The Cree, or nêhiyawahk , are a group of people with homelands and territories dotting the country from east to west. Although the continuity of Cree existence is largely unwritten in any text, it is indelibly etched in memory and within the oral tradition of linguistic and spiritual observances of song, dance, art, and ritual still maintained in many communities. This identity and the practice of Cree-being is most fully expressed within the contexts of individuals, families, extended families and multiple other relationships that comprise the essence of every Cree community. Like any other culture, the Cree people recount their origins and sacred beginnings to creation time. According to the narrative, the beginning of time started without form: darkness shrouded the void of nothingness, where stillness encapsulated the potential of what was to follow. In the opening moments of the sacred beginning, a light shone forth and the potential started to unfold as the universe came into being in its designed order: the heavens opened up, and the universe with all the stars, the worlds and Mother Earth herself came into being. With the establishment of the firmament the elements of life took hold, and eventually human life itself came into existence.

The coordinates of Cree existence locate the creation narrative as the archetype of its spiritual foundation, the events and sequence of the unfolding universe being the basis of the Cree belief system. In time, other sacred narratives of Cree mythology speak of the emergence of a cultural hero who changed the chaotic myth-world into the ordered creation of today: this trickster, wîsahkêcahk, named and organized everything that existed in the Cree lifescape, and made the flora and fauna, earth, and heavens harmonious and safe in preparation for the arrival of the Cree people. The Cree corpus of tribal narratives represents the archives of centuries of learning and the synthesis of human, ecological, and spiritual knowledge. In many cases, Cree knowledge is only accessible through the understanding of a complex nexus of sacred oral narratives and communal spiritual practices that are reenactments of the creation time. The whole scheme of creation and mythological beginnings, along with a complex array of peoples’ experiences since ancient times, contributes to what traditional Cree people consider the truth of existence.

Willie Ermine

Further Reading

Ahenakew, F. and H.C. Wolfart. 1998. The Counselling Speeches of Jim Kî-Nîpitêhtêw, Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press; Christensen, D. 2002. Ahtahkakoop: The Epic Account of a Plains Cree Head Chief. Shell Lake: Ahtahkakoop Publishing; Young, D., G. Ingram, and L. Swartz. 1989. Cry of the Eagle: Encounters with a Cree Healer. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.