Indigenous North Americans
In Canada, the
First Nations (French: Premières Nations) are the
predominant indigenous peoples in
Canada south of the
Those in the
Arctic area are distinct and known as Inuit. The Métis,
another distinct ethnicity, developed after European contact and
relations primarily between
First Nations people and Europeans.
There are currently 634 recognized
First Nations governments or
bands spread across Canada, roughly half of which are in the provinces
Ontario and British Columbia.
Under the Employment Equity Act,
First Nations are a "designated
group", along with women, visible minorities, and people with physical
or mental disabilities.
First Nations are not defined as a visible
minority under the Act or by the criteria of Statistics Canada.
North American indigenous peoples have cultures spanning thousands of
years. Some of their oral traditions accurately describe historical
events, such as the Cascadia earthquake of 1700 and the 18th century
Tseax Cone eruption. Written records began with the arrival of
European explorers and colonists during the Age of Discovery,
beginning in the late 15th century. European accounts by
trappers, traders, explorers, and missionaries give important evidence
of early contact culture. In addition, archeological and
anthropological research, as well as linguistics, have helped scholars
piece together an understanding of ancient cultures and historic
Although not without conflict, Euro-Canadians' early interactions with
First Nations, Métis, and
Inuit populations were less combative
compared to the often violent battles between colonists and native
peoples in the United States. Combined with later economic
development, this relatively non-combative history has allowed First
Nations peoples to have an influence on Canadian national culture,
while preserving their own identities.
2.2 European contact
2.3 16th–18th centuries
2.3.1 The Métis
2.3.2 Colonial wars
2.4 19th century
2.4.1 Colonization and integration
2.5 20th century
2.6 First and Second World Wars
2.7 Late 20th century
2.7.1 1969 White Paper
2.7.2 Health transfer policy
Elijah Harper and the Meech Lake Accord
2.7.4 Women's status and Bill C-31
2.7.5 Erasmus–Dussault commission
2.8 Early 21st century
3 Canadian Crown and
First Nations relations
3.2 Political organization
5 Contemporary issues
5.1 Residential schools
5.3 Self governance
5.4 Crime and incarceration
5.5.2 Life expectancy
5.5.4 Drinking water
5.6 Missing and murdered women
5.7 Missing and murdered men
6 See also
8 Further reading
9 External links
See also: Section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982
Collectively, First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples
Indigenous peoples in Canada,
Indigenous peoples of the
Americas, or first peoples. First
Nation came into common
usage in the 1980s to replace the term Indian band in referring to
groups of Indians with common government and language. Elder Sol
Sanderson says that he coined the term in the early 1980s. Others
say that the term came into common usage in the 1970s to avoid using
the word Indian, which some
Canadians considered offensive. No legal
definition of the term exists. Some indigenous peoples in
also adopted the term First
Nation to replace the word band in the
formal name of their community. A band is a legally recognized
"body of Indians for whose collective use and benefit lands have been
set apart or money is held by the Canadian Crown, or declared to be a
band for the purposes of the Indian Act."
While the word Indian is still a legal term, its use is erratic and in
decline in Canada. Some
First Nations people consider the term
offensive, while others prefer it to "Indigenous
person/persons/people." The term is a misnomer given to indigenous
peoples of North America by European explorers who erroneously thought
they had landed on the Indian subcontinent. The use of the term Native
Americans, which the US government and others have adopted, is not
common in Canada. It refers more specifically to the Indigenous
peoples residing within the boundaries of the United States. The
parallel term Native Canadian is not commonly used, but Native (in
English) and autochtone (in Canadian French; from the Greek auto, own,
and chthon, land) are. Under the Royal Proclamation of 1763, also
known as the "Indian Magna Carta," the Crown referred to
indigenous peoples in British territory as tribes or nations. The term
First Nations is capitalized. Bands and nations may have slightly
First Nations has come into general use for the
indigenous peoples of the Americas. Individuals using the term outside
Canada include U.S. tribes within the Pacific Northwest, as well as
supporters of the Cascadian independence movement. The singular,
commonly used on culturally politicized reserves, is the term First
Nations person (when gender-specific,
First Nations man or First
Nations woman). A more recent trend is for members of various nations
to refer to themselves by their tribal or national identity only,
e.g., "I'm Haida", or "We're Kwantlens", in recognition of the
distinctive First Nations.
For pre-history, see:
Paleo-Indians and Archaic periods (Canada)
First Nations by linguistic-cultural area: List of First Nations
First Nations peoples had settled and established trade routes across
what is now
Canada by 1,000 BC to 500 BC. Communities developed, each
with its own culture, customs, and character. In the northwest
were the Athapaskan-speaking peoples, Slavey, Tłı̨chǫ,
Tutchone-speaking peoples, and Tlingit. Along the Pacific coast were
the Haida, Salish, Kwakiutl, Nuu-chah-nulth,
Nisga'a and Gitxsan. In
the plains were the Blackfoot, Kainai, Sarcee and Northern Peigan. In
the northern woodlands were the
Cree and Chipewyan. Around the Great
Lakes were the Anishinaabe, Algonquin,
Iroquois and Wyandot. Along the
Atlantic coast were the Beothuk, Maliseet, Innu,
Abenaki and Micmac.
The Blackfoot Confederacies reside in the
Great Plains of
Canadian provinces of Alberta,
British Columbia and
Saskatchewan.:5 The name "Blackfoot" came from the colour of the
peoples' leather footwear, known as moccasins. They had dyed or
painted the bottoms of their moccasins black. One account claimed that
the Blackfoot Confederacies walked through the ashes of prairie fires,
which in turn coloured the bottoms of their moccasins black.:5
They had migrated onto the
Great Plains and west from the upper
Northeastern area. The Blackfoot started as Woodland Nations but as
they made their way over to the Plains, they adapted to new ways of
life and became accustomed to the land. They established
Plains Indians in the late 18th century, earning
themselves the name "The Lords of the Plains".
Squamish history is a series of past events, both passed on
through oral tradition and recent history, of the Squamish indigenous
peoples of the
Pacific Northwest Coast. Prior to colonization, they
recorded their history through oral tradition as a way to transmit
stories, law, and knowledge across generations. This was common among
all the peoples. The writing system established in the 1970s used
Latin alphabet as a base. Knowledgeable elders had the
responsibility to pass historical knowledge to the next generation.
People lived and prospered for thousands of years until the Great
Flood. In another story, after the Flood, they would repopulate from
the villages of Schenks and Chekwelp, located at Gibsons. When the
water lines receded, the first Squamish came to be. The first man,
named Tseḵánchten, built his longhouse in the village, and later on
another man named Xelálten, appeared on his longhouse roof and sent
by the Creator, or in the
Squamish language keke7nex siyam. He called
this man his brother. It was from these two men that the population
began to rise and the Squamish spread back through their
Iroquois influence extended from northern New York into what are
Ontario and the Montreal area of modern Quebec. The
Iroquois Confederacy is, from oral tradition, formed circa 1142.
Adept at cultivating Three Sisters (maize/beans/squash), the Iroquois
became powerful because of their confederacy. Gradually the
Algonquians adopted agricultural practises enabling larger populations
to be sustained.
The Assiniboine were close allies and trading partners of the Cree,
engaging in wars against the
Gros Ventres alongside them, and later
fighting the Blackfeet. A Plains people, they went no further
north than the North
Saskatchewan River and purchased a great deal of
European trade goods through
Cree middlemen from the Hudson's Bay
Company. The life style of this group was semi-nomadic, and they would
follow the herds of bison during the warmer months. They traded with
European traders, and worked with the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara
In the earliest oral history, the Algonquins were from the Atlantic
coast. Together with other Anicinàpek, they arrived at the "First
Stopping Place" near Montreal. While the other Anicinàpe peoples
continued their journey up the St. Lawrence River, the Algonquins
settled along the Kitcisìpi (Ottawa River), an important highway for
commerce, cultural exchange, and transportation from time immemorial.
A distinct Algonquin identity, though, was not realized until after
the dividing of the Anicinàpek at the "Third Stopping Place",
estimated at about 2,000 years ago near present-day Detroit.
