Cree, Native North Americans whose language belongs to the Algonquian branch of the Algonquian-Wakashan linguistic stock (see Native American languages). They formerly inhabited the area S of Hudson Bay and James Bay in what is now Quebec, Ontario, and Manitoba S of the Churchill River. Members of one branch of the Cree, allying themselves with the Siouan Assiniboin, moved southwestward into buffalo territory and became the Plains Cree. It is probable that they introduced the method of hunting buffalo by driving them into enclosures, since the Woodland Cree used this method in hunting deer. The traditional culture and language of the Woodland Cree greatly resembles that of the Ojibwa.
A warlike tribe, the Cree were nevertheless friendly toward French and English fur traders, and their history is closely connected with the activities of the Hudson's Bay and the North West companies. They were powerful in the late 18th cent. until smallpox drastically reduced their population. In 1884 they were involved in the second Riel Rebellion (see Riel, Louis), in Saskatchewan.
About 200,000 Cree live in 135 bands in Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta. They have the largest population and are spread over the largest geographic area of any aboriginal group in Canada. In the 1990s, Cree living in N Quebec waged strong opposition to the province's planned massive James Bay hydroelectric project, but in 2002 they negotiated an agreement with Quebec that permitted partial hydroelectric development, mining, and logging in exchange for jobs and $3.5 billion in financing (over 50 years). The agreement also recognized the autonomy of the Cree as a native nation. In 2012 they signed an agreement with Quebec to establish the Eeyou Istchee James Bay territory (largely the former Baie-James municipality), 114,801 sq mi (297,333 sq km), to be jointly governed by Crees and non-Cree residents. In 1990 there were over 8,000 Cree in the United States, some of them sharing a reservation in Montana with the Ojibwa.
See L. Mason, The Swampy Cree (1967); E. T. Denig, Five Indians Tribes of the Upper Missouri (1975).