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Cree BabyAlberta is home to both the Plains Cree and the Woodland or Bush Cree. The word most Cree people would use to describe themselves is Nehiyawak, or "The People." Traditionally considered excellent hunters and trappers, the term "Cree" most likely originated from a French term of unknown origin, "Kristineaux." 

The Woodland Cree, or Swampy Cree, are the largest Aboriginal group in northern Alberta and speak a language that is derived from the Algonquian linguistic group. The Woodland Cree were one of the first nations to trade with European fur traders, as early as the 1600s.

The Plains Cree originated in the east and moved to the south and west through their involvement in the fur trade. There is evidence that indicates the Cree have lived in the parkland regions of the west for some time, perhaps as long as 12 000 years.  By 1800, the Cree were well established in what is now known as the province of Alberta, from the Athabasca and Peace River deltas in the north, along the Peace River and south as far as the Saskatchewan River.

Cree children and womanDespite the good relations between the Cree people's and the fur traders, the settlement of the west had an enormous impact on the lives of the Cree people and proved to be a formidable challenge to their traditional hunter-gatherer society. The Klondike Gold Rush, which began in the late 1890s, brought hundreds of gold seekers into the Peace River region, and caused shortages in local food resources. Tensions between the First Nations people of the area and the prospectors were heightened and complaints from First Nations people, fur traders, and Northwest Mounted Police (NWMP) finally resulted in a decision by the Federal government to make treaty with the First Nations peoples in that region. In 1899 the government dispatched the Treaty 8 commission. After several days' negotiations held at present-day Grouard on Lesser Slave Lake, Chief Kinosayo (Keenooshayoo) and headman Moostoos signed the treaty on behalf of the Cree bands in the area. Other bands farther north also took treaty, but it required several adhesions the following year.

Cree familyThe Cree people are located primarily in the Treaty 8 area. A small percentage of them continue to maintain their traditional lifestyle of hunting, gathering and trapping. An even smaller percentage of Cree live in the northern bush lands today. More and more are moving to urban centres and entering the contemporary workforce. While many Cree have a heritage rooted in the bush land culture, they are also active participants within contemporary society and pursue educational opportunities and are active in a range of professions while still retaining strong emotional and ceremonial ties to Cree ways.  

For some, these ties will fade from one generation to another, but current work to revitalize the traditions, particularly in language and spiritual practice is taking place. This is evident in school programs, at the elementary, secondary and post-secondary levels.  In combining traditional learning and expression with contemporary educational goals, many Cree people believe they have the best of both worlds.

For more information on First Nations issues and history, please visit some of the following websites:
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