Ojibwe Wigwam at Grand Portage by Eastman Johnson
According to their tradition, and from recordings in wiigwaasabak
(birch bark scrolls),
Ojibwe (an Algonquian-speaking people) came from
the eastern areas of North America, or Turtle Island, and from along
the east coast. They traded widely across the continent for
thousands of years and knew of the canoe routes west and a land route
to the west coast. According to the oral history, seven great miigis
(radiant/iridescent) beings appeared to the peoples in the
Waabanakiing to teach the peoples of the mide way of life. One of the
seven great miigis beings was too spiritually powerful and killed the
peoples in the Waabanakiing when the people were in its presence. The
six great miigis beings remained to teach while the one returned into
the ocean. The six great miigis beings then established doodem (clans)
for the peoples in the east. Of these doodem, the five original
Anishinaabe doodem were the Wawaazisii (Bullhead), Baswenaazhi
(Echo-maker, i.e., Crane), Aan'aawenh (Pintail Duck), Nooke (Tender,
i.e., Bear) and Moozoonsii (Little Moose), then these six miigis
beings returned into the ocean as well. If the seventh miigis being
stayed, it would have established the Thunderbird doodem.
Chief Anotklosh of the Taku Tribe.
Nuu-chah-nulth are one of the
Indigenous peoples of the Pacific
Northwest Coast. The term 'Nuu-chah-nulth' is used to describe fifteen
separate but related First Nations, such as the Tla-o-qui-aht First
Nations, Ehattesaht First
Nation and Hesquiaht First
traditional home is in the
Pacific Northwest on the west coast of
Vancouver Island. In pre-contact and early post-contact times, the
number of nations was much greater, but smallpox and other
consequences of contact resulted in the disappearance of groups, and
the absorption of others into neighbouring groups. The Nuu-chah-nulth
are relations of the Kwakwaka'wakw, the Haisla, and the Ditidaht. The
Nuu-chah-nulth language is part of the Wakashan language group.
A 1999 discovery of the body of
Kwäday Dän Ts'ìnchi
Kwäday Dän Ts'ìnchi has provided
archaeologists with significant information on indigenous tribal life
prior to extensive European contact.
Kwäday Dän Ts'ìnchi
Kwäday Dän Ts'ìnchi (meaning
Long Ago Person Found in Southern Tutchone), or Canadian Ice Man, is a
naturally mummified body found in Tatshenshini-Alsek Provincial Park
in British Columbia, by a group of hunters.
Radiocarbon dating of
artifacts found with the body placed the age of the find between 1450
AD and 1700 AD.
Genetic testing has shown he was a member of
the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations. Local clans are considering
a memorial potlatch to honour Kwäday Dän Ts’ìnchi.
Hudson's Bay Company
Hudson's Bay Company and North American fur trade
Linguistic areas of North American
Indigenous peoples at the time of
Aboriginal people in
Canada interacted with Europeans as far back as
1000 AD,:Part 1 but prolonged contact came only after Europeans
established permanent settlements in the 17th and 18th centuries.
European written accounts noted friendliness on the part of the First
Nations,:Part 1 who profited in trade with Europeans. Such trade
strengthened the more organized political entities such as the
Iroquois Confederation.:Ch 6 The Aboriginal population is estimated
to have been between 200,000 and two million in the late 15th
century. The effect of European colonization was a forty to eighty
percent Aboriginal population decrease post-contact. This is
attributed to various factors, including repeated outbreaks of
European infectious diseases such as influenza, measles and smallpox
(to which they had no natural immunity), inter-nation conflicts over
the fur trade, conflicts with colonial authorities and settlers and
loss of land and a subsequent loss of nation self-suffiency. For
example, during the late 1630s, smallpox killed over half of the
Huron, who controlled most of the early fur trade in what became
Canada. Reduced to fewer than 10,000 people, the Huron were attacked
by the Iroquois, their traditional enemies. In the Maritimes, the
Beothuk disappeared entirely.
There are reports of contact made before
Christopher Columbus between
the first peoples and those from other continents. Even in Columbus'
time there was much speculation that other Europeans had made the trip
in ancient or contemporary times; Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo y
Valdés records accounts of these in his General y natural historia de
las Indias of 1526, which includes biographical information on
Columbus. Aboriginal first contact period is not well defined. The
earliest accounts of contact occurred in the late 10th century,
Beothuk and Norseman. According to the Sagas of
Icelanders, the first European to see what is now
Canada was Bjarni
Herjólfsson, who was blown off course en route from
Greenland in the summer of 985 or 986 CE. The first European
explorers and settlers of what is now
Canada relied on the First
Nations peoples, for resources and trade to sustain a living. The
first written accounts of interaction show a predominantly Old world
bias, labelling the indigenous peoples as savages, although the
indigenous peoples were organized and self-sufficient. Although not
without conflict, European/Canadian early interactions with First
Inuit populations were relatively peaceful, compared to
the experience of native peoples in the United States.
See also: European colonization of the Americas
The Portuguese Crown claimed it had territorial rights in the area
visited by Cabot. In 1493
Pope Alexander VI
Pope Alexander VI – assuming international
jurisdiction – had divided lands discovered in America between Spain
and Portugal. The next year, in the
Treaty of Tordesillas, these two
kingdoms decided to draw the dividing line running north–south, 370
leagues (from 1,500 to 2,200 km (930 to 1,370 mi)
approximately depending on the league used) west of the Cape Verde
Islands. Land to the west would be Spanish, to the east Portuguese.
Given the uncertain geography of the day, this seemed to give the "new
founde isle" to Portugal. On the 1502 Cantino map, Newfoundland
appears on the Portuguese side of the line (as does Brazil). An
expedition captured about 60 Aboriginal people as slaves who were said
to "resemble gypsies in colour, features, stature and aspect; are
clothed in the skins of various animals ...They are very shy and
gentle, but well formed in arms and legs and shoulders beyond
description ...." Some captives, sent by Gaspar Corte-Real, reached
Portugal. The others drowned, with Gaspar, on the return voyage.
Gaspar's brother, Miguel Corte-Real, went to look for him in 1502, but
also failed to return. Scholars believe that Miguel
Corte-Real carved inscriptions on the controversial Dighton Rock.
Non-Native American nations' claims over North America, 1750–2008.
In 1604 King
Henry IV of France
Henry IV of France granted
Pierre Dugua, Sieur de Mons
Pierre Dugua, Sieur de Mons a
fur-trade monopoly. Dugua led his first colonization expedition to
an island located near to the mouth of the St. Croix River. Samuel de
Champlain, his geographer, promptly carried out a major exploration of
the northeastern coastline of what is now the United States. Under
Samuel de Champlain, the Saint Croix settlement moved to Port Royal
(today's Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia), a new site across the Bay of
Fundy, on the shore of the Annapolis Basin, an inlet in western Nova
Acadia became France's most successful colony to that
time. The cancellation of Dugua's fur monopoly in 1607 ended the
Port Royal settlement. Champlain persuaded
First Nations to allow him
to settle along the St. Lawrence, where in 1608 he would found
France's first permanent colony in
Canada at Quebec City. The colony
Acadia grew slowly, reaching a population of about 5,000 by 1713.
New France had cod-fishery coastal communities, and farm economies
supported communities along the St. Lawrence River. French voyageurs
travelled deep into the hinterlands (of what is today Quebec, Ontario,
and Manitoba, as well as what is now the American Midwest and the
Mississippi Valley), trading with
First Nations as they went – guns,
gunpowder, cloth, knives, and kettles for beaver furs. The fur
trade kept the interest in France's overseas colonies alive, yet only
encouraged a small colonial population, as minimal labour was
required. The trade also discouraged the development of agriculture,
the surest foundation of a colony in the New World.
