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Cree History

In the Cree language: Eeyou Istchee refers to "the land of the people."

Traditionally known as Eeyou Istchee, previously known as Rupert’s Land, and formally known as Eeyou Istchee James Bay Territory. The Cree People of the Eeyou Istchee James Bay Territory have occupied the territory for almost 6000 years. The Rupert River has one of the oldest dated human traces within the territory that is estimated to have been 5,500 years. Between 2,000 to 1,600 years ago, there was active settlement on Eeyou Istchee, and 1,600 years ago the “Shaptuan” made its appearance.

Wemindji/Maquatua River

The Cree values and beliefs passed on from our ancestors are deeply rooted in our story telling, legends, knowledge and skills. We have lived off the lands hunting trapping and fishing within the territory respecting the animals and the lands that offers us life and tools for survival. Families depend on each other until this day through sharing, and helping one another to get by living off the harsh lands of Eeyou Istchee. The survival of the Cree’s within the territory is based on the knowledge and skills of the ancestors passed on from generations.

 

History of European Settlers

The Bay first came to the attention of the Europeans in 1610 when Henry Hudson set to explore an alternative route to Asia finding himself at the larger Bay that now bears his name Hudson Bay. Following is another explorer set to explore the extended and southern Bay that bears the name James Bay in honor of Thomas James in 1630-1631. Stories of the first European contacts with our Nation that have been past on for generations are still vivid among our elders.

 

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History of the Hudson Bay Company

The Hudson Bay Company was co founded by the adventures Médard Chouart des Groseillers and Pierre-Esprit Radisson in 1670 and played a dynamic role in Eeyou Istchee that would change the life of the Cree’s in the Region.

Both were codependent on each other for beaver pelts and had established a relationship in order to prosper in the harsh lands of Eeyou Istchee.

  • Cree’s gradually became dependent on the Hudson Bay Company for trading purposes where they traded beaver pelts in exchange for food and tools that made life increasingly easier.
  • The Hudson Bay Company equally relied on the Cree’s for their extensive knowledge of the territory and survival skills out on the harsh lands.

The Hudson’s Bay trading post was first established in Fort Rupert/Washkaganesh in 1668 as one of the original locations of the Hudson Bay Company, Moose Factory Ontario 1673, and Fort Albany in 1679.

Other Hudson Bay Company trading posts eventually emerged in the James Bay, 1724 in Eastmain, 1803 at Fort George near Chisasibi, then 1813 at great Whale River.

Originally the Northwest Company established the first trading post at Old Factory Bay in 1804-1806 but burned down. It wasn’t until 1938 the Hudson Bay Company set up a post. Initially the Cree’s of Old Factory Bay would have had to travel to the trading post located in Eastmain to trade their beaver pelts.

 

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History of the Cree Nation of Wemindji

The Cree Nation of Wemindji has a traditional settlement called Old Factory Bay that is 45km south of Wemindji. In Cree language it is called Paakumshumwashtikw referring to Old Factory Bay, which at one point was also known as "Nouveau-Comptoir".

In 1951“Old Factory Band” was established by the order of the federal government through Indian Affairs and was then relocated in 1959 to Wemindji because it had better ground to develop the community. In the 1960’s the majority of community members arrived and settled, and in 1961 the school was established following the clinic in 1962, than the establishment of the St. John Baptist Church in 1963.

The first chief of Old Factory was Chief Albert Gilpin 1930-1933, then John Georgekish 1933-1958. Followed by chiefs of the Cree Nation of Wemindji:

  • Sam Visitor: 1958-1969
  • John Mark: 1969-1972
  • Fred Blackned: 1972-1978
  • Walter Hughboy: 1978-1999
  • Reggie Mark: 1999-2005
  • Rodney Mark: 2005-2013
  • Dennis Georgekish: 2013-present

Wemindji’s focus is to serve the community by delivering outstanding leadership and services that maintain and enrich the quality of life for the people and future generation.

 

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Language

Language is an important aspect of the Cree Identity! Nature is our cultural university where the language and our way of life are derived from.

Cree language and syllabics are implemented into our everyday lives, education and processes.

Cree Syllabics Stop Sign

The Cree Syllabics were introduced in 1840’s by James Evens and was adopted by the Cree’s in the late 1900’s and early 20th century. Today many of our elders are familiar with the Cree Syllabics, and it has been implemented as in our school curriculum at Maquatua Eeyou Elementary and Highschool levels.

Spruce Baskets | Cuisine | Architecture | Traditional Wear | Ceremonies

 

Hunting, Trapping, and Fishing Culture

Wemindji Iiyuuch: Iiyuuch: meaning “people” have strong cultural values and traditions. Only several families continue their practice in traditional hunting, fishing and trapping all year round at their bush camp on their trapline, while some go on weekends or on their free time.

The Eeyou Istchee is abundant with moose, caribou, black bear, goose, ptarmigan, grouse, rabbit, beaver and fish all of which are harvested by the Cree’s.

