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The Algonquian family of languages, which first originated in the eastern part of what is now known as Canada, includes the Ojibway, Micmac and Blackfoot languages among others. The largest language of the Algonquian family, however, is Cree, spoken by the Cree Peoples.

Cree can be further sub-divided into five dialects. Attikamek Cree also known as the "R" dialect is spoken in Quebec. Moose Cree, known as "L" dialect is spoken in Ontario and the James Bay (Hudsonís Bay Region). Plains Cree is known as the "Y" dialect and it is spoken in south Saskatchewan and Alberta. Woods Cree known as the "Th" dialect is spoken in northeastern British Columbia and Northwest Territories. Geographic records speculate that this group came west with the Fur Trade and then settled in many parts of central and northern Alberta. In Alberta, the most common dialect is the "Y", or Plains Cree, dialect.

Similar to the Dene, the Cree were traditionally organized in highly flexible units called bands. Bands had little stratification among its members, and people were given the opportunity to lead the others based on their strengths. A strong hunter could lead the band during a hunt, while a medicine man or woman could take care of the other community members during illness. This shared responsibility allowed for stronger and healthier bands. At the same time, movement of members between different bands was also common. Oftentimes, it took place as a result of marriage between male and female members of different bands.

The Cree relied on hunting and gathering for their food sources. Today, many still rely on fishing and hunting as a key source of protein. In addition, harvesting remains a major activity. The gathering of berries and roots are important summer and autumn activities.

The Cree call themselves Nehiyaw, meaning Ďperson with four parts.í This name is based on the sacred number four, and refers to the wholeness of oneís being. The Nehiyaw believe in the importance of nurturing their emotional, spiritual, physical and mental selves.

Today, there are many thriving Cree communities across Alberta, and the Cree language is the most prevalent of all Aboriginal languages spoken in the prairie province.


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