Main article: Métis in Canada
The Métis (from French métis – "mixed") are descendants of unions
between Cree, Ojibwe, Algonquin, Saulteaux, Menominee, Mi'kmaq,
Maliseet, and other
First Nations in the 16th, 17th, 18th and 19th
centuries and Europeans, mainly French. According to Indian
and Northern Affairs Canada, the Métis were historically the children
of French fur traders and Nehiyaw women or, from unions of English or
Scottish traders and Northern Dene women (Anglo-Métis). The Métis
spoke or still speak either
Métis French or a mixed language called
Michif. Michif, Mechif or Métchif is a phonetic spelling of the
Métis pronunciation of Métif, a variant of Métis. The Métis as of
2013[update] predominantly speak English, with French a strong second
language, as well as numerous Aboriginal tongues.
Métis French is
best preserved in Canada, Michif in the United States, notably in the
Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation
Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation of North Dakota, where Michif is
the official language of the Métis that reside on this Chippewa
reservation. The encouragement and use of
Métis French and Michif is
growing due to outreach within the provincial Métis councils after at
least a generation of steep decline. Canada's Indian and Northern
Affairs define Métis to be those persons of mixed First
Main articles: French and Indian Wars, Father Rale's War, and Father
Le Loutre's War
Conference between the French and
First Nations leaders by Émile
Allied with the French, the first nations of the Wabanaki Confederacy
Acadia fought six colonial wars against the British and their
native allies (See the French and Indian Wars,
Father Rale's War
Father Rale's War and
Father Le Loutre's War). In the second war, Queen Anne's War, the
Acadia (1710). The sixth and final colonial war
between the nations of France and Great Britain (1754–1763),
resulted in the French giving up their claims and the British claimed
the lands of Canada.
In this final war, the
Franco-Indian alliance brought together
First Nations and the French, centred on the Great Lakes
and the Illinois Country. The alliance involved French settlers on
the one side, and on the other side were the Abenaki, Odawa,
Ho-Chunk (Winnebago), Mississaugas, Illiniwek, Huron-Petun,
Potawatomi etc. It allowed the French and the Indians to form a
haven in the middle-Ohio valley before the open conflict between the
European powers erupted.
In the Royal Proclamation of 1763, the British recognized the treaty
rights of the indigenous populations and resolved to only settle those
areas purchased lawfully from the indigenous peoples. Treaties and
land purchases were made in several cases by the British, but the
lands of several indigenous nations remain unceded and/or unresolved.
Main article: Slavery in Canada
First Nations routinely captured slaves from neighbouring tribes.
Sources report that the conditions under which
First Nations slaves
lived could be brutal, with the
Makah tribe practicing death by
starvation as punishment and Pacific coast tribes routinely performing
ritualized killings of slaves as part of social ceremonies into the
mid-1800s. Slave-owning tribes of the fishing societies, such as
the Yurok and Haida lived along the coast from what is now
California. Fierce warrior indigenous slave-traders of the Pacific
Northwest Coast raided as far south as California. Slavery was
hereditary, the slaves and their descendants being considered
prisoners of war. Some tribes in
British Columbia continued to
segregate and ostracize the descendants of slaves as late as the
Pacific Northwest tribes about a quarter of the
population were slaves.
The citizens of
New France received slaves as gifts from their allies
First Nations peoples. Slaves were prisoners taken in raids
against the villages of the Fox nation, a tribe that was an ancient
rival of the Miami people and their Algonquian allies. Native (or
"pani", a corruption of Pawnee) slaves were much easier to obtain and
thus more numerous than African slaves in New France, but were less
valued. The average native slave died at 18, and the average African
slave died at 25 (the average European could expect to live until
the age of 35). By 1790 the abolition movement was gaining ground
Canada and the ill intent of slavery was evidenced by an incident
involving a slave woman being violently abused by her slave owner on
her way to being sold in the United States. The Act Against
Slavery of 1793 legislated the gradual abolition of slavery: no slaves
could be imported; slaves already in the province would remain
enslaved until death, no new slaves could be brought into Upper
Canada, and children born to female slaves would be slaves but must be
freed at age 25. The Act remained in force until 1833 when the
British Parliament's Slavery Abolition Act finally abolished slavery
in all parts of the British Empire. Historian
Marcel Trudel has
documented 4,092 recorded slaves throughout Canadian history, of which
2,692 were Aboriginal people, owned by the French, and 1,400 blacks
owned by the British, together owned by approximately 1,400
masters. Trudel also noted 31 marriages took place between French
colonists and Aboriginal slaves.
Fur traders in Canada, trading with First Nations, 1777
British agents worked to make the
First Nations into military allies
of the British, providing supplies, weapons, and encouragement. During
American Revolutionary War
American Revolutionary War (1775–1783) most of the tribes
supported the British. In 1779, the Americans launched a campaign to
burn the villages of the
Iroquois in New York State. The refugees
fled to Fort Niagara and other British posts, and remained permanently
in Canada. Although the British ceded the Old Northwest to the United
States in the
Treaty of Paris in 1783, it kept fortifications and
trading posts in the region until 1795. The British then evacuated
American territory, but operated trading posts in British territory,
providing weapons and encouragement to tribes that were resisting
American expansion into such areas as Ohio, Indiana, Michigan,
Illinois and Wisconsin. Officially, the British agents discouraged
any warlike activities or raids on American settlements, but the
Americans became increasingly angered, and this became one of the
causes of the War of 1812.
In the war, the great majority of
First Nations supported the British,
and many fought under the aegis of Tecumseh. But
Tecumseh died in
battle in 1813 and the Indian coalition collapsed. The British had
long wished to create a neutral Indian state in the American Old
Northwest, and made this demand as late as 1814 at the peace
negotiations at Ghent. The Americans rejected the idea, the British
dropped it, and Britain's Indian allies lost British support. In
addition, the Indians were no longer able to gather furs in American
territory. Abandoned by their powerful sponsor, Great Lakes-area
natives ultimately assimilated into American society, migrated to the
west or to Canada, or were relocated onto reservations in Michigan and
Wisconsin. Historians have unanimously agreed that the Indians
were the major losers in the War of 1812.
North-West Rebellion and Red River Rebellion
Assiniboine hunting buffalo, c. 1851
Living conditions for Indigenous people in the prairie regions
deteriorated quickly. Between 1875 and 1885, settlers and hunters of
European descent contributed to hunting the North American bison
almost to extinction; the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway
brought large numbers of European settlers west who encroached on
Indigenous territory. European
Canadians established governments,
police forces, and courts of law with different foundations from
indigenous practices. Various epidemics continued to devastate
Indigenous communities. All of these factors had a profound effect on
Indigenous people, particularly those from the plains who had relied
heavily on bison for food and clothing. Most of those nations that
agreed to treaties had negotiated for a guarantee of food and help to
begin farming. Just as the bison disappeared (the last Canadian
hunt was in 1879), Lieutenant-Governor
Edgar Dewdney cut rations to
indigenous people in an attempt to reduce government costs. Between
1880 and 1885, approximately 3,000 Indigenous people starved to death
in the North-Western Territory/Northwest Territories.
Offended by the concepts of the treaties,
Cree chiefs resisted them.
Bear refused to sign
Treaty 6 until starvation among his people
forced his hand in 1882. His attempts to unite Indigenous nations
made progress. In 1884 the Métis (including the Anglo-Métis) asked
Louis Riel to return from the United States, where he had fled after
the Red River Rebellion, to appeal to the government on their behalf.
The government gave a vague response. In March 1885, Riel, Gabriel
Honoré Jackson (a.k.a. Will Jackson), Crowfoot, Chief of the
Nation and Chief Poundmaker, who after the 1876
Treaty 6 split off to form his band. Together,
they set up the Provisional Government of Saskatchewan, believing that
they could influence the federal government in the same way as they
had in 1869. The
North-West Rebellion of 1885 was a brief and
unsuccessful uprising by the Métis people of the District of
Louis Riel against the Dominion of Canada, which
they believed had failed to address their concerns for the survival of
their people. In 1884, 2,000
Cree from reserves met near
Battleford to organise into a large, cohesive resistance. Discouraged
by the lack of government response but encouraged by the efforts of
the Métis at armed rebellion, Wandering Spirit and other young
Cree attacked the small town of Frog Lake, killing Thomas
Quinn, the hated Indian Agent and eight others. Although Big Bear
actively opposed the attacks, he was charged and tried for treason and
sentenced to three years in prison. After the
Red River Rebellion
Red River Rebellion of
1869–1870, Métis moved from
Manitoba to the District of
Saskatchewan, where they founded a settlement at Batoche on the South
Mi'kmaq Grand Chief
Jacques-Pierre Peminuit Paul
Jacques-Pierre Peminuit Paul (3rd from left with
beard) meets Governor General of Canada, Marquess of Lorne, Red
Chamber, Province House, Halifax, Nova Scotia, 1879
Manitoba settlers from
Ontario began to arrive. They pushed for
land to be allotted in the square concession system of English Canada,
rather than the seigneurial system of strips reaching back from a
river which the Métis were familiar with in their French-Canadian
culture. The buffalo were being hunted to extinction by the Hudson's
Bay Company and other hunters, as for generations the Métis had
depended on them as a chief source of food.
