When this part of the country was first being explored, the natives who were already here were Nahathaways. In 1797, David Thompson, an explorer and mapmaker who was then in the employ of the North-West Company, travelled through this area, living with the Nahathaways and learning their language. In the careful journals that he kept, he described the native people in this way: “Southward of the latitude of 56 degrees, the country is in the possession of the Na-hath-a-way Indians, (their native name) . . . . . These people are separated into many tribes or extended families, under different name, but all speaking dialects of the same language. . . . The native in their manners are mild an decent, treat each other in conversation. . . . . They believe in the existence of the Kee-Chee Kee-Chee Manito (the Great, Great Spirit).”
David Thompson went on in his “Travels” to explain how the native people came to be called Crees. Referring to the Nahathaways he wrote: “The French Canadians call them ‘Krees’. This name appears to be taken from ‘Keethisteno’, so called by one of their tribes and which the French pronounce ‘Kristeno’, and by contraction ‘Kress’.”
The original home of the Crees was between James Bay and Lake Winnipeg. Their country was rich in fur bearing animals. They depended on the animals, beaver, moose, and caribou for survival. The flesh provided food. The skin of the beaver was used to make winter robes. Moose hide was used for clothing, and for making many things from moccasins and snowshoes to tents. When meat was difficult to obtain, the Crees depended on fishing for their food. The Crees gradually moved westward, driving the Chipewyans from their territory in northern Manitoba.
The Crees are generally identified as to their location in the territory as:
(I) Plain Crees, who inhabited the plains, and enjoyed the abundant supply of food provided by the buffalo;
(2) Swampy Crees, who were found in the muskrat country north of lake Winnipeg;
(3) Wood Crees who lived in groups of families in the territory between Ontario and the swampy northern Manitoba regions.
The Assiniboine so occupied the country south and west of the Assiniboine River. Joseph Derouen (Drouin), in 1860 identified the native as Fort Dauphin as “Cris, Assiniboels, Mandanes, Blancs-Barbus, Grands-Broches, Petits Brochets…” I.
The Saulteaux came to Manitoba from Ontario. They were originally found south of Lake Superior, particularly around Sault Ste. Marie, from whence came their name, Saulteaux. In the early 1700;s, they followed the explorers on their travels westward. By 1760 Saulteaux settlements were found all along the westward route. By 1800, the Saulteaux were found all over southern Manitoba. Like the Crees, the Saulteaux are of Algonkian stock.