Season 2: Episode 1 | Little People | Cree

Table of Contents

 The Cree Peoples Cree Cultural Institute Little People | Mannegishi Resources
  • Territory
  • History
  • Language
  • Summary
  • Call to Action
  • Summary
  • Habitat
  • Peoples
  • Creature
  • Images

The Cree Peoples



[Image of Cree territory.]

The territory of the Cree peoples spans the subarctic and plains regions of Canada from Alberta to Quebec, making theirs the most widespread territory in the country. This wide range may be impartial due to the fact that many bands of Cree were traditionally nomadic, travelling seasonally to follow the food supply. We also know that the Woods Cree expanded into the Plains in pursuit of the Hudson’s Bay Company fur trade, which had been shifting rapidly west and southward during the 1700s. There are now a small number of Plains Cree in Montana who were displaced by the intrusion of the newly-formed US/Canada border. In addition to their large territory, Cree have the largest population out of any other Indigenous peoples in Canada.



Cree social structure was built around smaller hunting bands of a few families during the hunting season, which would then join together in larger groups during the summer.

Many nations' spiritual beliefs dictate that the purpose of creation is to live in balance with all things - this belief is shared by the Nehiyawak as well. Ceremony is considered by many to be the highest form of knowledge, where the teachings and natural laws are passed down from ancestors.

One such ceremony that many of you might have heard of is the SunDance Ceremony, a sacred ceremony held in early spring to midsummer by the Plains peoples, who would gather in large camps at a predetermined location to celebrate.

The purpose of SunDance is to show gratitude through self sacrifice, and dancers will often fast for days as an offering to accompany their prayers. It is one of the central most important ceremonies of the Plains people.


First contact with Europeans in many cases was on a commercial basis, and this was no different for the Nehiyawak who, as a society that depended largely on hunting and trapping for sustenance, had a key role in the fur trade that would be dominated by the Hudson’s Bay Company.


[Photo: Library and Archives Canada / C-008183]

As we mentioned earlier, this trade relationship is partly responsible for the westward migration of the Plains Cree.

During this time, the various Indigenous nations in contact with Euro traders were still mostly free to carry out their traditional ways of being, operating under their own sovereign governance systems and natural laws. Early treaties focused on peace and friendship between newcomers and the original peoples, and set out agreements to share land and resources in the process of doing business.

It wasn’t until after the Royal Proclamation of 1763 was implemented, that the British crown began to view Indigenous nations in Canada as subjects rather than sovereign nations.

The Royal Proclamation essentially dictated that the crown had ultimate jurisdiction over Indigenous relations in all of its colonies- private citizens could not buy land, negotiate agreements, or engage with Indigenous groups. This proclamation still dictates crown-Indigenous relations in Canada to this day (though not in the United States, which abolished British rule with the Declaration of Independence).

It was not until after confederation that the 11 Numbered Treaties, the legal and historic basis for crown-Indigenous relationships today, were signed. The intention of those 11 Treaties was to extinguish the rights and title of the Indigenous nations to their territories, and to have those rights revert to the crown. Each treaty covers a particular geographic expanse in Canada - the Cree’s large territory meant they were widely involved in Treaty negotiations across the country.

In the midst of these negotiations, which spanned from 1871-1921, the crown introduced a new piece of legislation: the infamous Indian Act of 1876. This Act set out the methods and laws by which the newly-formed Canada would attempt to eliminate and assimilate its Indigenous peoples 

If that timeline feels suspect to you, you’re not wrong: the Canadian government was negotiating Treaties promising to take care of Indigenous peoples and provide for the survival of their cultures, while at the same time legislating to destroy them.

This same Indian Act would later be amended not only to legally mandate attendance at residential schools in 1920, but also to outlaw the practice of the Sun Dance ceremony in 1895. It would remain illegal until the 1950s.


This expansive quality of their cultures has also had an effect on the Cree language, which is considered by linguists to be a “dialect continuum”. That is, a broad variety of dialects that evolve across a geographic expanse.

Cree is in fact a branch of the larger Algonquian language family, which also includes languages like Anishinaabemowin, Siksika or “Blackfeet”, and Mi’kmaq, amongst others.

