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The homeland of the Cree includes lands across the north into the Canadian prairies and in Montana, the Dakotas and Minnesota, as far east as the Hudson to the James Bay, and as far west as Alberta and the Great Slave Lake. The Cree are the largest Indian tribe in Canada with most of the members living on reservations in Canada.
The Pimicikamak Cree Nation at Cross Lake is having a constant battle with Canada. The Manitoba Hydro Power Company produces electricity by the use of rivers. These rivers flow through a great deal of reservation land producing ecological damage. Manitoba Hydro distributes the electricity throughout Canada as well as the Midwest United States with 10% of the electricity used by Northern States Power (NSP) coming from Manitoba Hydro. The ecosystem that was in place for the Cree nation for hundreds of years is now being destroyed.
Cree is a language of the Algonquin family. The northern Cree adopted a form of writing in syllabary. The first hymnal was written in this syllabary in 1841. It was printed on paper of birch bark and the covers were made of elk hide. By the end of the 19th and into the 20th century, the Cree had one of the highest literacy rates in the world.
Famous Cree Indians:
Elijah Harper was born on March 3, 1949 in the Red Sucker Lake reservation located in northeast Manitoba, Canada. He is a popularly known Aboriginal Cree activist, politician, public speaker, and a leading spokesperson for indigenous rights around the world. In 1978, he was elected chief of the Red Sucker Lake Indian Band. Three years later, he became a member of the Legislative Assembly for Rubertsland Constituency, and later Minister of Native Affairs and Northern Affairs. He was well known for his bold objection against the Meech Lake Accord in 1990, in which he stated that Aboriginal people did not have enough representation in the presented constitutional amendment. He is also known for establishing the Sacred Assembly in December 1995, which congregated many different people across Canada, including Aboriginals and non-Aboriginals. As a result, Canada declared June 21st National Aboriginal Day.
Before European settlement, the Cree lived in buffalo skin tipis and traveled by birch bark canoes. Women would dress the skins after a hunt and were experts in using porcupine quills in their everyday needs to dress things up.
During the 17th and 18th century, the Cree began to expand their territory. They did this for a number of reasons; one of the most important reasons was the demand for trading pelts by the English and the French. The Crees were divided into two divisions – the Woodland and the Plains. The Plains Cree moved from the forest into the plains following the buffalo. They acquired guns and horses from trading with the Europeans which were useful when raiding or when they were at wars with other tribes. The wars with the Blackfoot and the Sioux were leading causes, as was small pox, to the dwindling numbers of the Cree population. The Woodland Cree stayed in the forest. Both groups were made up of bands of related families. There were twelve different bands but there was only one military society.
Dickason, Olive Patricia. Canada’s First Nations: A History of Founding Peoples from Earliest Times. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1992.
“Cross-Border Kilowatts, Indians and Human Rights” 9-10-99. Manitoba Aboriginal Rights Coalition. Retrieved 10-08-00, from the World Wide Web: http://www.alphacdc.com/treaty/pimicikamak.html
The Catholic Encyclopedia Volume IV (1908). Cree. Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved 10-08-00, from the World Wide Web: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/04477a.htm
Wilson, James. The Earth Shall Weep: A History of Native America. New York: Atlantic Monthy Press, 1999.