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The Plains Cree
Transcript of The Plains Cree
Welcome, white people, to our humble abode. We are the Plains Cree, a tribe of the First Nations peoples living on the prairies of North America. I, as the Elder of our tribe, will give you a feel for how we live. I'll ask that you respect our ways and beliefs and you will be respected for your ways.
This is the way of my tribe, the Plains Cree, and we have stayed this way for as long as we can remember and we plan to keep our ways. We'd like to ask that you keep to yourselves, try not to make to much physical contact to keep your decease to yourselves. You must understand that your deceases conflicts with our ways because we do not understand them, we are not immune to them, and more of our people die from them than the amount of your people that even get affected by it. We won't kill your plants and animals as long as you don't kill our creatures. Everything on this land is native and should stay as it is.
I ask you, do not disturb the peace that this land has been born with.
By Rose Sanders
Our diet consisted mainly of gathered roots and berries, pemmican, jerky, elk, antelope, and fish. We had "kitchen" tools such as stone hammers, knives, bowls, cups and other appliances. These were made from either wood or buffalo bones and horns.
Living and Language
The Plains Cree do not all speak the same language as you settlers. We speak a language called Cree. It is part of the Algonkian language and it can be spoken and signed. We are nomadic- the buffalo herds move, we move. When we are in one spot for a while we may grow some of our own food such as corn and tobacco. Our source of shelter is a tipi or wigwam- a tripod made from wood with animal hides covering it to make a tent-like structure.
When the Plains Cree hunt down buffaloes and kill them, we use all that we can off of them-hide, bones, flesh, blood. All can be of some use to us. Our weapons for hunting are made out of either wood or previously killed buffalo bones. Different weapons include bows, arrows, spears, and clubs.
The strategy we First Nations people use for killing a buffalo isn't that difficult: the hunters chase the herd to the edge of the cliff and the buffalo will have nowhere to go, but off the face of the cliff they will fall to their deaths.
Another way is to chase one of the buffalo down a pathway of trees and brush that the hunters build up. At the end of the pathway are some more hunters that then do the kill of the animal.
As I mentioned before, we use the hide of buffaloes we kill for clothing. We also use elk hide for clothing.
Men's clothing consist of a breechclout (two pieces of leather hung on a belt in the front and in the back), leggings of soft leather, buffalo robe to cover the upper body in the winter, moccasins to protect the feet in the summer, and for going out in the sun, a visor made out of rawhide. In the winter a different kind of footwear is worn. They are like a boot made out of buffalo hide with the fur on the inside and leather mitts are worn to keep the hands warm.
Women's outfits consist of knee-length dresses that hung from two shoulder straps, leggings out of soft leather, and buffalo robes. They also wore belts that were decorated using porcupine quills.
Ceremonies And Arts
Different ceremonies are part of the Plains Cree's tradition. Different dances are danced, songs sung. One of the main ceremonies was the Sundance. This ceremony has singing and dancing that have been passed down from generation to generation. A traditional drum is played, there is praying with a pipe, offerings, fastings, and sometimes the ceremonial piercing of the skin. The Sundance goes on for four days without anything to eat or drink through the whole time. It requires strength and courage to get through this ceremony. The object of it all is to offer a personal sacrifice as a prayer for the benefit of your family and community.
For special ceremonies such as the Sundance men where eagle feather bonnets. Each feather on the bonnet represents a great deed that that man has accomplished.
Besides the Sundance there are many other dances. There's the prairie chicken dance, the round dance, the bear dance- these are the spiritual and ceremonial purpose dances. There are some dances that are just for enjoyment such as the tea dance.
Some instruments used for the songs were drums, whistles and rattles.
Artists of the tribe would paint for ceremonial and non-ceremonial purposes. Some of the things they would paint are representatives of a spirit helper on tipis.
Plains Cree traded with other tribes and with the Europeans. The Europeans wanted the regular supplies that we had plenty of such as furs. They offered strange things that we had never heard of before, but we soon found very useful. These things included items such as beads, metal tools, cooking pots, and mirrors.
Battles and Peace
Our enemies were the Dakota and Blackfoot tribes. We fought them quite a few times. The Plains Cree tribe used weapons such as spears, bows, arrows, clubs, and hammers made with a rock tied to a stick.
In about the late 1800's we made peace with the rival tribe, Blackfoot.
We Plains Cree believe in the spirits that look after all of the living things that were created. We have a belief that each male-member of our tribe has an appointed spirit helper, but that the only way you can know and get it is by going out into the wild by yourself with no food or water. This is called the vision quest.
Besides the tipis in the camp we also have a conjuring lodge- a lodge where the shaman, or spiritual leader, could speak to the spirits. The shaman would recieve advice from the spirits and then give the advice to others in the tribe who need it.
Our way of transportation used to be only walking, then we recieved horses from the Europeans. We also had dogs that we rode behind on a travois, a sled made of wood and leather put together in a way similar to tipis frames. In the winter, Plains Cree used snowshoes.
Laws, Justice, and Placement Within the Tribe
The laws as well as customs of the tribe have been passed down from generation to generation. Plains Cree chooses their leader based on ability to take care of others and the ability to make good decisions for the band. Even though the person's qualities were more important there were some times when the chief's son would take his father's place.
Justice was a resolution of conflict, the reconciliation, the maintenance of community harmony and good order.
There was both a civil and war chief. The civil chief led everyday whereas the war chiefs only led in times of conflict. An elder and spiritual leader of the tribe is chosen to oversee activities such as moving a camp. There is also a person in the camp called a crier. This is because he tells everyone information given to him by the elder. There was a group of worthy young men and warriors/ dancers. Their job was to dance, feast, provide, guard women, children, and old people when being moved, and preparing corpses for burial. They acted as junior chiefs and they policed the buffalo hunts so that no one will start early. Women are beasts of burden to us. They tan hides, gather wild foods, cook, make our clothing, and erect and take down tipis. This is what those creatures do while us men go out on hunts and do everything else for them.