Cree Indians This is an introduction to the Cree Indians way of life explaining about the foods they ate, significance of story telling, myths, religious beliefs, rituals performed, and their present day way of life. It is almost impossible to touch on every aspect because of what is not printed and only known by elders. Some native words used by Cree Indians: Kiwetin meaning the north wind that brings misfortune (Gill, Sullivan 158). Another word is maskwa used for bear, the most intelligent and spiritually powerful land animal (Gill, Sullivan 182). A water lynx that holds control over lakes and rivers is called “Michi-Pichoux”; they are associated with unexplained deaths (Gill, Sullivan 189). Tipiskawipisim is used for the moon who is the sister of the sun.
Once a flood destroys the first humans, Tipiskawipisim creates the first female (Gill, Sullivan 303). The history of the Cree Indians begins where they live for the most part in Canada, and some share reservations with other tribes in North Dakota. The Cree Indians, an Alogonquian tribe sometimes called Knisteneau, were essentially forest people, though an offshoot, the so-called Plains Cree, were buffalo hunters. The Cree’s first encounter with white people was in 1640, the French Jesuits. The Cree Indians later lost many of their tribe in the 1776 break out of small pox, battles with the Sioux, and a defeat to the Blackfeet in 1870.
The Cree lived by hunting, fishing, trapping, and using muskrat as one of their staples. They made sacrifices to the sun; the Great Master of Life (Erdoes, Ortiz 504). The Cree lived in the Northern Plains, which was also home to the Sarsi, Blackfoot, Plains Ojibway, and Assiniboin. Many of the tribes were equestrian bands moving to pursue the buffalo. The buffalo was their resource for food, material for dwellings, clothing, cooking vessels, rawhide cases, and bone and horn implements.
The introduction of the horse by the Spanish led to the plains Indians to become more able and skillful hunters. Each tribe had different methods of hunting, preservation, and preparation of meat (Cox, Jacobs 98). One method of the nomadic plains tribes for cooking was to use rawhide cooking vessels which came from the hump of the buffalo, staked over a mound of earth and left to dry in the shape of a bowl. The pot was put in a shallow hole near the fire, and then carefully selected stones that would not shatter easily would be put in the fire and transferred to the bowl with wood or bone tongs to heat the contents of the pot. Some items that they would be cooking would be thinly sliced or diced fresh or dried meat, wild vegetables, and tubers (Cox, Jacobs 98).
Another method of cooking was to use a paunch of freshly killed animal suspended with stakes, of which inside it was placed water and meat, along with organ meats and the stones (Cox, Jacobs 99). The plains hunters leading a mobile life would find ways to reduce bulk to become efficient in moving there belongings, which was one of the reasons foods were dried such as jerky. Jerky consisted of thinly sliced meat spread out and dried in the sun. Other ways of preserving the meat to reconstitute later into a broth would be to bake the meat over the coals, pound with stones into a pulp, mixed with bone marrow and packed into rawhide containers. The tribes would also trade with river and eastern tribes for dried corn, squash, and wild rice (Cox, Jacobs 99). The tribes who were nomadic to pursue hunting buffalo would trade dried meat, tanned hides, and decorated garments for vegetables of the tribes that were raising vegetables.
Corn, beans, and squash were all dried to reduce bulk. Corn could be left to dry in the fields, gathered and shelled to make into hominy by boiling with ashes. Corn was also parched by baking in pottery containers over fires. Later it could be pounded into a coarse flour mixed with either sunflower seed flour, shelled nut meats, service berries, a little water, and hot melted tallow or marrow formed into small balls known as corn balls. Cornballs were used by hunters and used for trading. Another way to preserve corn was to parboil or roast unshucked ears of green corn for ten to fifteen minutes then remove from the water. Then the husk was braided two to three foot strands and dried in the sun.
Squash and pumpkin were cut into spirals and hung to dry in the sun, later broken into pieces and stored. An assortment of berries was gathered in different seasons, dried, and later used in cooking. Tea was made from wild mint, bark of elm tree, chokecherry trees, and roots of wild rose bushes. Medicinal teas were derived from wild broad-leafed sage, calamus, and cedar berries (Cox, Jacobs 100). Turnips were dug as a family tradition when the flowers turned purple to lavender in color. Once the skin was removed from the turnips they were eaten raw as a special treat or boiled with fresh meat, fresh tripe, or corn.
Raw turnips used for future use were sliced and dried on a flat surface. Later when using the turnips they had to be soaked in water over night to cut the boiling time in half (Cox, Jacobs 102). Some of the foods prepared consisted of: buffalo and berry soup, turnip and corn soup, sauted wild mushrooms and onions, corn griddle cakes, cattail pollen flapjacks, buffalo medicine sausage, buffalo jerky, venison mincemeat meat, and choke berry pudding (Cox, Jacobs 102). The Cree Indians used the art of storytelling as a process that continues in its meaning and importance for the present and even future. Stories are remembered and told to be able to explore the world of things, beliefs, and ideas.
Indians used stories for entertainment, education, and to explain life (Penn 6). Penn interprets what most Americans have yet to realize about the Native American Indians legends and stories: Native American legends and stories combine over time, for the listener who hears them again and again, into a kind of epic of his community, her tribe, their family, and the relationship among them all. In that relationship the people find meaning in maintaining that relationship, they find their value or worth as human being (Penn 6). This Cree story told about a young man courting a woman for the wrong reasons. The story was adapted by Barry Lopez and called “Coyote Marries A Man”. A young man named Not Enough Horses decided he could not find any woman beautiful enough for him in his village.
He sets off to find someone worthy of him, once he does he is married only to find out when awakes he married a Coyote. His whole village makes fun of him; however, he has still not learned his lesson. Once again he leaves and marries the first woman he comes in contact with thinking he would now be accepted in his tribe and finds out once again he was tricked and had married the Coyote the second time. This story was used to teach woman and men who were thinking of marriage how not to look for a mate by outward beauty, but inward beauty (Penn 112). The Cree Indians mythology consisted of many things, an example is that curing is often done through spiritual intervention.
The Cree call on the helping spirits “Pakahk” and “Maskwa”, a bear ally, to cure (Gill, Sullivan 120). Another myth of the Crees is that Pine Root and Beaded Head is the first two beings on earth. They perform extraordinary feats of spiritual power and prepare for the comings of humans. When they finish their stay on earth, Pine Root and Beaded Head are transformed into stars and plants. A Cree ritual performed called the shaking tent is used to become a conjurer with the permission of the spirit Mistapew.
The ritual takes place at night, the conjurer is bound and hidden in a lodge, and a tent is erected. The conjurer sings and drums to call on invisible airborne spirits. The arrival of the spirits is when the tent begins to shake and move from side to side. The spirits then release the conjurers bonds, talks with the conjurer, and with the audience. The spirits help give information about persons or events, treatment of illness, and locate things like animals for hunting or lost items (Gill, Sullivan 303).
The northern plains Native American religion sometimes differed from tribe to tribe and yet was similar. The plains geographical area is approximately 1.25 million square miles, with about one third of the land in the United States. The boundaries are the Mississippi River to the east, the Rocky Mountains to the west, the central Canadian provinces to the north, and the Gulf of Mexico to the South. Since contact with whites, seven linguistic families have divided these groups with the Plains Cree being one of them (Carmody 60). Upon the introduction of the horse, some tribes …