Colonization and integration
Canadian Indian residential school system
Canadian Indian residential school system and Indian
Residential Schools Truth and Reconciliation Commission
St. Paul's Indian Industrial School, Manitoba, 1901
The history of colonization is complex, varied according to the time
and place. France and Britain were the main colonial powers involved,
United States also began to extend its territory at the
expense of indigenous people as well.
From the late 18th century, European
Canadians encouraged First
Nations to assimilate into the European-based culture, referred to as
"Canadian culture". The assumption was that this was the "correct"
culture because the
Canadians of European descent saw themselves as
dominant, and technologically, politically and culturally
superior. There was resistance against this assimilation and many
businesses denied European practices. The
Tecumseh Wigwam of Toronto,
for example, did not adhere to the widely practiced Lord's Day
observance, making it a popular spot, especially on Sundays. These
attempts reached a climax in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Founded in the 19th century, the Canadian Indian residential school
system was intended to force the assimilation of Aboriginal and First
Nations people into European-Canadian society. The purpose of the
schools, which separated children from their families, has been
described by commentators as "killing the Indian in the
Buying provisions, Hudson's Bay territory, 1870s
Funded under the
Indian Act by Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, a
branch of the federal government, the schools were run by churches of
various denominations – about 60% by Roman Catholics, and 30% by the
Anglican Church of
Canada and the United Church of Canada, along with
its pre-1925 predecessors, Presbyterian, Congregationalist and
The attempt to force assimilation involved punishing children for
speaking their own languages or practicing their own faiths, leading
to allegations in the 20th century of cultural genocide and ethnocide.
There was widespread physical and sexual abuse. Overcrowding, poor
sanitation, and a lack of medical care led to high rates of
tuberculosis, and death rates of up to 69%. Details of the
mistreatment of students had been published numerous times throughout
the 20th century, but following the closure of the schools in the
1960s, the work of indigenous activists and historians led to a change
in the public perception of the residential school system, as well as
official government apologies, and a (controversial) legal
Colonization had a significant impact on
First Nations diet and
health. According to the historian Mary-Ellen Kelm, “inadequate
reserve allocations, restrictions on the food fishery, overhunting,
and over-trapping” alienated
First Nations from their traditional
way of life, which undermined their physical, mental, emotional, and
Frances Densmore recording Blackfoot chief Mountain
As Canadian ideas of progress evolved around the start of the 20th
century, the federal Indian policy was directed at removing Indigenous
people from their communal lands and encouraging assimilation.
Amendments to the
Indian Act in 1905 and 1911 made it easier for the
government to expropriate reserve lands from First Nations.[citation
needed] The government sold nearly half of the Blackfoot reserve in
Alberta to settlers.
When the Kainai (Blood)
Nation refused to accept the sale of their
lands in 1916 and 1917, the Department of Indian Affairs held back
funding necessary for farming until they relented. In British
McKenna–McBride Royal Commission was created in 1912
to settle disputes over reserve lands in the province. The claims of
Indigenous people were ignored, and the commission allocated new, less
valuable lands (reserves) for First Nations.
Those nations who managed to maintain their ownership of good lands
often farmed successfully. Indigenous people living near the Cowichan
and Fraser rivers, and those from
Saskatchewan managed to produce good
harvests. Since 1881, those
First Nations people living in the
prairie provinces required permits from Indian Agents to sell any of
their produce. Later the government created a pass system in the old
Northwest Territories that required indigenous people to seek written
permission from an Indian Agent before leaving their reserves for any
length of time. Indigenous people regularly defied those laws, as
well as bans on Sun Dances and potlatches, in an attempt to practice
The 1930 Constitution Act or
Natural Resources Acts
Natural Resources Acts was part of a
shift acknowledging indigenous rights. It enabled provincial control
Crown land and allowed Provincial laws regulating game to apply to
Indians, but it also ensured that "Indians shall have the
right ... of hunting, trapping and fishing game and fish for food
at all seasons of the year on all unoccupied Crown lands and on any
other lands to which the said Indians may have a right of access."
First and Second World Wars
Aboriginal War Veterans monument
More than 6,000 First Nations,
Inuit and Métis served with British
forces during First World War and Second World War. A generation of
young native men fought on the battlefields of Europe during the Great
War and approximately 300 of them died there. When
Canada declared war
on Germany on September 10, 1939, the native community quickly
responded to volunteer. Four years later, in May 1943, the government
declared that, as British subjects, all able Indian men of military
age could be called up for training and service in
Canada or overseas.
Late 20th century
Following the end of the Second World War, laws concerning First
Canada began to change, albeit slowly. The federal
prohibition of potlatch and
Sun Dance ceremonies ended in 1951.
Provincial governments began to accept the right of Indigenous people
to vote. In June 1956, section 9 of the Citizenship Act was amended to
grant formal citizenship to Status Indians and Inuit, retroactively as
of January 1947.
First Nations people received the right to vote in federal
elections without forfeiting their Indian status. By comparison,
Native Americans in the United States
Native Americans in the United States had been allowed to vote since
1969 White Paper
Main article: 1969 White Paper
In his 1969 White Paper, then-Minister of Indian Affairs, Jean
Chrétien, proposed the abolition of the
Indian Act of Canada, the
rejection of Aboriginal land claims, and the assimilation of First
Nations people into the Canadian population with the status of "other
ethnic minorities" rather than as a distinct group.
Harold Cardinal and the Indian Chiefs of
Alberta responded with a
document entitled "Citizens Plus" but commonly known as the "Red
Paper". In it, they explained Status Indians' widespread opposition to
Chrétien's proposal. Prime Minister
Pierre Trudeau and the Liberals
began to back away from the 1969 White Paper, particularly after the
Calder case decision in 1973. After the Canadian Supreme Court
recognized that indigenous rights and treaty rights were not
extinguished, a process was begun to resolve land claims and treaty
rights and is ongoing today.
Health transfer policy
Main article: Indian Health Transfer Policy (Canada)
In 1970, severe mercury poisoning, called
Ontario Minamata disease,
was discovered among Asubpeeschoseewagong First
Wabaseemoong Independent Nations
Wabaseemoong Independent Nations people, who lived near Dryden,
Ontario. There was extensive mercury pollution caused by Dryden
Chemicals Company's waste water effluent in the Wabigoon-English River
system. Because local fish were no longer safe to eat, the
Ontario provincial government closed the commercial fisheries run by
Nation people and ordered them to stop eating local fish.
Previously it had made up the majority of their diet. In addition
to the acute mercury poisoning in northwestern Ontario, Aamjiwnaang
Nation people near Sarnia, Ontario, experienced a wide range of
chemical effects, including severe mercury poisoning. They suffered
low birth rates, skewed birth-gender ratio, and health effects among
the population. This led to legislation and eventually the
Indian Health Transfer Policy that provided a framework for the
assumption of control of health services by
First Nations people, and
set forth a developmental approach to transfer centred on the concept
of self-determination in health. Through this process, the
decision to enter into transfer discussions with Health
with each community. Once involved in transfer, communities are able
to take control of health programme responsibilities at a pace
determined by their individual circumstances and health management
The capacity, experience and relationships developed by First Nations
as a result of health transfer was a factor that assisted the creation
First Nations Health Authority in British Columbia.
