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Section title: Plains Cree
Introduction | History | Daily Life | Culture | References


History

Origins

The Plains Cree culture changed around the end of the 1600s. Cree trappers and traders worked in the fur trade around James and Hudson bays. In return for furs, they got European trade goods such as axes and copper cooking pots, as well as beads and mirrors. They traded these to other Aboriginal people for furs, and took the furs to Europeans at their trading forts around Hudson Bay. In this way, they became "middlemen" between the Europeans and other Aboriginal people. They were smart and successful trappers and traders, and soon some of them moved away from their territory around James and Hudson bays, into northern Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta. These people lived for a time in the northern woodlands. Then they moved southward again, and learned how to survive in a new environment: the prairies.

 
Old trading post at the entrance of the Nottawasaga River, Ontario, April 23, 1825   A hunter-family of Cree at York Fort, Manitoba, 1821

The Cree migrated to the prairies during the early 1700s. Horses had been introduced to the Americas by Europeans in the 1500s. These animals brought many changes for Aboriginal peoples in the West. The Cree, like other prairie peoples, first acquired this new animal after 1700. Horses provided a strong, fast and reliable form of transportation, especially for carrying people's belongings. Now the Cree could follow the roaming buffalo herds more easily. The buffalo moved between two different types of land -- from forested areas in the winter, out onto the plains in the summer. The Cree people followed the movement of the buffalo herds, and were at home in each of these environments.

 
Herd of horses near Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, [1909]   Mustatem Montiapec, a Cree, on horseback, Calgary, Alberta

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