As for Cree itself, there are five main dialects (depending who you ask): 

Western or Plains Cree, spoken from Central Alberta through Southern Saskatchewan

Northern or Woods Cree, also called Rock Cree, spoken in Manitoba and North-Eastern Saskatchewan

Central or Swampy Cree, spoken in Northern Manitoba and Ontario

Moose Cree, spoken in Northern Ontario, and

James Bay or Eastern Cree, spoken mainly on the East coast of both Hudson and James Bay.

Some linguists also consider Atikamekw, Montagnais, and Naskapi, which are spoken mainly in Quebec, to also be dialects of the Cree continuum, while others consider them distinct. Additionally, many Cree dialects have sub-dialects of their own.

These various dialects are all considered to be part of the same language, but most dialects of Cree are typically mutually intelligible only to the communities and dialects closest to them. Speakers of dialects that are more geographically distant will have a much harder time understanding one another.

Interestingly, the common moniker for these people and their language - Cree - does not originate with them. Rather, Cree is an abbreviation of Kristeneaux, a name given to them by the French that is presumably a mispronunciation of an Indigenous name. In their own language, the Cree refer to themselves as Iyiniwok or Ininiwok, which means “the people”, or as Nehiyawok, which means “speakers of the [Cree] language”.

Despite efforts to preserve the language, statistics still show that fluency is declining over time, meaning that Cree’s status as one of the most commonly spoken Indigenous languages in Canada has still not protected it from linguistic genocide.

Call to Action

This week’s Call to Action is to join us in donating to the Cree Cultural Institute located in Oujé-Bougoumou Quebec. The Cree Cultural Institute is a museum, archive, library, teaching centre, and cultural centre created with the vision of preserving Cree culture for future generations.  It is the Crees’ primary location for preservation of documents, media, and physical objects, designed for preservation, conservation, and knowledge transfer.

Little People | Mannegishi

They are mischievous tricksters who spend most of their time in dams in the river. They are also found often within rock dwellings such as caves, typically by rivers and streams. The mannegishi are responsible for the pictographs found on rocks in the area. It is said that they are great tricksters and apparently enjoy playing pranks and jokes on humans. capsize the boats of people as they travel across areas of rapids, particularly over rocks and shoals.They can also wreak havoc during portage between bodies of water, upsetting crafts, and spoiling or stealing the goods being carried.

  • Small
  • Large head
  • Big eyes
  • Lack of nose or mouth
  • Human-like entity with slender arms and legs
    • Frog like (slimy)
      • Absorbs the oxygen from the water through its skin
    • Syndactylous
      • Six fingers per hand


The mannegishi live on the banks of rivers or in dams on the river itself, and one of their chiefest delights is to capsize the boats of people as they travel across areas of rapids, particularly over rocks and shoals.They can also wreak havoc during portage between bodies of water, upsetting crafts, and spoiling or stealing the goods being carried.


Algonquian language Family (Algic, Algonkian Indians). (n.d.). Retrieved March 16, 2021, from

AuthorBy Jennifer Ashawasegai Windspeaker Contributor CHISASIBI. (n.d.). Sundance is the ceremony of ceremonies. Retrieved March 16, 2021, from

Canada a country BY Consent: Native Peoples: Cree. (n.d.). Retrieved March 16, 2021, from

Cree language. (n.d.). Retrieved March 16, 2021, from

Cree language. (n.d.). Retrieved March 16, 2021, from

Cree. (n.d.). Retrieved March 16, 2021, from

Donor wall. (2019, February 06). Retrieved March 16, 2021, from Editors. (2009, October 27). Proclamation of 1763. Retrieved March 16, 2021, from's%20Rebellion,colonial%20expansion%20westward%20beyond%20Appalachia.

Indian act. (n.d.). Retrieved March 16, 2021, from

Language. (n.d.). Retrieved March 16, 2021, from,as%20the%20%E2%80%9CTh%E2%80%9D%20dialect.

Politis. (2016, August 16). A brief history of cree. Retrieved March 16, 2021, from

Quebec history. (n.d.). Retrieved March 16, 2021, from

The residential school system. (n.d.). Retrieved March 16, 2021, from,establish%20residential%20schools%20across%20Canada.&text=In%201920%2C%20under%20the%20Indian,attend%20any%20other%20educational%20institution.

The Sun dance, and legal significance. (n.d.). Retrieved March 16, 2021, from

Sun dance. (n.d.). Retrieved March 16, 2021, from

Treaty 10. (n.d.). Retrieved March 16, 2021, from

Images - Cree. (n.d.). Retrieved March 16, 2021, from

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