Cree refers to several distinct Peoples whose homelands range across the mid latitudes of Canada, extending west to east from the Jasper/ Banff National Parks region to the Atlantic Ocean. Primarily, these Peoples are related by language, in some ways similar to the language continuum of the Inuit-Inupiaq-Yupik people to the North and West. This area is primarily within the subarctic environmental region, but also extends down to the Plains area of southern Alberta and Saskatchewan. There are approximately 325,000 members, with about 100,000 still speaking the traditional language. The Canadian government recognizes over 130 First Nations Peoples as being part of the Cree family, with 55% still living on the reservations lands. The remaining members now mostly live in the regional cities.
Their traditional life cannot be identified as building this sort of home or hunting that food source, because of the different biomes—woodlands, tundra, plains, lakes, swamps, and coastal. However, the common factor of long, deeply cold, and short day-long night winters, combined with a relatively short and spring-summer-autumn, meant that the Peoples shared very similar seasonal cycles for activity, spirituality undertakings, and travelling. Where the larger mammals—caribou, elk, buffalo or moose—were abundant, those were utilized for both food and clothing. Where smaller game or fish was the most available resource, those were harvested, sometimes dried for winter storage, and clothing reflected this difference. Some Peoples traveled upon the waterways with canoes and almost all had some sort of specialized winter transportation, be it a type of sled or snowshoe.
During winter, Cree lived in small bands, and then gathered into larger groups in the summer. Spirituality meant a relationship with animals and other spirits. People showed respect for one another through the ethic of non-interference— each individual was responsible for his or her actions along with the consequences of those actions. Food, always the first priority, would be shared in times of hardship or in times of plenty, when people gathered to celebrate.
Europeans began making regular contact along the eastern Peoples in the 1600’s. There followed a history, for the next 300 years, that parallels what occurred with the Indigenous Peoples to the South and the United States. Perhaps there was a lesser amount of wars and battles with the Western people in Canada, however, due to the smaller number of individuals of both sides of the conflict.
Cree Peoples today, who live on their reservations/ homelands, have adopted the tools and technology of the modern/ post-modern society. Snow machines careen through the forest instead of dog sleds, rifles have replaced the bow for hunting. Their lands are sometimes in demand for the natural resources on them, an issue that can sometimes divide a People. Because current society is constantly changing, there is no way to anticipate what might eventually become a long lasting and proper way of doing something, in the future. That uncertainty is, in some ways perhaps, the greatest challenge facing the People.