Elijah Harper and the Meech Lake Accord
Main article: Meech Lake Accord
In 1981, Elijah Harper, a
Cree from Red Sucker Lake, Manitoba, became
the first "
Treaty Indian" in
Manitoba to be elected as a member of the
Legislative Assembly of Manitoba. In 1990, Harper achieved national
fame by holding an eagle feather as he refused to accept the Meech
Lake Accord, a constitutional amendment package negotiated to gain
Quebec's acceptance of the Constitution Act, 1982, but also one that
did not address any
First Nations grievances. The accord was
negotiated in 1987 without the input of Canada's Aboriginal
peoples. The third, final constitutional conference on
Aboriginal peoples was also unsuccessful. The
Manitoba assembly was
required to unanimously consent to a motion allowing it to hold a vote
on the accord, because of a procedural rule. Twelve days before the
ratification deadline for the Accord, Harper began a filibuster that
prevented the assembly from ratifying the accord. Because Meech Lake
failed in Manitoba, the proposed constitutional amendment failed.
Harper also opposed the
Charlottetown Accord in 1992, even though
Assembly of First Nations
Assembly of First Nations Chief
Ovide Mercredi supported it.
Women's status and Bill C-31
Main article: Indian Act
According to the Indian Act, status Indian women who married men who
were not status Indians lost their treaty status, and their children
would not get status. However, in the reverse situation, if a status
Indian man married a woman who was not a status Indian, the man would
keep his status and his children would also receive treaty status. In
the 1970s, the Indian Rights for Indian Women and Native Women's
Canada groups campaigned against this policy because it
discriminated against women and failed to fulfill treaty promises.
They successfully convinced the federal government to change the
section of the act with the adoption of Bill C-31 on June 28, 1985.
Women who had lost their status and children who had been excluded
were then able to register and gain official Indian status. Despite
these changes, status Indian women who married men who were not status
Indians could pass their status on only one generation: their children
would gain status, but (without a marriage to a full-status Indian)
their grandchildren would not. A status Indian man who married a woman
who was not a status Indian retained status as did his children, but
his wife did not gain status, nor did his grandchildren.
Bill C-31 also gave elected bands the power to regulate who was
allowed to reside on their reserves and to control development on
their reserves. It abolished the concept of "enfranchisement" by which
First Nations people could gain certain rights by renouncing their
Main article: Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples
In 1991, Prime Minister
Brian Mulroney created the Royal Commission on
Aboriginal Peoples chaired by René Dussault and Georges Erasmus.
Their 1996 report proposed the creation of a government for (and by)
First Nations that would be responsible within its own
jurisdiction, and with which the federal government would speak on a
"Nation-to-Nation" basis. This proposal offered a far different
way of doing politics than the traditional policy of assigning First
Nations matters under the jurisdiction of the Indian and Northern
Affairs, managed by one minister of the federal cabinet. The report
also recommended providing the governments of the
First Nations with
up to $2 billion every year until 2010, in order to reduce the
economic gap between the
First Nations and the rest of the Canadian
citizenry. The money would represent an increase of at least 50%
to the budget of Indian and Northern Affairs. The report engaged
First Nations leaders to think of ways to cope with the challenging
issues their people were facing, so the
First Nations could take their
destiny into their own hands.
The federal government, then headed by Jean Chrétien, responded to
the report a year later by officially presenting its apologies for the
forced acculturation the federal government had imposed on the First
Nations, and by offering an "initial" provision of $350 million.
In the spirit of the Eramus–Dussault commission, tripartite
(federal, provincial, and First Nations) accords have been signed
since the report was issued. Several political crises between
different provincial governments and different bands of the First
Nations also occurred in the late 20th century, notably the Oka
Crisis, Ipperwash Crisis, Burnt Church Crisis, and the Gustafsen Lake
Early 21st century
Grand River land dispute
Grand River land dispute and Kelowna Accord
In 2001, the Quebec government, the federal government, and the Cree
Nation signed "La Paix des Braves" (The Peace of the Braves, a
reference to the 1701 peace treaty between the French and the Iroquois
League). The agreement allowed
Hydro-Québec to exploit the province's
hydroelectric resources in exchange for an allocation of $3.5 billion
to be given to the government of the
Cree Nation. Later, the
northern Quebec (Nunavik) joined in the agreement.
The defence of
In 2005, the leaders of the First Nations, various provincial
governments, and the federal government produced an agreement called
the Kelowna Accord, which would have yielded $5 billion over 10 years,
but the new federal government of
Stephen Harper (2006) did not follow
through on the working paper. First Nations, along with the Métis and
the Inuit, have claimed to receive inadequate funding for education,
and allege their rights have been overlooked. James Bartleman,
Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, listed the encouragement of indigenous
young people as one of his key priorities. During his term that began
in 2002, he launched initiatives to promote literacy and bridge
building. Bartleman himself is the first Aboriginal person to hold the
lieutenant governor's position in Ontario.
As of 2006, 76
First Nations communities exist in boil-water advisory
conditions. In late 2005, the drinking water crisis of the
Nation received national media attention when E.
coli was discovered in their water supply system, following two years
of living under a boil-water advisory. The drinking water was supplied
by a new treatment plant built in March 1998. The cause of the tainted
water was a plugged chlorine injector that was not discovered by local
operators, who were not qualified to be running the treatment plant.
When officials arrived and fixed the problem, chlorine levels were
around 1.7 mg/l, which was blamed for skin disorders such as
impetigo and scabies. An investigation led by Health
that the skin disorders were likely due to living in squalor. The
evacuation of Kashechewan was largely viewed by
Canadians as a cry for
help for other underlying social and economic issues which Aboriginal
On June 29, 2007, Canadian Aboriginal groups held countrywide protests
aimed at ending
First Nations poverty, dubbed the Aboriginal Day of
Action. The demonstrations were largely peaceful, although groups
disrupted transportation with blockades or bonfires; a stretch of the
Highway 401 was shut down, as was the Canadian National Railway's line
Toronto and Montreal.
Idle No More
Idle No More protest movement originated among the Aboriginals in
Canada and their non-Aboriginal supporters in Canada, and to a lesser
extent, internationally. It consisted of a number of political actions
worldwide, inspired in part by the hunger strike of
Theresa Spence and further coordinated via social media. A
reaction to alleged abuses of indigenous treaty rights by the current
federal government, the movement takes particular issue with the
recent omnibus bill Bill C-45.
Canadian Crown and
First Nations relations
Main article: The Canadian Crown and
Indigenous peoples of Canada
David Laird explaining
Treaty #8, Fort Vermilion, 1899
The relationship between the Canadian Crown and the First Nations,
Inuit, and Métis peoples of
Canada stretches back to the first
interactions between European colonialists and North American
indigenous people. Over centuries of interaction, treaties were
established, and Canada's
First Nations have, like the Māori and the
Treaty of Waitangi in New Zealand, come to generally view these
agreements as being between them and the Crown of Canada, and not the
The associations exist between the Aboriginal peoples of
the reigning monarch of Canada; as was stated in the proposed First
Nations – Federal Crown Political Accord: "cooperation will be
a cornerstone for partnership between
Canada and First Nations,
Canada is the short-form reference to Her Majesty the Queen in
Right of Canada". These relations are governed by the established
treaties; the Supreme
Court stated that treaties "served to reconcile
pre-existing Aboriginal sovereignty with assumed Crown sovereignty,
and to define Aboriginal rights," and the
First Nations saw these
agreements as meant to last "as long as the sun shines, grass grows
and rivers flow".
Although taxes are not specifically addressed in the written terms of
any treaties, assurances regarding taxation were clearly offered when
at least some treaties were negotiated.
The various statutory exemptions from taxation are established under
the current Indian Act, which reads:
87(1). Notwithstanding any other Act of Parliament or any Act of the
legislature of a province ... the following property is exempt from
(a) the interest of an Indian or a band in reserve lands or
surrendered lands; and
(b) the personal property of an Indian or a band situated on a
87(2). No Indian or band is subject to taxation in respect of the
ownership, occupation, possession or use of any property mentioned in
paragraph (1)(a) or (b) or is otherwise subject to taxation in respect
of any such property.
