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Cree Indian Fact Sheet

Native American Facts For Kids was written for young people learning about the Crees for school or home-schooling reports. We encourage students and teachers to look through our Cree language and culture pages for free in-depth information about the tribe, but here are our answers to the questions we are most often asked by children, with Cree pictures and links we believe are suitable for all ages. Photographs are the property of the sources we have credited.

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    Cree Tribe

  Cree families past...          ...and present

How do you pronounce the word "Cree"? What does it mean?
Cree is pronounced to rhyme with the English word "see." It's a shortened form of the French word for the tribe, Kristeneaux, but it's not clear where that word came from. It may have been a French mispronunciation of a Cree clan name (Kenistenoag) or a Cree mispronunciation of the French word for "Christian" (Chrétien.) In their own language the Crees call themselves Iyiniwok or Ininiwok, meaning "the people," or Nehiyawok, "speakers of the Cree language."

Where do the Crees live?
The Cree tribe is one of the largest American Indian groups in North America. There are 200,000 Cree people today living in communities throughout Canada and in parts of the northern United States (North Dakota and Montana). Here is a map showing the traditional territories of the Cree and some of their neighbors. There are also more than 100,000 Metis people in Canada. Many Metis people descend from Cree Indians and French Canadian voyageurs.

Are the Woodland Cree and Plains Cree two different tribes?
No, those are just English names that describe how different Cree bands lived. Cree Indians from prairie regions, especially in southern Manitoba and Alberta, are often known as the Plains Cree. Cree Indians who live in the forested land further to the north and east are often known as the Woodland Cree. Woodland and Plains Cree people share the same language and customs, but they had some differences in traditional lifestyle based on their environment. For example, the Woodland Crees built houses out of birchbark, but the Plains Crees built teepees out of buffalo hide.

How is the Cree Indian nation organized?

Oujé-Bougoumou Flag

Peguis Cree Flag
Each Cree community lives on its own reserve (or reservation, in the United States.) Reserves are lands that belong to the Crees and are under their control. Cree Indian bands are called First Nations in Canada and tribes in the United States. Each Cree tribe or First Nation is politically independent and has its own government, laws, police, and services, just like a small country. Some Cree nations have also formed coalitions to address common problems.

The political leader of a Cree band is called a chief (okimahkan in the Cree language.) In the past, Cree chiefs were men who had distinguished themselves in war. Today chiefs can be men or women, and they are elected in most Cree bands, just like mayors and governors.

What language do the Crees speak?
Most Cree people speak English or French, but some of them also speak their native Cree language. Cree is a musical language that has complicated verbs with many parts. If you'd like to know some easy Cree words, tansi (pronounced tahn-see) is a friendly greeting and mahti (pronounced mah-tee) means "please." You can also listen to a Cree girl singing "O Canada" in the Cree language here and read a Cree picture dictionary here.

What was Cree culture like in the past? What is it like now?
There are many different Cree bands. Here are the homepages of two of them, Ouje-Bougoumou Cree Nation in Quebec and Enoch Cree First Nation in Alberta. On their websites, you can learn about Cree culture and history and view plenty of photographs.

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How do Cree Indian children live, and what did they do in the past?

  Cree boys playing darts
They do the same things all children do--play with each other, go to school and help around the house. Many Cree children like to go hunting and fishing with their fathers. In the past, Indian kids had more chores and less time to play, just like colonial children. But Cree kids did have dolls and toys to play with, and older boys liked to play games like lacrosse. Cree Indian mothers, like many Native Americans, traditionally carried their babies in cradleboards on their backs. Here is a website with Native American cradleboard pictures.

What were Cree men and women's roles?
Cree men were hunters and fishermen, and they sometimes went to war to protect their families. Cree women took care of the children, built their family's house, and gathered plants to eat and herbs to use for medicine. Both genders took part in storytelling, artwork and music, and religious festivals. In the past, the chief was always a man, but today a Cree woman can be chief too.

What were Cree homes like in the past?

   Cree tepee
There were two types of dwellings used by the Crees. In the woodlands, Cree people lived in villages of birchbark buildings called wigwams. On the plain, Cree people pitched camp with large buffalo-hide tents called tipis (or teepees). The Plains Cree were nomadic people, and tipis were easier to move from place to place than wigwams. Here are some pictures of wigwam, tepee, and other Indian homes. Today, tipis and wigwams are only used for ceremonial purposes, not for shelter. Most Crees live in modern houses and apartment buildings, just like you.

What was Cree clothing like? Did they wear feather headdresses and face paint?

  Cree clothing
Cree Indian women wore long dresses with removable sleeves. Cree men wore breechcloths and leggings. The Crees also wore moccasins on their feet and cloaks or ponchos in bad weather. Later, Cree people adapted European costume like blouses and jackets into their own style using beadwork, embroidery, and ribbon appliques. Here is a photograph of a Cree buckskin jacket, and some photos and links about Native clothing in general.

