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Truth and Reconciliation Commission (Plain-Language Summary)

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) started working in 2008. It was a result of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement (IRSSA). The IRSSA recognized the suffering and trauma experienced by Indigenous students at residential schools. It also provided financial compensation (money) to the students. The TRC performed many tasks. It created a national research centre. It collected documents from churches and government. It held events where students told their stories. Also, it did research about residential schools and issued a final report. (See also  Reconciliation in Canada.)

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Wilton Littlechild

Jacob Wilton (Willie) Littlechild, CM, athlete, lawyer, Cree chief, politician, advocate for Indigenous rights (born 1 April 1944 in Hobbema, [now Maskwacîs] AB). Littlechild formed and coached Alberta’s first all-Indigenous junior hockey team and created the National Indian Athletic Association. He is a member of seven sports halls of fame. In 1976, Littlechild earned a law degree from the University of Alberta. He went on to become the first member of Parliament with Treaty Indian Status in Canada in 1988. Littlechild served as a commissioner of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2009. Throughout his career, Littlechild has promoted Indigenous rights both nationally and internationally.

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Romeo Saganash

Romeo Saganash, lawyer, politician, advocate for Indigenous rights (born 28 October 1962 in Waswanipi, a Cree community southeast of James Bay in central Quebec). Saganash is Quebec’s first Indigenous Member of Parliament and the province’s first Cree person to receive an undergraduate law degree. He is believed to be the first Indigenous leader in Canada to run for the leadership of a major political party. For the last 20 years, Saganash has represented the Cree at numerous national and international forums concerning Indigenous issues. He spent 23 years helping to negotiate the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples — a resolution that provides a framework to implement treaty rights between First Peoples and Canada and to fulfill other obligations in international agreements. He has spent his life furthering the economic, environmental, legal and constitutional rights of Indigenous peoples in Canada, particularly the Cree in the James Bay region.

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Gloria George

Gloria Mary Maureen George, Indigenous politician, activist and public servant (born 24 July 1942 in Hubert, BC). A tireless advocate for non-status Indians, George was elected president of the Native Council of Canada in 1975, becoming the first and only woman to lead a major Indigenous political organization.

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Murray Sinclair

Murray Sinclair or Mizanay (Mizhana) Gheezhik, meaning “The One Who Speaks of Pictures in the Sky” in the Ojibwe language, lawyer, judge and senator (born in 1951 in Selkirk, MB). Called to the Manitoba Bar in 1980, Sinclair focused primarily on civil and criminal litigation, Indigenous law and human rights. In 1988, he became Manitoba’s first, and Canada’s second, Indigenous judge. Sinclair joined the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2009, before becoming a senator in 2016. He retired from the Senate in 2021 but continues to mentor Indigenous lawyers. The breadth of public service and community work completed by Sinclair demonstrates his commitment to Indigenous peoples in Canada.

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Lillian Dyck

Lillian Eva Quan Dyck, OC, scholar, feminist, senator, advocate for Indigenous rights (born 24 August 1945 in North Battleford, SK). Lillian Dyck was the first Indigenous woman in Canada to earn a PhD in science. She was also the first Indigenous female senator and the first Chinese Canadian senator. During her time in the Senate, she was part of several actions to improve life for Indigenous people in Canada. This includes work on criminal justice and Indigenous education reform, and bills to reinstate Indian Status to women who had lost it based on sexist laws. Dyck was made an Officer of the Order of Canada in 2021.

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Marie-Anne Day Walker-Pelletier

Marie-Anne Day Walker-Pelletier, CM, chief (born 15 April 1954 in Regina, SK). Day Walker-Pelletier is the longest-serving elected chief in Canadian history. She was chief of Okanese First Nation, located near Fort Qu’Appelle, Saskatchewan, from 1981 to 2020. During her long career, Day Walker-Pelletier accomplished many goals, including establishing the structure, instruments and policies of governance for Okanese First Nation. She also took part in numerous projects related to wellness, social reform and education, focusing primarily on providing support to vulnerable women and children. Day Walker-Pelletier has been a strong advocate for preserving the language, traditions, and treaty rights of Okanese First Nation.

