June 10, 1792
In the interior where the climate is not so severe, and hunting more successful, the Men attain to the stature of six feet; well proportioned, the face more oval, and the features good, giving them a manly appearance; the skin soft and smooth. They bear cold and exposure to the weather better than we do and the natural heat of their bodies is greater than ours, probably from living wholly on animal food.
David Thompson's narrative of his explorations in western America, 1784-1812 / edited by J.B. Tyrrell
HAVING passed six years in different parts of this Region, exploring and surveying it, I may be allowed to know something of the natives, as well as the productions of the country. It's inhabitants are two distinct races of Indians; North of the latitude of fifty six degrees, the country is occupied by a people who call themselves " Dinnie," by the Hudson Bay Traders " Northern Indians " and by their southern neighbours " Cheepawyans " whom I shall notice hereafter. Southward of the above latitude the country is in the possession of the Nahathaway Indians their native name (Note. These people by the French Canadians, who are all without the least education, in their jargon call them "Krees" a name which none of the Indians can pronounce; this name appears to be taken from " Keethisteno " so called by one of their tribes and which the french pronounce " Kristeno," and by contraction Krees (R, rough, cannot be pronounced by any Native) these people are separated into many tribes or extended families, under different names, but all speaking dialects of the same language, which extends over this stony region, and along the Atlantic coasts southward to the Delaware River in the United States, (the language of the Delaware Indians being a dialect of the parent Nahathaway) and by the Saskatchewan River westward, to the Rocky Mountains. The Nathaway, as it is spoken by the southern tribes is softened and made more sonorous, the frequent th of the parent tongue is changed to the letter y as Neether (me) into Neeyer, Keether (thou) into Keeyer, Weether (him) into Weeyer, and as it proceeds southward [it] becomes almost a different language. It is easy of pronunciation, and is readily acquired by the white people for the purposes of trade, and common conversation.
The appearance of these people depends much on the climate and ease of subsistence. Around Hudson's Bay and near the sea coasts, where the climate is very severe, and game scarce, they are seldom above the middle size, of spare make, the features round, or slightly oval, hair black, strong and lank; eyes black and of full size, cheek bones rather high, mouth and teeth good, the chin round; the countenance grave yet with a tendency to cheerful, the mild countenances of the women make many, while young, appear lovely; but like the labouring classes the softness of youth soon passes away.
In the interior where the climate is not so severe, and hunting more successful, the Men attain to the stature of six feet; well proportioned, the face more oval, and the features good, giving them a manly appearance; the complexion is of a light olive, and their colour much the same as a native of the south of Spain; the skin soft and smooth. They bear cold and exposure to the weather better than we do and the natural heat of their bodies is greater than ours, probably from living wholly on animal food. They can bear great fatigue but not hard labor, they would rather walk six hours over rough ground than work one hour with the pick axe and spade, and the labor they perform, is mostly in an erect posture as working with the ice chissel piercing holes through the ice or through a beaver house, and naturally they are not industrious; they do not work from choice, but necessity; yet the industrious of both sexes are praised and admired; the civilized man has many things to tempt him to an active life, the Indian has none, and is happy sitting still, and smoking his pipe.
The dress of the Men is simply of one or two loose coats of coarse broad cloth, or molton, a piece of the same sewed to form a rude kind of stockings to half way up the thigh, a blanket by way of a cloak; the shoes are of well dressed Moose, or Rein Deer skin, and from it's pliancy enables them to run with safety, they have no covering for the head in summer, except the skin of the spotted northern Diver; but in winter, they wrap a piece of Otter, or Beaver skin with the furr on, round their heads, still leaving the crown of the head bare, from which they suffer no inconvenience.
The dress of the women is of !•$■ yards of broad cloth sewed Hke a sack, open at both ends, one end is tied over the shoulders, the middle belted round the waist, the lower part like a petti- coat, covers to the ankles, and gives them a decent appearance. The sleeves covers the arms and shoulders, and are separate from the body dress. The rest is much the same as the men. For a head dress they have a foot of broad cloth sewed at one end, ornamented with beads and gartering, this end is on the head, the loose parts are over the shoulders, and is well adapted to defend the head and neck from the cold and snow. The women seldom disfigure their faces with paint, and are not over fond of ornaments. Most of the men are tattoed, on some part of their bodies, arms &c. Some of the Women have a small circle on each cheek. The natives in their manners are mild and decent, treat each other with kindness and respect, and very rarely interrupt each other in conversation; after a long separation the nearest relations meet each other with the same seeming indifference, as if they had constantly lived in the same tent, but they have not the less affection for each other, for they hold all show of joy, or sorrow to be unmanly; on the death of a relation, or friend, the women accompany their tears for the dead with piercing shrieks, but the men sorrow in silence, and when the sad pang of recollection becomes too strong to be borne, retire into the forest to give free vent to their grief. Those acts that pass between man and man for generous charity and kind compassion in civilized society, are no more than what is every day practised by these Savages; as acts of common duty; is any one unsuccessful in the chase, has he lost his Httle all by some accident, he is sure to be relieved by the others to the utmost of their power, in sickness they carefully attend each other to the latest breath decently... the dead.. }
Of all the several distinct Tribes of Natives on the east side of the mountains, the Nahathaway Indians appear to deserve the most consideration; under different names the great families of this race occupy a great extent of country, and however separated and unknown to each other, they have the same opinions on region, on morals, and their customs and manners differ very little.