Many scholars  believe these exemptions serve to oppress
Aboriginal peoples by allowing conservative minded courts to impart
their own (sometimes discriminatory) views into the Aboriginal
taxation jurisprudence. As one professor wrote:
[Because] income-generating activity in the "commercial mainstream"
contrasts with income-generating activity that is "intimately
connected to" the reserve... [the] Tax
Canada implie[s] that
the "traditional way of life" of Aboriginal peoples d[oes] not embrace
"economic aspects" ... beyond a subsistence economy. [footnotes
First Nations government (Canada)
First Nations government (Canada) and List of First
Self-government has given chiefs and their councils powers which
combine those of a province, school board, health board and
municipality. Councils are also largely self-regulating regarding
utilities, environmental protection, natural resources, building
codes, etc. There is concern that this wide-ranging authority,
concentrated in a single council, might be a cause of the
dysfunctional governments experienced by many First Nations.
Ovide Mercredi, former national chief of the Assembly of First Nations
Assembly of First Nations
Assembly of First Nations (AFN) is a body of
First Nations leaders
in Canada. The aims of the organization are to protect the rights,
treaty obligations, ceremonies, and claims of citizens of the First
Nations in Canada.
After the failures of the League of Indians in
Canada in the Interwar
period and the North American Indian Brotherhood in two decades
following the Second World War, the Aboriginal peoples of Canada
organised themselves once again in the early 1960s. The National
Indian Council was created in 1961 to represent Indigenous people,
including Treaty/Status Indians, non-status people, the Métis people,
though not the Inuit. This organization also collapsed in 1968 as
the three groups failed to act as one, so the non-status and Métis
groups formed the Native Council of
Canada and Treaty/Status groups
formed the National Indian Brotherhood (NIB), an umbrella group for
provincial and territorial
First Nations organizations.
Mythologies of the indigenous peoples of North America
Mythologies of the indigenous peoples of North America and
Classification of indigenous peoples of the Americas
National Aboriginal Day recognizes the cultures and contributions of
Aboriginal peoples of Canada. There are currently over 600
First Nations governments or bands encompassing 1,172,790
2006 people spread across
Canada with distinctive Aboriginal cultures,
languages, art, and music.
First Nations Aboriginal languages
Language families in Northern America at the time of European contact
Today, there are over thirty different languages spoken by indigenous
people, most of which are spoken only in Canada. Many are in decline.
Those with the most speakers include
totalling up to 150,000 speakers);
Inuktitut with about 29,000
speakers in the Northwest Territories, Nunavut,
Nunatsiavut (Northern Labrador); and Mi'kmaq, with around
8,500 speakers, mostly in Eastern Canada. Many Aboriginal peoples have
lost their native languages and often all but surviving elders speak
English or French as their first language.
Two of Canada's territories give official status to native languages.
Inuinnaqtun are official languages alongside
English and French, and
Inuktitut is a common vehicular language in
government. In the Northwest Territories, the Official Languages
Act declares that there are eleven different languages:
Chipewyan, Cree, English, French, Gwich’in, Inuinnaqtun, Inuktitut,
Inuvialuktun, North Slavey, South Slavey and Tłįchǫ. Besides
English and French, these languages are not vehicular in government;
official status entitles citizens to receive services in them on
request and to deal with the government in them.
Main article: Visual arts by indigenous peoples of the Americas
Haida totem pole, Thunderbird Park, Victoria, British Columbia
First Nations were producing art for thousands of years before the
arrival of European settler colonists and the eventual establishment
Canada as a nation state. Like the peoples who produced them,
indigenous art traditions spanned territories across North America.
Indigenous art traditions are organized by art historians according to
cultural, linguistic or regional groups: Northwest Coast, Plateau,
Plains, Eastern Woodlands, Subarctic, and Arctic.
Art traditions vary enormously amongst and within these diverse
groups. Indigenous art with a focus on portability and the body is
distinguished from European traditions and its focus on architecture.
Indigenous visual art may be used in conjunction with other arts.
Shamans' masks and rattles are used ceremoniously in dance,
storytelling and music. Artworks preserved in museum collections
date from the period after European contact and show evidence of the
creative adoption and adaptation of European trade goods such as metal
and glass beads. During the 19th and the first half of the
20th century the Canadian government pursued an active policy of
forced and cultural assimilation toward indigenous peoples. The Indian
Act banned manifestations of the Sun Dance, the Potlatch, and works of
art depicting them.
It was not until the 1950s and 1960s that indigenous artists such as
Bill Reid and
Norval Morrisseau began to publicly renew
and re-invent indigenous art traditions. Currently there are
indigenous artists practising in all media in
Canada and two
Edward Poitras and Rebecca Belmore, have
Canada at the
Venice Biennale in 1995 and 2005
Pow-wow at Eel Ground First Nation
Main article: Indigenous music of Canada
See also: Blackfoot music,
Iroquois music, and
First Nations peoples of
Canada comprise diverse ethnic groups,
each with their own musical traditions. There are general similarities
in the music, but is usually social (public) or ceremonial (private).
Public, social music may be dance music accompanied by rattles and
drums. Private, ceremonial music includes vocal songs with
accompaniment on percussion, used to mark occasions like Midewiwin
ceremonies and Sun Dances.
Traditionally, Aboriginal peoples used the materials at hand to make
their instruments for centuries before Europeans immigrated to
First Nations people made gourds and animal horns into
rattles, which were elaborately carved and beautifully painted.
In woodland areas, they made horns of birch bark and drumsticks of
carved antlers and wood. Traditional percussion instruments such as
drums were generally made of carved wood and animal hides. These
musical instruments provide the background for songs, and songs are
the background for dances. Traditional
First Nations people consider
song and dance to be sacred. For years after Europeans came to Canada,
First Nations people were forbidden to practice their
List of First Nations peoples and List of Indian
reserves in Canada
Cultural areas of North American
Indigenous peoples at the time of
In the 20th century, the
First Nations population of
tenfold. Between 1900 and 1950 the population grew only by 29%
but after the 1960s the infant mortality level on reserves dropped and
the population grew by 161%. Since the 1980s, the number of First
Nations babies more than doubled and currently almost half of the
First Nations population is under the age of 25. As a result, the
First Nations population of
Canada is expected to increase in the
The 2006 census counted a total Aboriginal population of 1,172,790
(3.75%) which includes 698,025 North American Indians (2.23%).
First Nations by Province or Territory
There are distinct
First Nations in Canada, originating across the
country. Indian reserves, established in Canadian law by treaties such
Treaty 7, are the very limited contemporary lands of First Nations
recognized by the non-indigenous governments. A few reserves exist
within cities, such as the Opawikoscikan Reserve in Prince Albert,
Wendake in Quebec City or Stony Plain 135 in the Edmonton Capital
Region. There are more reserves in
Canada than there are First
First Nations were ceded multiple reserves by treaty.
People who self-identify as having North American Indian ancestors are
the plurality in large areas of
Canada (areas coloured in brown).
First Nations can be grouped into cultural areas based on their
ancestors' primary lifeway, or occupation, at the time of European
contact. These culture areas correspond closely with physical and
ecological regions of Canada.
Ethnographers commonly classify indigenous peoples of the Americas in
United States and
Canada into ten geographical regions with shared
cultural traits (called cultural areas). The Canadian (in whole
or in part) regions are Arctic, Subarctic, Northeast Woodlands,
Plains, and Plateau. See the individual article on each tribe, band
society or First Nation.
Indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest Coast
Indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest Coast communities
centred around ocean and river fishing; in the interior of British
Columbia, hunting and gathering and river fishing. In both of these
areas, salmon was of chief importance. For the people of the plains,
bison hunting was the primary activity. In the subarctic forest, other
species such as the moose were more important. For peoples near the
Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River, shifting agriculture was
practised, including the raising of maize, beans, and squash.
Today, Aboriginal people work in a variety of occupations and live
outside their ancestral homes. The traditional cultures of their
ancestors, shaped by nature, still exert a strong influence on their
culture, from spirituality to political attitudes.
