For 5,000 years, the people and culture known throughout the world as “Inuit” have occupied the vast territory that stretches 12,000 miles from Russia (Siberia) eastward along the Alaskan coast, across Canada and on to the southeastern coast of Greenland. It is here in the geographic location known as the Arctic region where, based on their ability to utilize the physical environment and resources, that their culture developed and history unfolded.
Once known as Eskimos, the Inuit are one of the most widely dispersed people in the world, but number only about 60,000 in population. Between 25,000 and 35,000 reside in Alaska, with other smaller groups in Canada, Greenland, and Siberia.
Inuit are a founding people of the country now know as Canada, and their history represents an important and fascinating story. It is not just a story about an early chapter of Canadian history but also an epic tale in the history of human settlement and the endurance of culture.
Throughout their long history and vast migrations, the Inuit have not been greatly influenced by other Indian cultures. Their use and array of tools, their spoken language, and their physical type have changed little over large periods of time and space.
A native North American tribe that occupied the sub-Arctic area, the Cree are the largest group of First Nations in Canada, with over 200,000 members and 135 registered bands. Together, their reserve lands are the largest of any First Nations group in the country.
The Cree were originally a forest people who hunted rabbit, deer, beaver, caribou, moose, and bear in the Manitoba forests. The Cree traded pelts with the early French and English fur traders of the region.
Cree Indians from prairie regions, especially in southern Manitoba and Alberta, are often known as the Plains Cree. Cree Indians who live in the forested land further to the north and east are often known as the Woodland Cree. Woodland and Plains Cree people share the same language and customs, but they had some differences in traditional lifestyle based on their environment. For example, the Woodland Crees built houses out of birch bark, but the Plains Crees built teepees out of buffalo hide.
Each Cree community lives on its own reserve or lands that remain under their control. Cree Indian bands are called First Nations in Canada. Each Cree tribe is politically independent and has its own government, laws, police, and services, just like a small country.
There are 9 communities that make up the Cree Nation in Quebec or the James Bay Cree (The Grand Council of the Crees) and consist of approximately 16,357 people of the James Bay and Nunavik regions of Northern Quebec. Four are located on the eastern shore of the James Bay: Chisasibi, Eastmain, Waskaganish, and Wemindji. Whapmagoostui is on the coast of Hudson Bay, and the other four, Mistissini, Nemaska, Oujé-Bougoumou, and Waswanipi, are in the interior of the James Bay basin.