Gotta Know 'Em, Eh? - Aboriginal Peoples
defines the term "aboriginal peoples of Canada" to include the
(North American) Indian, Inuit and Métis peoples of Canada. A lot of
people don't like this usage of the word "Indian", but we use it
because it occurs in
the constitution and in
Four hundred years ago, 100% of the population of Canada was made up of
aboriginal peoples. Today that proportion has declined to
but they constitute a much higher fraction of the population
in some of the more sparsely populated parts of the country.
Métis: people of
mixed European and North American Indian descent.
The word métis is old French and means "mixed",
just like the Spanish word mestizo used in Latin America.
In the broad sense,
there are Métis communities in all provinces and territories of
Canada, but they are most concentrated in the Prairie provinces.
They began as the offspring of French and English and Scottish traders
and explorers, and native women, married or living together "according
to the custom of the country" (à la façon du pays)
meaning without church blessing, but
with a well-defined set of mutual obligations to in-laws and other
members of an aboriginal community. Such unions were welcomed by
many native groups, but not by the French colonial
authorities, who wanted to be able to control their settlers, or by the
which did not want responsibility for employees' dependants.
Métis traders worked for both the HBC and its rival
Company, and the origin
of the Métis as a distinct people is often traced to
a violent clash in 1816 between Métis NWC traders and Euro-Canadian
HBC settlers at
Oaks, in present-day Manitoba. In 1870, when the HBC territories
were about to be transferred to Canada,
the Métis who made up
most of the population of the Red River Colony staged the
Rebellion to secure their rights. Their leader,
of Manitoba as a province.
In Saskatchewan in 1885, discontent among Métis resulted in the
Rebellion, led by Riel, which was crushed by the Canadian government.
Unlike North American Indians and Inuit,
Métis do not have any treaty rights.
The 2001 census enumerated
292,310 people who identified themselves as Métis.
populate a vast area of Arctic Canada, plus Greenland,
much of Alaska, and eastern Siberia.
The word "inuit" means "the people", and the singular "inuk" means a person
in their language,
is still spoken at home by 65% of Canadian Inuit.
They have also been known as Eskimo, but in Canada
they prefer to be called Inuit. The term "Eskimo" comes
from an Algonquian language and was once thought to mean
"eater of raw meat." Although this is an erroneous etymology, it is a correct
description of their traditional diet, based on caribou, seals,
walruses, whales and fish. What distinguishes Inuit from North
American Indians is their environment: Indians live south of the
and Inuit live north of it.
There are also
some genetic differences
between the two groups,
such as the B blood type that occurs frequently
among Inuit but not at all among Indians.
Artistically, Inuit are known for their
carvings. The Canadian greeting
"chimo" is derived
from Inuktitut. Recreationists worldwide can thank the Inuit for the
and those in snowy climates can thank them for inventing the
In 1999, the new territory of
Nunavut was established over
an area with an 85% Inuit population. There are also high
concentrations of Inuit in
Nunavik (northern Quebec)
and Labrador. The 2001 census counted 45,070 Inuit in Canada,
50% Nunavut, 21% Quebec, 10% Newfoundland and Labrador, 9% Northwest
Territories, 10% elsewhere.
had their first contact with Europeans in 1534 when
Cartier arrived in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Cartier kidnapped
Domagaya and Taignoagny, two sons of the Iroquois
Chief Donnacona, and took them to France. Returning in 1535, the two
captives gave Cartier directions to "kanata", which was simply their
word for village (in this case Stadacona, now Quebec City), but
Cartier assumed it was the name of the whole region hence
"Canada". History does not record what happened in the area
between 1542, when the French were chased out, and 1603, when they
returned and found that the previously
thriving Iroquois villages on the St. Lawrence River had been
abandoned. But some time during this
period, five other Iroquois groups in what's now
New York State had ended their
constant feuding and formed the
Confederacy of the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga and Seneca
(joined by the Tuscarora in 1722). In a series of wars in the 17th
century, the Confederacy was generally supplied by the Dutch and
English against the French and some native peoples of the St. Lawrence
and Ottawa valleys and the Great Lakes, such as the
Huron, whom the Iroquois destroyed.