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Elijah Harper

Elijah Harper, Oji-Cree politician, consultant, policy analyst (born 3 March 1949 at Red Sucker Lake, MB; died 17 May 2013 in Ottawa, ON). Harper is best known for the role he played in scuttling the Meech Lake Accord, for which he was named the Canadian Press newsmaker of the year for 1990.

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Georges Erasmus

Georges Henry Erasmus, OC, Indigenous leader, activist and spokesperson (born 8 August 1948 in Fort Rae, NT). Erasmus has been a leading advocate for the self-determination of Indigenous peoples in Canada. He has served as the head of several Indigenous public policy organizations, including the Dene Nation and the Assembly of First Nations. He also served as the co-chair for the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples.

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Mary Simon

Mary Jeannie May Simon (Ningiukudluk); diplomat, civil servant, (born 21 August 1947 in Kangirsualujjuaq, Nunavik, QC). Simon is an advocate for international cooperation in the Arctic and Indigenous education and rights. She has held multiple roles in the civil service, including secretary and co-director of policy of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, secretary to the board of directors of the Northern Quebec Inuit Association, and member of the Nunavut Implementation Commission. She was also the first vice president of the Makivik Corporation and the first Inuk in Canada to hold the rank of ambassador. Simon has served as the president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami and of what is now the Inuit Circumpolar Council. On 26 July 2021, Simon became Canada’s 30th Governor General and the first Indigenous person to serve in that role.

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Indian Act (Plain-Language Summary)

The Indian Act was first created in 1876. A new version was created in 1951. Since then, the Act has been revised several times. The main goal of the Act was to force First Nations peoples to lose their culture and become like Euro-Canadians. The Indian Act does not affect either the Métis or Inuit.

(This article is a plain-language summary of the Indian Act. If you are interested in reading about this topic in more depth, please see our full-length entry, Indian Act.)

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Frank Calder

Frank Arthur Calder, OC, Nisga’a politician, chief, businessman (born 3 August 1915, Nass Harbour, BC; died 4 November 2006 in Victoria, BC). Frank Calder was the first Indigenous member of the BC legislature, elected in 1949. Calder is best known for his role in the Nisga’a Tribal Council’s Supreme Court case against the province of British Columbia (commonly known as the Calder case), which demonstrated that Aboriginal title (i.e., ownership) to traditional lands exists in modern Canadian law.

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Nellie J. Cournoyea

Nellie J. Cournoyea, OC, politician, premier of the Northwest Territories 1991–95 (born on 4 March 1940 in Aklavik, NT). Cournoyea is the first Indigenous woman to lead a provincial or territorial government in Canada.

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Maisie Hurley

Maisie Hurley, née Maisie Amy Campbell-Johnston, Vancouver-area political activist, Indigenous ally (see Indigenous Peoples in Canada), newspaper founder and art collector (born 27 November 1887 in Swansea, Wales; died 3 October 1964 in North Vancouver, British Columbia). Although Hurley had no formal legal training or law degree (see Legal Education), she worked on several legal cases and advocated for Indigenous peoples’ basic human rights as well as for changes to the Indian Act. In 1946, Hurley started a newspaper called The Native Voice that aimed to bring attention to important issues concerning Indigenous communities across Canada (see Rights of Indigenous Peoples in Canada). In 2011, Hurley’s collection of Indigenous art was displayed at the North Vancouver Museum.

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Native People's Caravan

The Native People’s Caravan was a cross-country mobile protest that took place in 1974. Its main purpose was to raise awareness about the poor living conditions and discrimination experienced by Indigenous peoples in Canada. It travelled from Vancouver to Ottawa, where the subsequent occupation of a vacant warehouse on Victoria Island, near Parliament Hill, extended into 1975. The caravan brought various Indigenous groups together in protest of broken treaties, as well as a lack of government-supported education, housing and health care. As a result, meetings between Cabinet ministers and Indigenous leaders became more frequent. The protest is remembered as an important turning point in Indigenous activism in Canada.