Our ancestors have occupied the James Bay territory of Northern Quebec for nearly 5,000 years. As our traditional way of life is based on hunting, fishing and trapping, we have traditionally followed the seasons and animal migrations.
To this day, during the fall, many still go to their trap lines to hunt moose, caribou and bear, to snare rabbit as well as to trap beaver, muskrat, otter, marten, lynx, and fox.
During the spring, we call the hunt period “Goose Break” (end of April/beginning of May) and it remains one of the major traditional activities observed in the communities.
Entire families return to their nomadic lifestyle for two weeks.
Many milestones are measured by rites of passage that are tied to this lifestyle. For example, when a child kills his or her first goose, the head of the bird is cleaned, stuffed, sewn and decorated with beadwork. It is kept in honour of that first hunt.
In the summer, we fish in the coastal bays and river estuaries. At the end of the season, we pick berries, small fruits and other plants to be used not only as food but also as ingredients in medicine and dyes.
Traditional foods are still prominent at community feasts and cultural gatherings. These foods have long been associated with healthy living not only because of the physical effort involved in hunting but also because of the way they are prepared with natural, unprocessed ingredients.
Another sacred tradition observed in the communities is the “walking-out” ceremony, when a child of takes his or her first step on the outside earth.
Girls are dressed in traditional women’s outfits and carry hand-made wooden axes as well as bundles of boughs on their backs. Boys are dressed as hunters with pack sacks and guns.
Depending on the community, the child is led out of the teepee by his or her parents or a relative. The choice of which person will accompany the child is very important as this person will stand out and stand by this child for the duration of the child’s life.
Cree values are rooted in our age-old lifestyle and include perseverance, honesty, respect, and kindness.
We value storytelling as a way of sharing knowledge, and we look to our elders for wisdom.
Our first language is Cree, and we observe two dialects – northern and southern.
Pre-School and Kindergarten students are taught in Cree; in Grade 1, depending on the community, parents can choose to have their child enter the system either with English or French as their language of instruction. Cree culture continues to be taught in school through Secondary V.
While Cree is the official language of the Cree School Board, most work is conducted in English to reflect the employees and their families whose first language is not Cree.