Plains Cree is a language spoken by a group of people who are indigenous to the western plains of Canada. There are traditionally two communities of people who speak the language. One group are sometimes called ‘Status,’ because they are descended from people who signed treaties with the British, while the other group are sometimes called ‘Métis,’ and did not sign these treaties.
Estimates of speaker numbers vary wildly, depending on whether you count people who are ethnically Plains Cree (but do not speak the language) or not. Some numbers foolishly include all people whose language has the word ‘Cree’ in the English name (tip: not a good diagnostic for ‘same language’), and report exaggerated numbers like 100,000. Linguists who work with the language communities typically say that a good rough estimate is about 15,000 speakers today, down from the 20,000 that were estimated by Wolfart back in 1969. The Plains Cree language is currently endangered, with most communities not having any fluent speakers (people who spoke the language as their first language of childhood) that are under 55 years old. If nothing changes, the language will cease to exist in these communities within a few decades.
Linguists classify the language as part of the Algonquian family – one of the largest language families in North America. Plains Cree is placed in the Central Algonquian subfamily, which includes quite a few other languages, including the Ojibwa languages, Menominee, Sauk, Fox, Kickapoo, Potawatomi, Illinois, Shawnee, etc. The Cree sub-group of Central Algonquian includes a large number of languages, spoken from Western Canada all the way across to Labrador. This includes Plains Cree, Woods Cree, Swampy Cree, James Bay Cree, the East Cree complex, and Innu.