Indigenous Peoples | The Canadian Encyclopedia

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    10 Indigenous Firsts in Canada

    Indigenous peoples have contributed greatly to Canadian society, culture and politics. Despite facing discrimination, racial segregation and policies of assimilation, Indigenous peoples have fought to make this country a better place for all, and to protect their own Indigenous cultures. From leaders in the fields of medicine and law, to war veterans, chiefs and politicians, many Indigenous peoples have risen to the top of their respective fields, championing a variety of causes. This list of 10 Indigenous “firsts” celebrates those trailblazers who were the first in their profession to make historic accomplishments in Canada.

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    30 Indigenous Leaders

    To celebrate its 30th anniversary, The Canadian Encyclopedia created 30 lists of 30 things that make us proud to be Canadian, from famous people and historic events, to iconic foods and influential artists.

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    Abenaki (also referred to as Wobanaki or Wabanaki) take their name from a word in their own language meaning “dawn-land people” or “people from the east.” Their traditional lands included parts of southeastern Quebec, western Maine and northern New England. As of 2021, the total registered population of Abenaki people on the Wôlinak and Odanak reserves in Quebec is 469 and 2,747, respectively.

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    Abenaki of the St Lawrence Valley

    In the late 1670s, during a period of conflict with the New England colonies, several hundred Abenaki found refuge in the St Lawrence Valley. They first settled in the Québec region along the Chaudière River before migrating west at the end of the 17th century.

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    History of Indigenous Art in Canada

    The history of Indigenous art in Canada begins sometime during the last Ice Age between 80,000 and 12,000 years ago. To date, however, the oldest surviving artworks (excluding finely crafted, aesthetically significant stone tools) are datable to no earlier than 5,000 years ago.

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    Indigenous Cultural Landscape

     Traditional knowledge provides the best way of identifying Indigenous (Aboriginal) cultural landscapes. An on-going oral tradition and continuing traditional practices sustain interaction between people and the land.

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    Indigenous-British Relations Pre-Confederation

    With the end of the Seven Years’ War in 1763, Britain replaced France as the dominant colonial power in Canada. In doing so, they assumed the legacy of Indigenous-French relations. Relations under British rule continued for some decades along the lines established during the French era. From the Great Lakes eastward, commercial and military interactions dominated the interchanges between Indigenous and immigrant peoples. In the 19th century, these links would be replaced by a different form of association — policies that advocated assimilation, subjugation and even destruction — as European settlement pushed westward. (See also Indigenous Peoples and Government Policy in Canada.)

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    Indigenous-French Relations

    French fishermen, settlers, fur traders, missionaries and colonial agents were among the earliest Europeans to have sustained contact with ​Indigenous peoples in what is now Canada and North America. The relationship between French and Indigenous people of the Eastern Woodlands in the early colonial period was complex and interdependent. France saw Indigenous nations as allies, and relied on them for survival and fur trade wealth. Indigenous people traded for European goods, established military alliances and hostilities, intermarried, sometimes converted to Christianity, and participated politically in the governance of New France. With the transfer of New France to Britain in 1763, diplomatic relations between the French and Indigenous people in Canada ceased. Naturally, social and economic interaction between the European and Indigenous inhabitants of New France continued.

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    Indigenous Peoples in Canada

    In Canada, the term Indigenous peoples (or Aboriginal peoples) refers to First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples. These are the original inhabitants of the land that is now Canada. In the 2021 census by Statistics Canada, over 1.8 million people in Canada identified as Indigenous, making up 5 per cent of the national population. Though severely threatened — and in certain cases extinguished — by colonial forces, Indigenous culture, language and social systems have shaped the development of Canada and continue to grow and thrive despite extreme adversity.

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    Arctic Indigenous Peoples in Canada

    The term Arctic peoples in Canada generally refers to the Inuit population. The Inuit are descendants of the Thule people, who lived in the Arctic from 400 to 1,000 years ago. The Inuit refer to their homeland as Inuit Nunangat. In 2021, there were 70,545 Inuit in Canada. According to that census, 69 per cent of all Inuit lived in Inuit Nunangat.

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    Communications of Indigenous People

    Prior to the 1960s, only a few periodicals were published for Indigenous people, mainly by non-Indigenous missionary and government organizations. Notable examples were the Chinook-language Kamloops Wawa (1891-1905) and the Inuktitut-language Oblate publications of the 1940s and 1950s.

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    Eastern Woodlands Indigenous Peoples in Canada

    The Eastern Woodlands is one of six cultural areas of Indigenous peoples in Canada. The region stretches from the northeastern coast of present-day United States and the Maritimes to west of the Great Lakes. The Eastern Woodlands includes, among others, the Haudenosaunee, Mi’kmaq, Ojibwe and Wendat (Huron) peoples.

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    Indigenous Peoples and Government Policy in Canada

    For most of the history of political interaction between Indigenous people and the Canadian government (and its colonial predecessors) government policy has focused on First Nations. The Inuit were barely acknowledged until the 1940s, while special responsibility for Métis and Non-Status Indians was largely denied until 2016. The early history of Indigenous policy in Canada is characterized by the presence of both France and Britain as colonizing powers. British colonial policy acknowledged Indigenous peoples as sovereign nations. Post-Confederation Canadian Indigenous policy initially was based on a model of assimilation, with one of its main instruments being the Indian Act. Since the late 1960s, government policy has gradually shifted to a goal of self-determination for Indigenous peoples, to be achieved through modern-day treaties and self-government agreements.

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    Health of Indigenous Peoples in Canada

    Prior to colonization, Indigenous Peoples possessed rich and diverse healing systems. Settlers’ introduction of new and contagious diseases placed these healing systems under considerable strain. Europeans also brought profound social, economic and political changes to the well-being of Indigenous communities. These changes continue to affect the health of Indigenous Peoples in Canada today. (See also Social Conditions of Indigenous Peoples in Canada and Economic Conditions of Indigenous Peoples in Canada.)

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    Northwest Coast Indigenous Peoples in Canada

    The Northwest Coast cultural area, one of six contained in what is now Canada, is home to many Indigenous peoples, such as the Nuu-chah-nulth, Kwakwaka’wakw, Haida, Coast Salish and Haisla. Geographically, the region features extremes in topography, from wide beaches to deep fjords and snow-capped mountains.

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