By tradition, the Crees wore fur or leather caps decorated with feathers. Some Cree warriors wore a porcupine roach instead. (Roaches are made of porcupine hair, not their sharp quills!) In the 1800's, some Cree chiefs began wearing long feather headdresses like their neighbors the Sioux Indians. Cree men and women both wore their hair in two long braids. The Crees painted their faces with bright colors for special occasions. They used different patterns for war paint, religious ceremonies, and festive decoration. Cree people also wore tribal tattoo art on their faces, hands, and bodies.

Today, some Cree people still use moccasins or a buckskin shirt, but they wear modern clothes like jeans instead of breechcloths... and they only wear feathers in their hair on special occasions like a dance.

What was Cree transportation like in the days before cars? Did they paddle canoes?

          Cree dogsled
Yes--the Cree Indian tribe was well-known for their birchbark canoes. After Europeans came, Cree canoe builders began using canvas rather than birchbark to cover their canoe frames. Canoeing is still popular within the Cree nation today. Here is a website of Native American canoe pictures. Over land, Cree people used dogs as pack animals. (There were no horses in North America until colonists brought them over from Europe.) The Crees also used snowshoes and sleds to help them travel in the winter.

Today, of course, Cree people also use cars... and non-native people also use canoes.

What was Cree food like in the days before supermarkets?

The Cree Indians were primarily hunting people. Northern Cree hunters pursued caribou, elk, and moose, as well as smaller game like beaver and rabbits. The Plains Cree followed the buffalo herds in a nomadic lifestyle. For the Eastern Cree, fishing and hunting seals from canoes were more important. Cree women gathered nuts and fruits, and in southern bands, they also grew some corn. The Cree Indian man in this photo is pounding pemmican, a traditional Cree food made from dried meat. Here is a website with more information about Native Canadian food.

What were Cree weapons and tools like in the past?

 Cree moose call
The most famous Cree weapon was the bow and arrow. The Crees used bows and arrows for both hunting and war. Other Cree weapons included spears, clubs, and knives. Here is a website with Native American weapon pictures and information. When Plains Cree men hunted buffalo, they sometimes used controlled fires to herd the animals into a trap or over a cliff. The Northern Cree hunter in this picture is using a special birchbark instrument to make sounds that attract moose. The East Crees used bone fishhooks and nets for fishing.

What are Cree arts and crafts like?

 Cree design
Cree artists are known for their quill boxes, woodcarving, and colorful beading. Like other eastern American Indians, Crees in Quebec also crafted wampum out of white and purple shell beads. Wampum beads were traded as a kind of currency, but they were more culturally important as an art material. The designs and pictures on wampum belts often told a story or represented a person's family.

What other Native Americans did the Cree tribe interact with?
The most important Cree trading partners were actually other Crees. There were many different Cree bands, and they were closely allied with each other. The Crees were also friendly with the Ojibwa and Stoney tribes. After Europeans arrived, the Crees became allies of the French Canadians and the mixed-race Metis people. In war, the southern Crees frequently fought against the powerful Iroquois and Dakota tribes, and the northern Crees were enemies of the Inuit (Eskimos).

What kinds of stories do the Crees tell?
There are lots of traditional Cree legends and fairy tales. Storytelling is very important to the Cree Indian culture. Here is one legend about how the Cree people hunted the moose.

What about Cree religion?
Spirituality and religion were important parts of Cree life, and some people continue to practice traditional beliefs today. It is respectful to avoid imitating religious rituals for school projects since some Cree people care about them deeply. You can read and learn about them, however. You can visit this site to learn more about Cree spirituality or this site about Indian beliefs in general.

Can you recommend a good book for me to read?
You may enjoy As Long As The Rivers Flow, the story of a ten-year-old Cree boy and his family. Younger readers may like The Eeyou or The Song Within My Heart, both of which are well-illustrated depictions of Cree life. If you'd like more in-depth information about Cree history and culture, an interesting source is The Plains Cree. You can also browse through our reading list of books about Native Americans in general. Disclaimer: we are an Amazon affiliate and our website earns a commission if you buy a book through one of these links. Most of them can also be found in a public library, though!

How do I cite your website in my bibliography?
You will need to ask your teacher for the format he or she wants you to use. The authors' names are Laura Redish and Orrin Lewis and the title of our site is Native Languages of the Americas. We are a nonprofit educational organization working to preserve and protect Native American languages and culture. You can learn more about our organization here. Our website was first created in 1998 and last updated in 2020.

Thanks for your interest in the Cree Indian people and their language!

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Learn More About The Crees

Cree Indian Tribe
An overview of the Cree people, their history and customs.

Cree Language Resources
Cree language samples, articles, and indexed links.

Cree Culture and History Directory
Related links about the Cree people past and present.

Cree Words
Cree Indian vocabulary lists.

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