The Cree’s follow the seasons and migration of the animals for better and respectful harvesting.

 

Hunting Law

The Cree people have hunting and trapping law called Eeyou Weeshou-Wehwun (Traditional Eeyou Law), which is based on the cultural values and beliefs that has been passed on since time immemorial.

It is a belief that the Chishaaminituu (Great Spirit) has given them a portion of the Earth as their homeland and that the Cree Eeyouch are the stewards of the land. The Eeyou Weeshou-Wehwun (Traditional Eeyou Law) is based on following values and principals that promote and help maintain harmony in their relationships with each other and with the land and living resources of Eeyou Istchee, it is a land management system, and that everything is interconnected.

 

Cree Values

 

  • Souchayimuwiin / Courage
  • Taabwaaoushiiwiin / Honesty:
  • Dibtaiimuwiin / Humility:
  • Souwaayiichiichaawiin / Compassion:
  • Chishtaiimiiduuwin / Respect:
  • Naanahwiikaaduuwiin / Sharing:
  • Kaachaataawaayiitaamuwiin /Wisdom:

The Hunting Law is a written form of the Cree customs for the Cree Nation of Eeyou Istchee. The Cree’s are responsible for stewardship of the land and must follow guidelines on harvesting animals, fishing and trapping. Other responsibilities are management of the lands/traplines, lakes, rivers and the James Bay. The rules and guidelines are set to respect, preserve and maintain the land for the future generations.

 

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Spruce Baskets

Wemindji is the only community that builds spruce baskets that is weaved with spruce root to keep the desired shape. These baskets are used to pick berries, they are used fill with traditional food for feasts, and can even be used as a decorative bowls for special occasions. It is a unique and creative production that helps the community stand out from the rest of the James Bay Cree Nations.

Spruce Baskets

 

 

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Traditional Cuisine

The goose is harvested during the spring/fall season and is roasted over open fire (sigabon) commonly enjoyed with the goose drippings, potatoes and side of bannock on a stick.

Other traditional meals that are harvested by Cree’s throughout the year include: Beaver, Moose, caribou, black bear, various fish, rabbit, ptarmigan, grouse, duck, and wild berries. Each animal with his or her own teachings and cultural significance, all of which are traditionally prepared with outmost respect.

Goose Sigabon

 

 

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Teepee Architecture

The teepee is a traditional dwelling that our ancestors have used since time immemorial. Teepees are used for traditional cooking and smoking meat/fish and are visible throughout the community.

Teepee

The boughs are changed every 2-3 weeks, white or black spruce boughs are preferred because of the aroma.

Traditionally the entrance of the Teepee is always facing the East representing the beginning of the day and where everything begins. It is one of many vital teaching of our philosophy.

1,600 years ago the “Shaptuan” made its appearance.

The Shaptuan in Cree language means “crossing” which signifies the architecture of the long house having two doorways at both ends of the house it is made up of spruce poles.

This picture is a diagram developed by Fred Georgekish for his book called Iiyiyuu Miichiwaahph: Traditional Architecture of the Wemindji Cree. Fred Georgekish was a community member of the Cree Nation of Wemindji.

Diagram

 

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Traditional Wear

Traditional skirts are worn during traditional activities and ceremonies; traditionally women would skillfully create traditional outfits from their visions.

The moose and caribou in particular supply them not only sustenance but make essential tools and clothing such: pants, shirt, mukluks, moccasins, snowshoes and teepees.

Traditionally garments were painted and designed with materials of the wildlife such quills, and other animal bones or fur, and pieces were sewn together with moose sinew. Today the traditional wear is influenced with the contemporary materials such as beads, embroidery thread and ribbons.

Traditional Wear

 

 

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Traditional Ceremonies

Ceremonies are an important component in the Cree Society every milestone of a child’s development is celebrated with a feast and expression of happiness:

• The birth, first step, walking out ceremony, first snowshoe walk, and first kill. Feasting and sharing food to give thanks and demonstrate respect for the animal is celebrated after a successful hunt.

Other forms of ceremonies are healing ceremonies that are held out on the land where people go out as a group to share common experiences, knowledge and stories to solve social issues.

These can be canoe expeditions, and snowshoe journeys that the youth can participate in and where elders take their role as guides and facilitators to help the people through the healing journey.

 

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Culture

The Cree culture is rich, lively, and authentic, with our traditional cuisine, stories and legends, arts and crafts and traditional activities that is in harmony and respect with nature.

Many activities and events such as living off the lands: goose break in the fall and in the spring, walking out and snowshoe walk ceremonies, traditional cooking in teepee’s, wood carving, moose tanning, wild berry picking are those that still remain part of the community members lives.

Many elders help sustain and preserve the traditions and language through storytelling and legends. Most Lakes, Rivers and Mountains have a name and a story associated with them, knowledge that has been passed down through generations.

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