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The Plains Cree speak an Algonkian language. This means that their language is related to other Algonkian languages, but is not exactly the same. The Algonkian is the largest of 11 Aboriginal language groups in Canada. Some familiar place names that come from this language family are Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Quebec. The Cree language itself is very ancient. Today, many Cree people can read and write in Cree as well as in English or French. Some other Aboriginal languages, however, are at risk of disappearing because so few people use them.
The Plains Cree had a very complex spiritual worldview. It was a mixture of ancient beliefs dating from the period when they lived in the woodlands and newer beliefs that they acquired when they moved to the prairies. In the Plains Cree language, Atayohkan are the spirits (or Manito) that look after all of the living things that were created. For instance, there is a Manito that looks after the deer and one for the buffalo. Like the Woodland Cree in the north, the Plains Cree practised the vision quest. This meant that young men went off by themselves, without food or water, for several days, until they acquired a spirit helper. The Cree also used the conjuring lodge. This was place where a shaman, or spiritual leader, could speak to his Manito spirit helpers, to receive advice and to give it to others.
vision quest: a special ceremony carried out by young men searching for a spiritual guide for their lives