First Nations peoples face a number of problems to a greater degree
Canadians overall, many of their living conditions are comparable
to developing nations like Haiti. Aboriginals have higher
rates of unemployment, rates of incarceration, substance
abuse, health problems, homelessness, fetal alcohol
syndrome, lower levels of education and higher levels of
Canadian Indian residential school system
Canadian Indian residential school system and
List of Indian residential schools in Canada
Canada's federal residential school system began in the mid-1870s,
building upon a patchwork of boarding schools established and operated
by various Christian denominations. Member of Parliament for
Assiniboia West, Nicholas Flood Davin, produced a report, known
generally as the Davin Report, that recommended the establishment of a
school system similar to that being created in the United States. One
of its chief goals was to remove Aboriginal children from "the
influence of the wigwam", which he claimed was stronger than that of
existing day schools, and keep them instead "constantly within the
circle of civilized conditions". While the history of the Indian
Residential School system (IRS) is a checkered one, much criticism has
been levelled at both the system and those who established and
supported it. Neglect and poor nutrition were often what Aboriginal
children experienced, particularly in the early decades of the
system's operation. The stripping away of traditional native
culture—sometimes referred to as "cultural genocide"—is another
charge levelled at the residential schools. In many schools, students
were not allowed to speak their Indigenous languages or practice any
of their own customs, and thus lost their sense of identity,
inevitably driving a cultural wedge between children and their
By 1920, attendance at some sort of school was mandatory for
Aboriginal children in Canada. The
Indian Act made education
compulsory, and where there were no federal days schools—or, in
later decades, a provincial public school—a residential school was
the only choice. Enrolment statistics indicate that between 20% and
30% of Aboriginal children during the history of the IRS system
attended a residential school for at least a year, and many were
enrolled for ten years or more. In some cases, children could return
home on weekends and holidays, but for those in schools established
far away from remote communities, this was not possible.
The removal of children from their families and communities brought
short and long term harm to many native communities. While many
schools had infirmaries and provided medical care in later decades,
abuse of various kinds and crowded conditions in the first decades of
the IRS history led to poor health and even death for a percentage of
those enrolled. It has been argued that the psychological and
emotional trauma resulting from both the abuse and the removal of the
children from their families and culture has resulted in substance
abuse, greater domestic violence, unemployability, and increased rates
of suicide. In many cases, children leaving residential schools
found themselves at an intersection of cultures, where they were no
longer comfortable within their own cultures, yet not accepted into
mainstream Canadian culture. Former students are now routinely
referred to as "survivors".
Not all Aboriginal children attended residential schools. During the
period in which the schools operated, more than a third of indigenous
children attended federal day schools, and about a third received no
schooling at all. It is however the residential school system that
receives much of the blame for the various problems and challenges
facing Canada's indigenous people today. During the years in which the
residential schools operated, they were regarded by most
a sensible and beneficial solution to native education, and in some
cases, Aboriginal communities specifically requested that a
residential school be built. When the system began to closing down in
the 1960s, a significant number of communities asked that their school
The last Canadian residential school to close was Gordon Indian
Residential School in Saskatchewan, founded in 1889, and closed in
The Christian denominations that operated the schools on behalf of the
federal government have expressed regret and issued apologies for
their part in a system that harmed many indigenous children. In 2008,
the government issued an official apology to the students who were
forced to attend the residential schools and their families.
In June 2015, the federally-established Truth and Reconciliation
Commission, charged with investigating and reporting on the
residential school system, issued its summary report, and in December
of the same year, its final report. Chief Commissioner, Judge Murray
Sinclair, has publicly declared the residential school system a
deliberate act of cultural genocide against
First Nations peoples. In
its report, the commission submitted 94 recommendations to the
Canadian government, recommendations which, if implemented, would
substantially improve indigenous race relations, increase quality of
life for survivors and extended families, and help undo the damage
caused by residential schools. While the Liberal government, under
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, has committed itself to improving the
lives of Canada's indigenous people, and specifically to implementing
the TRC recommendations, some of those recommendations may be beyond
the power of the Canadian government. The countless research documents
assembled by the TRC will be archived in a special repository at the
University of Manitoba.
The income of women with status living off-reserve was on average
$13,870 a year, according to a 1996 Canadian census. This is about
$5500 less than non-Indigenous women, such as
Inuit and Métis
women,which recorded slightly higher average annual incomes;
regardless of the small discrepancy, all of which are substantially
less than Statistics Canada’s estimated amount of which an
individual living in a large Canadian city would require to meet their
needs. It is not unlikely for Aboriginal women living in poverty to
not only tend to their own needs, but often tend to the needs of their
elderly parents, care for loved ones in ill-health, as well as raising
children; all of which is often supported only on a single income. It
is believed that homelessness and inadequate shelter are widespread
problems facing Aboriginal families, in all settings.
A paramount conclusion by the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples
is that the repeated assaults on the culture and collective identity
of the Aboriginal people has resulted in a weakened foundation of
Aboriginal society and has contributed to the alienation that
inevitably drives some to self-destructive and antisocial behaviour.
The social problems among Aboriginal people are, in large measure, a
legacy of history.
Crime and incarceration
Further information: Gladue report § Over-representation of
Aboriginal People in Criminal Justice System
Aboriginals are also more likely to be the victims of crime. This is
particularly true in the younger population (aged 15–34), where acts
of violence are two and a half times more likely to occur than in the
older population. Domestic violence and sexual abuse against children
is more prevalent in the Aboriginal population with sexual abuse
affecting 25–50% of Aboriginal female children versus 20–25% of
female children in the general population. Children who come from
homes with a history of violence are at a greater risk of becoming the
perpetrators of violence later in life. This is especially true of
As of 2007, 17% of incarcerated individuals in
Canada were of
Aboriginal descent, despite representing only 2.7% of the general
population. This is a sixfold increase in rates of incarceration
within the Aboriginal population as opposed to the general Canadian
population. There are many reasons for the over-representation of
Aboriginals within the Canadian justice system. Lack of education,
poverty, unemployment and abuse all lead to higher crime rates. Also,
statistically, Aboriginals have a greater chance of conviction and
subsequently, incarceration once convicted. They are also much less
likely to receive parole during their sentence.
The Canadian federal government is responsible for health and social
services on the reserve and in
Inuit communities, while the provincial
and territorial governments provide services elsewhere. The divide
between each level of government has led to a gap in services for
Aboriginal people living off-reserve and in Canadian towns and cities.
Although Aboriginal people living off-reserve have access to the
programs and services designed for the general population, these
programs and services do not address the specific needs of Aboriginal
people, nor is it delivered in a culturally appropriate way. It has
not been until recently that the Canadian federal government had to
increase recognition to the needs for programs and services for
Aboriginal people in predominantly non-Aboriginal communities. It is
however funding that lags the growth of urban Aboriginal populations
and the uncoordinated delivery of services through various government
departments would also pose as a barrier. The federal Interlocutor for
Métis and Non-Status Indians pointed out that in 2003 almost 90
percent of the funding for programs designed for Aboriginal peoples is
spent on reserves, while off-reserve programs for Aboriginal people
are delivered through just 22 federal departments, as well as other
provincial and territorial agencies. The federal subcommittee on
Indigenous child welfare described a "jurisdictional web" in which
there is little to no coordination with or between municipal,
provincial and federal levels of government.
The health care services available to Aboriginal people is rarely
delivered in a culturally sensitive approach. It is the constant cast
of "the other" by the settler Canadian population that contaminates
the delivery of such necessary services to Aboriginal peoples. It was
Ontario finance minister Jim Flaherty in 1992 that the
Canadian government could boost health-care funding for “real people
in real towns” by cutting the bureaucracy that serves only
Aboriginal peoples. These types of statements, especially made by
people often heard by a greater audience, are said to have detrimental
and influential effects on the overall attitudes of settler population
folks, as well as Aboriginal peoples.
First Nations and diabetes
There are marked differences between the epidemiology of diabetes in
Nation population compared to the general population. Reasons
for the different rate of Type 2 Diabetes between First
Nation and the
general population include a complex combination of environmental
(lifestyle, diet, poverty) and genetic and biological factors (e.g.
thrifty genotype hypothesis, thrifty phenotype)  – though to
what extent each factor plays a role is still not clear.