They are the only Natives that have some remains of ancient times from tradition. In the following account I have carefully avoided as their national opinions all they have learned from white men, and my knowledge was collected from old men, whom with my own age extend backwards to upwards of one hundred years ago, and I must remark, that what [ever] other people may write as the creed of these natives, I have always found it very difficult to learn their real opinion on what may be termed religious subjects. Asking them questions on this head, is to no purpose, they will give the answer best adapted to avoid other questions, and please the enquirer. My knowledge has been gained when living and travelling with them and in times of distress and danger in their prayers to invisible powers, and their view of a future state of themselves and others, and like most of mankind, those in youth and in the prime of life think only of the present but declining man-hood, and escapes from danger turn their thoughts on futurity. After a weary day's march we sat by a log fire, the bright Moon, with thousands of sparkhng stars passing before us, we could not help enquiring who lived in those bright mansions; for I frequently conversed with them as one of themselves; the brilliancy of the planets always attracted their attention, and when their nature was explained to them, they concluded them to be the abodes of the spirits of those who had led a good life.
A Missionary has never been among them, and my knowledge of their language has not enabled me to do more than teach the unity of God, and a future state of rewards and punishments; hell fire they do not believe, for they do not think it possible that any thing can resist the continued action of fire: It is doubtful if their language in its present simple state can clearly express the doctrines of Christianity in their full force. They believe in the self existence of the Keeche Keeche Manito (The Great, Great Spirit) they appear to derive their belief from tradition, and [believe] that the visible world, with all it's inhabitants must have been made by some powerful being: but have not the same idea of his constant omnipresence, omniscience and omnipotence that we have, but [think] that he is so when he pleases, he is the master of life, and all things are at his disposal; he is always kind to the human race, and hates to see the blood of mankind on the ground, and sends heavy rain to wash it away. He leaves the human race to their own conduct, but has placed all other living creatures under the care of Manitos (or inferior Angels) all of whom are responsible to Him; but all this belief is obscure and confused, especially on the Manitos, the guardians and guides of every genus of Birds and Beasts; each Manito has a separate command and care, as one has the Bison, another the Deer; and thus the whole animal creation is divided amongst them. On this account the Indians, as much as possible, neither say, nor do anything to offend them, and the religious hunter, at the death of each animal, says, or does, something, as thanks to the Manito of the species for being permitted to kill it. At the death of a Moose Deer, the hunter in a low voice, cries " wut, wut, wut "; cuts a narrow stripe of skin from off the throat, and hangs it up to the Manito. The bones of the head of a Bear are thrown into the water, and thus of other animals; if this acknowledgment was not made the Manito would drive away the animals from the hunter, although the Indians often doubt their power or existence yet like other invisible beings they are more feared than loved. They believe in ghosts but as very rarely seen, and those only of wicked men, or women; when this belief takes place, their opinion is, that the spirit of the wicked person being in a miserable state comes back to the body and round where he used to hunt; to get rid of such a hateful visitor, they burn the body to ashes and the ghost then no longer haunts them. The dark Pine Forests have spirits, but there is only one of them which they dread, it is the Pah kok, a tall hateful spirit, he frequents the depths of the Forest; his howlings are heard in the storm, he delights to add to its terrors, it is a misfortune to hear him, something ill will happen to the person, but when he approaches a Tent and howls, he announces the death of one of the inmates; of all beings he is the most hateful and the most dreaded.
The Sun and Moon are accounted Divinities and though they do not worship them, [they] always speak of them with great reverence. They appear to think [of] the Stars only as a great number of luminous points perhaps also divinities, and mention them with respect; they have names for the brightest stars, as Serius, Orion and others, and by them learn the change of the seasons, as the rising of Orion for winter, and the setting of the Pleiades for summer. The Earth is also a divinity, and is alive, but [they] cannot define what kind of life it is, but say, if it was not alive it could not give and continue life to other things and to animated creatures.
Nahathaway is one of several variants of the name applied by the Cree Indians to themselves, and is that form of the name which is commonly used by the Cree who live in the country around Isle k la Crosse and the upper waters of the Churchill river. Among the Cree of the Saskatchewan river and the Great Plains the th sound is eliminated and the word is pronounced Nihlaway. Kristeno, the name by which this great tribe was usually known to the early traders, and of which the word Cree is a corruption, was the name which the Chippewa applied to them, and as the white people came in contact with, and learned to speak the language of, the Chippewa first, they naturally adopted the Chippewa name. The Cree are one of the most important tribes of the Algonquin family. They are naturally inhabitants of the forest. Their range was from the Rocky Mountains eastward north of the Great Plains, and thence north of Lake Winnipeg to the southern shore of Hudson Bay.