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 (Hudson’s 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,
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 ‘person with four
parts.’ This name is based on the sacred number four, and refers
to the wholeness of one’s being. The Nehiyaw believe in the
importance of nurturing their emotional, spiritual, physical and
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.