Cree Narrative

Cree Narrative: Expressing the Personal Meaning of Events

Richard J. Preston
Copyright Date: 2002
Pages: 350
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  • Book Info
    Cree Narrative
    Book Description:

    Based primarily on the oral accounts of John Blackned, Cree Narrative offers a detailed account of traditional Cree society. The result is an integrated picture of Cree thought, feelings, and beliefs relating to living on and with the land. For this expanded reissue of his pioneering work in cognitive anthropology, Richard Preston has added four new chapters. He contextualizes his original research and provides historical and social context for the Waskaganish area during the time of his fieldwork in the 1960s. He also includes a biography of John Blackned and a new selection of Blackned's stories that vividly portray Cree experience at the end of the fur trade period in the early nineteen hundreds.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-7019-1
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. Illustrations
    (pp. vi-vi)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  5. Introduction to the Second Edition
    (pp. ix-2)

    A second edition ofCree Narrativeseems worthwhile simply because it speaks to strong contemporary currents in anthropology and native studies. No less importantly, it will be of interest to the generation of well-educated Crees of James Bay, where secondary school graduation became common only in the late 1960s. In the community of Waskaganish, the site of most of my fieldwork, the first Cree graduated in the mid-1960s, and after a couple of years working for the school board in Moose Factory, Gerti (Diamond) Murdoch became an important part of the editorial work on this book’s first edition. The next...

  6. An Introduction to Waskaganish in the 1960s
    (pp. 3-20)

    In the summer of 1963, my family (myself, Sarah, and our daughters Sarah, Alice, and Susan) flew into Waskaganish for the first time. We had driven from Chapel Hill, North Carolina, to New Haven, Connecticut, to meet and visit with Cornelius Osgood, my professor’s professor and an old Subarctic ethnographer. From there we went to Quebec City and northwest on to Cochrane, Ontario, a journey totaling well over 2,000 miles. Because there was no road, we took the train the last 186 miles to Moosonee, on the bottom of James Bay. Access to James Bay communities north of Moosonee was...

  7. Introducing John Blackned
    (pp. 21-41)

    John was born at the end of the nineteenth century, probably in 1894, into a world remote in time, space, environment, and culture from ours, and even very different from the village of Waskaganish in the mid-1960s, when I started to get to know him.

    He was the oldest of four sons (John, Charlie, Tommy, and one for whom I have not found a name) and two daughters (for whom I have no names) born to Jacob Blackned and his wife. Jacob was a capable hunter and hunting group leader, as we shall hear from John in a few minutes....

  8. One Year from John’s Youth: An Introduction to John’s Memory
    (pp. 42-62)

    Since we can get to know John through his stories, I will give a story from his childhood memories that also shows John’s extraordinary memory for detail. As you will see, we can almost visualize John as a boy, following, watching, and being taught by his father. John speaks mainly of his family (especially his father), their actions, and especially getting their food. In his memory, food was the first priority, and the daily hunt for food was only interrupted once in a while by a crisis, a celebration, or the press of travelling for a long distance.

    When I...

  9. CHAPTER ONE The Setting
    (pp. 63-67)

    A glance at a map showing the distribution of the Indians within the borders of Canada reveals that the Northern Algonquians extend over a vast area from the prairies in the west to the Atlantic Ocean in the east. This large portion of the great circumpolar boreal forest has provided, for unknown centuries, the hunting grounds and homes of the Cree and other Algonquian groups.

    Looking with interest at my copy of the high altitude aerial photo of the James Bay area [photo 2], Willy Weistchee commented to me that, in the photo, the bush looked like a fur coat....

  10. CHAPTER TWO An Ethnography of Personal Meanings
    (pp. 68-77)

    Understanding the human significance that events have for individuals-in-culture is an aspect of fieldwork that can be traced back to ethnographic prehistory. Although interest and sensitivity varies with each field worker and field setting, some concern with the significance that events have for the participants is probably a universal condition in ethnography. In this book, these individually experienced and culturally patterned meanings are the primary focus.

    My perspective is essentially an application of ideas given brilliant but compact theoretical depiction by Sapir, whose insights into the relationship of culture and personality have led to only occasional ethnographic application, and have...