During the American Revolution, Mohawk war chief
and his sister, tribal elder
rallied the Iroquois Confederacy in support of the Loyalist cause,
but the Oneida and the Tuscarora supported the rebels instead.
With the division of British North America, the Confederacy
effectively ended, and the Brants and many other loyalist Iroquois moved
to Canada. Traditionally, the Iroquois were
horticulturists who subsisted mostly on the "three sisters" of
corn, squash, and pole beans,
and lived in villages in
Family status was inherited through the female line.
are by far the most numerous single North American Indian
group in Canada, including about 200,000 people today.
traditional territory extends from Quebec all the way to
Alberta. The Cree in this wide area can be
divided by environment and dialect into groups known as
the Woods Cree, the Swampy Cree, the Moose Cree, and the
With the arrival of Europeans, many Cree worked in the fur trade
and also mixed with the newcomers to form a large component of the
Although the Cree had generally hostile relations with neighbouring
peoples such as the
Inuit, the Iroquois,
and the Dakota, they did not clash with the
Europeans until 1885 when, led by
Cree in Saskatchewan joined the
The Cree language has the most speakers of any
aboriginal language in Canada today
(92,630 according to the 2001 census).
Cree-owned businesses include
Air Creebec, an
airline serving northern Quebec and Ontario.
Huron: inhabited a rather small area between
Georgian Bay and Lake Simcoe, but are important in Canadian history
for their alliance with the early French colonists and
for the short-lived 17th-century Jesuit mission
among the Hurons, which was the first European settlement in what
is now Ontario.
Although they called themselves Wyandot or Wendat,
the French gave them a name derived from the word
hure, meaning a boar's head,
for their characteristic bristled
hairstyle that we identify today with the
Mohawk (an Iroquois people).
The Huron Confederacy was formed by the Bear and Cord nations in about
the year 1400, joined in the late 1500s by the Rock and Deer peoples who had
been driven out of the St. Lawrence River area by the Iroquois.
Culturally, the Hurons were similar to their Iroquois enemies. They
spoke a similar language and lived in villages where they grew
corn, beans, and squash.
In their wars against the Iroquois, the Hurons found an ally in the French
Champlain from 1609, and they soon became the principal
suppliers of furs to French traders. The
among the Hurons mission was established in 1639, near present-day
Midland, Ontario, more than 1000 km by canoe
from Quebec. At first
prospering, the settlement was
weakened by disease and wiped out by the Iroquois in 1649. The
surviving Huron people lived among their captors or dispersed to the west.
The most important ceremony in Huron life was the
Feast of the Dead,
held every ten or twelve years,
when each of the four Huron nations would bring
the remains of their dead to a common place, clothe them in furs,
tell stories about them and give presents to the living persons in attendance.
Beothuk: were the original inhabitants of the island of
Newfoundland. The landing of
Cabot and his crew in 1497
was the first recorded interaction between Europeans
and any North American aboriginal group, and the expression "Red
Indians" may have originated at this time after the visitors
saw Beothuk who had smeared their bodies with red ochre, as was their custom.
Coastal dwellers who hunted and fished, the Beothuk are remembered for
intricately carved pendants
made from bone, many uncovered at archaeological sites such as
With a population that never totaled more than a thousand
over the whole island, the
Beothuk succumbed to attacks by European people and diseases, becoming
extinct in 1829 with the death of
the original inhabitants of
the temperate rainforest of British Columbia's Queen
Charlotte Islands, which they call Haida Gwaii.
