Cree Indians

.. became nomadic moving to where they found buffalo, deer, and other wild life to hunt or fish. When tribes met up with one another they would use sign language to trade and barter. Recently, three forms of religious beliefs have been found in the entire plains area: the sun dance, the ghost dance, and the Native American Church. Some tribes for visionary purposes used sweat lodge ceremonies, Two great resources of the plains people, buffalo and maize were associated with a female figure in reference to her fertility suggesting female beginnings. Indians would hold rituals calling upon each of the four winds to give them good gifts and keep back the bad.

An example would be in the summer the heat from the south and in the winter the freezing cold from the north (Carmody 61). The Carmody’s give one introspective viewpoint of native people: Human beings did not dominate nature or transform it. They reacted to it more than they altered it to fit forms in their minds. The aesthetic component of Native American spirituality can be a salutary shock. It can remind pragmatic people that, long before things are useful, they are wonderful in their simple being (Carmody 66). A ritual the plains tribes held sacred was the use of the sacred pipe and the sweat lodge.

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The pipe filled with tobacco and smoked was used to mediate with the Great Spirit as the smoke drifted heavenward. The pipe was also used for social purposes such as reconciling enemies, uniting tribal members, and to express good fellowship. The sweat lodge was used for a person to be cleansed by perspiration as water was poured over hot stones to create steam. While the bodies impurities left it, the mind and heart would also be cleaned of anything bad to be able to commune with the Great Spirit (Carmody 66). Joseph Epes Brown writes that, for plains Indians, animals and other natural forms reflected aspects of God: Animals were created before human beings, so that in their divine origin they have a certain proximity to the Great Spirit, which demands respect. In them the Indian sees actual reflections of the qualities of the Great Spirit, which serve the same function as revealed scriptures in other religions.

They are intermediaries or links between human beings and God. This explains not only why religious devotions may be directed to the deity through the animals, but it also helps us to understand why contact with or from the Great Spirit, comes almost exclusively through vision involving animal or other natural forms (Rockwell 6). Hunting was an important part of a Crees life. The Cree had a ritual that included parts of a bear that were not edible like the skull and bones. After feasting on a bear, a tree was cut down and stripped of bark and branches leaving a little growth at the very top of the tree.

Then it was painted with horizontal red stripes and stuck in the ground by the edge of the camp. Circle and bar designs were put on the bears skull, tobacco put in its jaw, ribbons of hide and cloth were tied to it, than lashed to the pole about ten feet above the ground facing east towards the rising sun. The rest of the bones were hung in a bundle from the pole about six feet above the ground. The Cree did this every time they killed a bear so it would return to life to come back to be killed again. If more than one bear was killed in a winter, a long column of painted and decorated skulls hung from the pole.

Sometimes before placing the skull on the pole a hunter would place the skull in his lodge over where he slept to help him dream more bear dreams. Out of respect for the bear the hunter sometimes would put the hide away for one year before using it. The skin under the bear’s chin was given special attention. A successful bear’s hunter’s wife would decorate it with beads, quills, and little tassels of cloth to give to her husband as a hunting charm (Rockwell 39). The Grand council of the Crees provides information over the Internet on the culture, values, political, cultural, social, economic past and current events.

The political voice of the James Bay Crees who live in the province of Quebec, Canada is the Grand Council of the Crees (GCCEI). Recently eight Cree communities lands and traditional way of life were threatened in 1971 by the construction of the James Bay hydroelectric development project It has been contested because of Native rights, mercury pollution, loss of wildlife habitat, and other form of cultural and environmental disruption. In the 1960s a major Canadian pulp and Paper Company constructed a mill and hired 1000 woodcutters and 300 mill workers. The impacts of this and large mining companies moving in for copper and other base metals were profound, especially with all the clear cutting of forests. It was hard for the Cree because of this destruction to be able to trap and hunt like they used to. To find jobs to help them survive a skill that was necessary but few held were to be able to speak French (GCCEI). The Cree nation is comprised of nine communities having a total population of well over 12,000 Eeyou (Cree People).

A large area east of James and Hudson Bays is where the Eeyou Istchee has lived since the glaciers left about 5,000 years ago. They have held title to it since the beginning of time, which was confirmed under common law by the Royal Proclamation of 1763 and the James Bay, and Northern Quebec Agreement of 1975. The Crees name “Eeyou Istchee” means “People’s Land”. They are an Algonqian speaking people (GCCEI). Schooling for Cree children started from birth through the age of five to six years old becoming totally involved in learning their language, social patterns, traditional norms, expectations appropriate for their age and sex.

Upon the late arrival of the 1950s the children’s way of life changed drastically as they were sent from the homes away to boarding schools. They were taught for nine months of the year a different language, ate different foods, and teachers taught them what they thought would be useful to them for a modern way of life. The children soon found it difficult while they were in school as well as when they returned home. They felt like they did not belong in either world (GCCEI). A Cree term used having a variety of meanings is Nitao. It has five basic meanings: to see something or to look at something; to go to get or to fetch something; to need something; to want something; and to grow or continue to grow (GCCEI).

The Cree believe animals are gifts and do not only give themselves, they are given by the “wind persons” and by God or Jesus. The wind persons live at the Four Corners of the earth and have specific personal characteristics related to particular seasons, weather and animal patterns, hunting conditions, and success. The wind persons also like God to the world (GCCEI). The Americans see the meaning of power as a way to control others or the world. The Crees see power in a different complex way being that human knowledge is always incomplete, and there is a gap between what humans think and what actually happens.

An example is when a hunter first dreams of an animal, then hunts, and when the things he thinks about come to be he is given the animal which is an indicator of power (GCCEI). Social growth by the Cree was expressed by more formal community based decision-making institutions. The Cree took over formal control of the many organizations that provided services in their communities. Some of these include school boards, health committees and social services boards. Because of the lack of formal education and professional training the changes to policies, programs, and structures of the organizations were slow to develop (GCCEI). Currently there continues to be a high level of unemployment.

The economic benefits of the hydroelectric project has been directed to southern urban centers, not boosting the development of Cree villages in any way. The Cree face several major threats presently considering natural resources that are no longer available to them because of the hydro dam, paper mills, and mining companies. Even though the Cree have made it through the last two decades as a united people, they struggle to achieve their goals in relationship to the government and project developers on the land they share (GCCEI). The Cree Indians are a very diverse cultural group of people who have true meaning in all aspects of their life. The European culture has changed their way of life from what is used to be from the start of their existence.

It is important that the Cree youth not loose touch with their native ways of being able to carry on their story telling, myths, legends, religion, rituals, and native customs. American History.


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