  11. CHAPTER THREE Conjuring
    (pp. 78-115)

    The first basic topic in Cree culture that I have selected for primary emphasis is that of conjuring.¹ Conjuring is one relatively exotic manifestation of a more general mental-spiritual capability that is central to the whole of Cree mental culture. The spiritual side of conjuring is identified by the Cree term “Mistabeo” [mistapéw], or attending spirit. Because the Mistabeo is an independently active participant in conjuring, a man’s conjuring potential is only roughly proportional (not identical) to his mental competence.

    Mental competence, in turn, is the basis of social organization to a particular degree in Cree culture, due to the...

  12. CHAPTER FOUR The Mistabeo Concept
    (pp. 116-173)

    The precise meaning of the Mistabeo concept has proven difficult to define, partly because of the private and intimate nature of men’s relationships with their Mistabeo. Also, different individuals may have different perceptions of the Mistabeo. Speck has offered a valuable preliminary effort (1935:41ff), in which he explains the Mistabeo as the active state of the soul, a source of guidance, a means of overcoming “ spirits” (other souls?), the “equivalent” of life in human beings, very near an “ego” concept, as the “essential of man” and as “the seat of the appetites, emotions, and passions.” The evidence or manifestation...

  13. CHAPTER FIVE Narration as a Vehicle for the Expression of Attitudes
    (pp. 174-193)

    This chapter expands the context of inquiry and thereby develops the integration of the Mistabeo concept as a part of the hunter’s whole perceptual environment. Perception of a Mistabeo normally occurs within this larger context, and a Cree individual will normally contemplate to himself (or narrate to others) about a Mistabeo in this context. This has already been illustrated in the Chou-a narrative and in the others following it.

    In this chapter I inductively derive some of the attitudes – here defined as emotions in a context of readiness for activity – that characterize a Cree hunter-trapper’s perception of his environment. My...

  14. CHAPTER SIX Songs as an Expression of Personal Symbolisms in the Use of Culture Patterns
    (pp. 194-208)

    Songs are distinctive and important as a category of narrations, and as a part of the milieu of the Mistabeo spirit concept. Put simply, songs are the form of communication used by the spirits entering the conjuring tent, thus expressing power. Some songs use words with no known meaning, and are therefore an extreme or marginal form of narration. Songs are also an extreme form of narration in another interesting way, where a few stylized words constitute the most central (rather than marginal) form with regard to perceptual compactness and poetic imagery (discussed in chapter 2).

    InAmerican Indian Prose...

  15. CHAPTER SEVEN On the Relationships between Human Persons and Food-Animal Persons
    (pp. 209-218)

    In the preceding chapter, I argued that a love relationship exists between the hunter and the animals that he kills in order to make his living. In this chapter I hope to deal more broadly with the relationship between the human hunter and his prey, and at the same time give more precision to the concept of a love relationship. The importance of food-animals to a Cree hunter is central and crucial to his existence. Hallowell has written, “Certainly the most active and vital orders of being in the behavioural environment of man are of the human-animal order, even though...

  16. CHAPTER EIGHT Hunting and Deprivation in a Contingent World
    (pp. 219-236)

    This chapter describes a more general facet of Eastern Cree ethos than that of conjuring, or that of the nature of men’s relationships to other men. We will now broaden the context to its proper scope, to the everyday and ordinary task of getting one’s living. For the Eastern Cree this task consists largely of successfully coping with the otherthan-human environment, in hunting, trapping, and fishing, and living out one’s life in the bush.

    In terms of subsistence potential and cultural elaboration, Kroeber, Speck, and others have ranked the Eastern Subarctic as a very poor area. Kroeber estimates population density...

  17. CHAPTER NINE Conclusions
    (pp. 237-253)

    In the introduction I proposed that Eastern Cree cultural unity was maintained not only by linguistic and ecological uniformities but also by a distinctive kind of individualism that constitutes a dominant theme in Eastern Cree culture. I have attempted to indicate something of the nature of the Cree individual-in-culture through a treatment of conjuring and the Cree view of man-in-nature.

    The sense of controlled human competence in a contingent world is fundamental to the ethos of Cree culture, and is expressed both in action and in narration. In this concluding chapter I summarize and synthesize the ethnographic data presented in...

  18. Appendix
    (pp. 254-258)
  19. Notes
    (pp. 259-272)
  20. Bibliography
    (pp. 273-280)
  21. Index
    (pp. 281-285)