The Haida have never been one of the more numerous aboriginal groups
on Canada's west coast, but they had a
reputation as being the "Vikings of the North Pacific", launching raids on
villages from Alaska to northern California. The Haida also became the
first northwest coast Indians to have contact with Europeans when
in 1774 they traded with the Spaniard Juan Perez Hernandez. But by 1930,
they were reduced to just a few hundred people in two
Like the other aboriginal inhabitants of Canada's west coast, the Haida
had grand potlatch
gift-giving ceremonies and
poles, and made much use of
redcedar, with the wood going into canoes and houses,
and the bark and
roots into baskets, mats, clothing, and medicines.
Haida sculpture and carving have become especially well known in
Canada thanks to people like
Reid (19201998), who was probably Canada's most celebrated artist
working in traditional aboriginal art forms.
also with the simplified spelling Micmac,
were the largest group in the Maritime provinces and the Gaspé Peninsula
at the time of European arrival.
Their name means "allies", and they were organized in a
loose confederacy with seven districts, each under a chief called a
Saqamaw. The Grand Council of Saqamaws selected one of their own
to be Grand Chief, of whom the most famous was
who was a young man during Cartier's visits in 15341542 and
as a very old Grand Chief
helped Champlain and his men when they arrived in 1604, beginning
a long-standing Mi'kmaq alliance with the French.
Around this time, they also began to extend their territory to
Newfoundland, where they came into conflict with the
The Mi'kmaq were seasonally nomadic.
During the summer, they lived on the coast,
where they fished, gathered shellfish, and hunted seals.
For the winter, they moved inland and hunted
caribou, moose, and small game, and
got around by snowshoe and toboggan (which is originally a Mi'kmaq word).
also known as Sioux (the Ojibway name
for them), was a confederation of peoples of the Prairies. The name "Dakota"
means "allies". Archaeological evidence indicates that they were
present in the plains of Saskatchewan and Manitoba before many of them
the woodland areas of eastern Manitoba and western Ontario, up to Lake
Superior, by around the year 1200. Around 1400, they spread west,
and those who were in the prairie territory of the bison lived off
this animal for food, clothing, and shelter including
tepees (a Dakota word).
In 1659 the Dakota met Europeans for the first time when
Des Groseilliers visited. Around this time the Dakota were being
driven west by their Ojibway enemies, who had
firearms from the French.
The acquisition of the horse around 1730 allowed the Dakota to expand their
territory further in what is now the United States, and to become the
dominant group in the Great Plains.
In the War of 1812, the Dakota sided with the British, who betrayed
them by not consulting them before signing the Treaty of Ghent to end
The Dakota scored their biggest military victory against the United States
later, in 1876, at the Battle of
Big Horn. Amid massive U.S. reprisals,
Bull fled with his followers to Saskatchewan, but they were
not really welcomed, and were considered "American Indians".
Facing starvation, many of these newly arrived Dakota left Canada, as
did Sitting Bull himself. However, thousands of Dakota remained in
Saskatchewan and Manitoba, where their people had a centuries-long
Ojibway: also called Chippewa
or Anishinabe, today number about
140,000 in Canada and are the
second most numerous North American Indian group
after the Cree.
In the 17th century, they lived
in the area north of Lakes Superior and Huron, centred
on Sault Ste. Marie.
After the demise of the
the Ojibway took over much of the fur trade with the French, spreading
southeast in Ontario and also, beginning in the late 18th century,
into Manitoba and Saskatchewan, where they pushed their
Dakota enemies even further westward.
The Ojibway people were divided into seven
each with an animal
symbol known as a totem (an Ojibway word):
Crane, Loon, Fish, Bear, Deer, Marten, and Bird.
The typical Ojibway band had members of all seven clans, and
marriage within a clan was forbidden.
Shania Twain (born Eileen
Edwards) is of European ancestry, but was raised in Timmins, Ontario,
by an Ojibway stepfather, and chose to call herself "Shania", which means
"I'm on my way" in Ojibway.
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