The Cree are an indigenous people of North America whose people range from the Rocky Mountains to the Atlantic Ocean in both Canada and the United States. They now constitute the largest group of First Nations people in Canada, and are referred to as Native Americans in the United States. The Cree language is an Algonquian language, and was once the most widely spoken in northern North America. Currently, however, not all Crees are fluent in it, and English or French are more commonly used.
Skilled buffalo hunters and horsemen, the Cree were allied to the Assiniboine of the Sioux before encountering English and French settlers in the sixteenth century.
The Cree are the largest group of First Nations in Canada with over 200,000 members. These large numbers may be due to the traditional Cree practice of being open to inter-tribal marriage. 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 Saskatchewan.
The Métis are a group of mixed Cree and primarily French Canadian heritage, although it is generally accepted in academic circles that the term Métis can be used to refer to any combination of Aboriginal and European lineage. Some Anglo-Metis are also of Cree descent.
The tribes of the Cree Nation, living in the Canadian forests and U.S. plains, venerated the spirits of the hunt. The Earth Spirit was the mother of all animals, and there was also a less-defined Sky Being. Religion emphasized a close relationship with the tribes’ ancestors or “old people”, believed to be always near at hand. Tribal shamans frequently entered trances to visit the land of the dead. Nature was seen as an integrated whole, so that animals spoke and told tales, while legends of the winds and of the four directions were common. Close contact with European traders and white settlers, coupled with the adoption of agriculture, greatly altered the mythology of these tribes.
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