United States were the Missouri Rivermarker and the Milk River in Montana.

Cree First Nation communities

1 Naskapi (Iyiyiw and Innu)

2 Eastern Montagnais (Innu)

2 Western Montagnais (Nehilaw and Ilniw)

3 Atikamekw (Nehiraw)

4 Northern James Bay Cree (Iyiyiw)

4 Southern James Bay Cree (Iyniw (inland) and Iyyiw (coastal))

5 Moose Cree (Mōsonī / ililī)

6 Swampy Cree (Maškēkowak / nēhinawak)

7 Rocky Cree (Asinīskāwiyiniwak)

7 Woods Cree (Sakāwithiniwak / nīhithawak)

8 Plains Cree (Paskwāwiyiniwak / nēhiyawak)

Notable Cree

Mähsette Kuiuab, chief of the Cree indians

See: Cree people

See also


  1. Moose Cree First Nation community profile
  2. "[T]heir native name", see David Thompson, Travels in Western North America 1784-1812
  3. David Pentland, "Synonymy", in Handbook of North American Indians, vol. 6, June Helm, ed., Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution, 1981, p. 227.
  4. David Thompson recorded "The French them 'Krees', a name which none of the Indians can pronounce...", "Life with the Nahathaways", in David Thompson: Travels in Western North America 1784-1812, Victor G. Hopwood, ed., Toronto: Macmillan of Canada, 1971, p. 109.
  5. Edward S. Curtis, The North American Indian - Uncorrected OCR Text for volume 18
  6. David H. Pentland, "Synonymy", in "West Main Cree", in Handbook of North American Indians, June Helm, ed., Smithsonian Institution 1981, Washington, D.C., v. 6, p. 227.
  7. Statistics Canada: 2006 Census
  8. Northwest Territories Official Languages Act, 1988 (as amended 1988, 1991-1992, 2003)
  9. The western group of languages includes Swampy Cree, Woods Cree and Plains Cree. The eastern language is called Moose Cree. See "Languages of Canada", Ethnologue: Languages of the World,, accessed 21 September 2008.
  10. "Cree", Language Geek, accessed 21 September 2008.
  11. * Most dialects have these consonants.
  12. Wolfart, H. C., and Janet F. Carroll. Meet Cree: A Guide to the Language : Second Edition, New York: University of Alberta, 1981
  13. Source: Canadian Geographic
  14. Moose Cree First Nation community profile
Sacred Legends of the Sandy Lake Cree. James R. Stevens, McClelland and Stewart Ltd, 1971

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