The Cree (Cree: néhinaw, néhiyaw, nihithaw, etc.; French: Cri) are a North American Indigenous people. They live primarily in Canada, where they form one of the country's largest First Nations.

In Canada, over 350,000 people are Cree or have Cree ancestry. The major proportion of Cree in Canada live north and west of Lake Superior, in Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, and the Northwest Territories. About 27,000 live in Quebec.

In the United States, Cree people historically lived from Lake Superior westward. Today, they live mostly in Montana, where they share the Rocky Boy Indian Reservation with the Ojibwe (Chippewa) people.

The documented westward migration over time has been strongly associated with their roles as traders and hunters in the North American fur trade.

Big Bear

Big Bear, also known as Mistahi-maskwa (Cree: ᒥᐢᑕᐦᐃᒪᐢᑿ; c. 1825 – 17 January 1888), was a powerful and popular Cree chief who played many pivotal roles in Canadian history. He was appointed to chief of his band at the age of 40 upon the death of his father, Black Powder, under his father's harmonious and inclusive rule which directly impacted his own leadership. Big Bear is most notable for his involvement in Treaty 6 and the 1885 North-West Rebellion; he was one of the few chief leaders who objected to the signing of the treaty with the Canadian government. He felt that signing the treaty would ultimately have devastating effects on his nation as well as other Indigenous nations. This included losing the free nomadic lifestyle that his nation and others were accustomed to. Big Bear also took part in one of the last major battles between the Cree and the Blackfoot nations. He was one of the leaders to lead his people against the last, largest battle on the Canadian Plains.

The Cree are generally divided into eight groups based on dialect and region. These divisions do not necessarily represent ethnic sub-divisions within the larger ethnic group:

Due to the many dialects of the Cree language, the people have no modern collective autonym. The Plains Cree and Attikamekw refer to themselves using modern forms of the historical nêhiraw, namely nêhiyaw and nêhirawisiw, respectively. Moose Cree, East Cree, Naskapi, and Montagnais all refer to themselves using modern dialectal forms of the historical iriniw, meaning 'man.' Moose Cree use the form ililiw, coastal East Cree and Naskapi use iyiyiw (variously spelled iiyiyiu, iiyiyuu, and eeyou), inland East Cree use iyiniw (variously spelled iinuu and eenou), and Montagnais use ilnu and innu, depending on dialect. The Cree use "Cree," "cri," "Naskapi, or "Montagnais" to refer to their people only when speaking French or English.

As hunter-gatherers, the basic unit of organization for Cree peoples was the lodge, a group of perhaps eight or a dozen people, usually the families of two separate but related married couples, who lived together in the same wigwam (domed tent) or tipi (conical tent), and the band, a group of lodges who moved and hunted together. In the case of disagreement, lodges could leave bands and bands could be formed and dissolved with relative ease. However, as there is safety in numbers, all families would want to be part of some band, and banishment was considered a very serious punishment. Bands would usually have strong ties to their neighbours through intermarriage and would assemble together at different parts of the year to hunt and socialize together. Besides these regional gatherings, there was no higher-level formal structure, and decisions of war and peace were made by consensus with allied bands meeting together in a council. People could be identified by their clan, which is a group of people claiming descent from the same common ancestor; each clan would have a representative and a vote in all important councils held by the band (compare: Anishinaabe clan system).

Each band remained independent of each other. However, Cree-speaking bands tended to work together and with their neighbours against outside enemies. Those Cree who moved onto the Great Plains and adopted bison hunting, called the Plains Cree, were allied with the Assiniboine, the Metis Nation, and the Saulteaux in what was known as the "Iron Confederacy", which was a major force in the North American fur trade from the 1730s to the 1870s. The Cree and the Assiniboine were important intermediaries in the Indian trading networks on the northern plains.

When a band went to war, they would nominate a temporary military commander, called a okimahkan. loosely translated as "war chief". This office was different from that of the "peace chief", a leader who had a role more like that of the diplomat. In the run-up to the 1885 North-West Rebellion, Big Bear was the leader of his band, but once the fighting started Wandering Spirit became war leader.

The Cree are the largest group of First Nations in Canada, with 220,000 members and 135 registered bands. Together, their reserve lands are the largest of any First Nations group in the country. The largest Cree band and the second largest First Nations Band in Canada after the Six Nations Iroquois is the Lac La Ronge Band in northern Saskatchewan.

Given the traditional Cree acceptance of mixed marriages, it is acknowledged by academics that all bands are ultimately of mixed heritage and multilingualism and multiculturalism were the norm. In the West, mixed bands of Cree, Saulteaux and Assiniboine, all partners in the Iron Confederacy, are the norm. However, in recent years, as indigenous languages have declined across western Canada where there were once three languages spoken on a given reserve, there may now only be one. This has led to a simplification of identity, and it has become "fashionable" for bands in many parts of Saskatchewan to identify as "Plains Cree" at the expense of a mixed Cree-Salteaux history. There is also a tendency for bands to recategorize themselves as "Plains Cree" instead of Woods Cree or Swampy Cree. Neal McLeod argues this is partly due to the dominant culture's fascination with Plains Indian culture as well as the greater degree of written standardization and prestige Plains Cree enjoys over other Cree dialects.

The Métis (from the French, Métis of mixed ancestry) are people of mixed ancestry, such as Cree (or Anishinaabe) and French, English, or Scottish heritage. According to Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada, the Métis were historically the children of French fur traders and Cree women or, from unions of English or Scottish traders and northern Dene women (Anglo-Métis). The Métis National Council defines a Métis as "a person who self-identifies as Métis, is distinct from other Aboriginal peoples, is of historic Métis Nation Ancestry and who is accepted by the Métis Nation"

In Manitoba, the Cree were first contacted by Europeans in 1682, at the mouth of the Nelson and Hayes rivers by a Hudson's Bay Company (HBC) party travelling about 100 miles (160 km) inland. In the south, in 1732; in what is now northwestern Ontario, Pierre Gaultier de Varennes, sieur de La Vérendrye, met with an assembled group of 200 Cree warriors near present-day Fort Frances, as well as with the Monsoni, (a branch of the Ojibwe). Both groups had donned war paint in preparation for an attack on the Dakota and another group of Ojibwe.

After acquiring firearms from the HBC, the Cree moved as traders into the plains, acting as middlemen with the HBC.