The Aboriginal population in
Canada (First Nations,
Inuit and Métis)
have a significantly higher prevalence rate of diabetes than the
non-Aboriginal population. Age-standardized rates show that the
prevalence of diabetes among
First Nations individuals living
on-reserve is 17.2%;
First Nations individuals living off-reserve is
10.3%; Métis individuals 7.3%; and non-Aboriginal peoples at 5.0%. It
is important to note that Aboriginal individuals are generally
diagnosed at a younger age than non-Aboriginal individuals, and
Aboriginal females experience higher rates of gestational diabetes
than non-Aboriginal females. The complications and prevalence of
diabetes are seen among the Aboriginal population more often than
non-Aboriginal population. These may be attributed to the
socio-cultural, biological, environmental and lifestyle changes seen
in the First Nations, Inuit, and Métis populations, which have been
most especially prevalent in the last half century, all of which
contributing significantly to the increased rates of diabetes and the
complications associated among the Aboriginal population.
Life expectancy at birth is significantly lower for First Nations
babies than for babies in the Canadian population as a whole. As of
2001[update], Indian and Northern Affairs
Canada estimates First
Nations life expectancy to be 8.1 years shorter for males and 5.5
years shorter for females. Where females in the general
population had a life expectancy at birth of 82 years, First Nations
females had a life expectancy of 76 years. In males the life
First Nations individuals was 69 years as opposed to 77
in the general population. The reasons behind the lower birth
First Nations individuals are varied and complex; however,
social determinants of health are thought to play a large part.
First Nations individuals have some of the highest rates of
suicide globally. Suicide rates are more than twice the sex-specific
rate and also three times the age-specific rates of non-Aboriginal
Canadians. Residential Aboriginals between ages 10 and 29 show an
elevated suicide risk as compared to non-residential Aboriginals by
5–6 times. One theory for the increased incidences of suicide
within Aboriginal populations as compared to the general Canadian
population is called acculturation stress which results from the
intersection of multiple cultures within one's life. This leads to
differing expectations and cultural clashes within the community, the
family and the individual. At the community level, a general economic
disadvantage is seen, exacerbated by unemployment and low education
levels, leading to poverty, political disempowerment and community
disorganization. The family suffers through a loss of tradition as
they attempt to assimilate into mainstream Canadian culture. These
lead to low self-esteem in the individual as
First Nations culture and
tradition are marginalized affecting one's sense of self-identity.
These factors combine to create a world where First Nations
individuals feel they cannot identify completely as Aboriginal, nor
can they fully identify as mainstream Canadians. When that balance
cannot be found, many (particularly youths) turn to suicide as a way
Approximately 400 First
Nation communities in
Canada have had, and
continue to have serious problems with the quality of their drinking
water. The residents of Neskantaga First
Ontario have been
forced to boil their water for the past 20 years to make it
safe. The newly elected Prime Minister Justin Trudeau
promised to solve the drinking water problem within five years, by
investing $1.8 billion.
Missing and murdered women
Main article: Missing and murdered Indigenous women
Further information: AmINext
Across Canada, there has been a large number of missing and murdered
women of Aboriginal descent since 1980. 16% of female murder victims
and 12% of missing women have been Aboriginal, while demographically
they comprise only 4% of the overall female population. This amounts
to almost 1,200 Aboriginal females either missing or murdered in just
over 30 years.
In 2014 the RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) released Missing and
Murdered Aboriginal Women: A National Operational Review. This
publication documents the official findings of this demographic as
well as advises for future change. It finds that there are 164
Aboriginal women still missing and 1,017 murdered, making for a total
of 1,181. "There are 225 unsolved cases of either missing or
murdered Aboriginal females: 105 missing for more than 30 days as of
November 4, 2013, whose cause of disappearance was categorized as
'unknown' or 'foul play suspected' and 120 unsolved homicides between
1980 and 2012." Indigenous women in
Canada are overrepresented
among the missing and murdered females in Canada. Additionally, there
are shared characteristics among these cases, most of the murders were
committed by men and were someone the victim knew, either a partner or
an acquaintance. "Aboriginal women between the ages of 25 and 44
are 5 times more likely than other women of the same age to die as a
result of violence" These statistics portray the severity and
prevalence of violence against indigenous women in Canada.
Self-governance and preservation of indigenous territories become
increasingly difficult as natural resources continue to be exploited
by foreign companies. Projects such as "mining, logging, hydroelectric
construction, large-scale export oriented agribusiness or oil
exploration"[attribution needed] are usually coupled with
environmental degradation and occasionally violence and
militarization."[attribution needed] Many scholars go so far as
to link the proliferation of global neoliberalism with a rise in
violence. Women's concerns are nearly always pushed aside, to be
addressed later; their safety is therefore often compromised and not
deemed priority. Privatization of public services and reduction in the
universality of health care produces negative repercussions for those
of lower socioeconomic status in rural locations; these downsides are
magnified for female Aboriginals.
Missing and murdered men
Approximately 2,500 aboriginal people were murdered in
1982 and 2011, out of 15,000 murders in
Canada overall. Of the 2,500
murdered aboriginal Canadians, fully 71 per cent — 1,750 — were
According to summaries of seven consultation sessions posted to a
government website, the desire to dedicate some attention to violence
against indigenous men and boys has come up at four of the
These calls to extend the scope of the inquiry to include missing and
murdered aboriginal people of all genders have met with resistance and
been criticized as detracting from the current focus on the issue of
missing and murdered aboriginal women. Barbara Bailey, who was on the
UN team that visited
Canada in 2013 to investigate the violence, has
said, "I think to detract now would really be a tragedy. Let’s fix
that problem first and then we can begin to see what else is out
Speaking on the matter, Minister of Indigenous Affairs, Carolyn
Bennett has said, "Our mandate now is to get to the bottom of the
tragedy of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls in Canada",
citing sexism as being of specific concern. Dawn Lavell-Harvard, the
president of the Native Women's Association of Canada, has also
weighed in on the issue by saying, "Absolutely [men] deserve the same
amount of attention, just not necessarily in the same forum", neither
that forum nor an equal level of attention have yet to
Aboriginal peoples in
British colonization of the Americas
Index of articles related to Aboriginal Canadians
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Main article: Bibliography of Canadian Aboriginals
Bell, Catherine; Paternson, Robert K. (2009). Protection of First
Nations Cultural Heritage: Laws, Policy, and Reform. UBC Press.
Bell, Catherine; Napoleon, Val Napoleon (2008).
First Nations Cultural
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1850–1920. Heritage House. ISBN 978-1-894974-64-6.
Comeau, Pauline; Santin, Aldo (1995). The first Canadians: a profile
of Canada's native people today. J. Lorimer.
Dickason, Olive Patricia (1992). Canada's first nations: a history of
founding peoples from earliest times.
University of Oklahoma
University of Oklahoma Press.
Flanagan, Thomas (2008). First Nations?: Second Thoughts (2 ed.).
Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press.
Flanagan, Thomas; Le Dressay, André Le Dressay; Alcantara,
Christopher (2010). Beyond the Indian Act: restoring Aboriginal
property rights. Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press.
Flanagan, Thomas; Jackson, Taylor (21 November 2017), Bending the
Curve: Recent Developments in Government Spending on First Nations,
Fraser Institute, retrieved 21 November 2017
Gibson, Gordon (2009). A New Look at Canadian Indian Policy: Respect
the Collective – Promote the Individual. Vancouver: Fraser
Institute. p. 268. ISBN 0-88975-243-5.
Gibson, Karen Bush (2000). The Blackfeet: People of the Dark
Moccasins. Mankato, Minnesota: Capstone Press.
Thom, Ian M; McMichael Canadian Art Collection (2009). Challenging
First Nations art of the Northwest Coast.
University of Washington Press. ISBN 978-0-295-98919-8.
Voyageur, Cora Jane (2008). Firekeepers of the twenty-first century:
First Nations women chiefs. McGill-Queen's University Press.
Wikimedia Commons has media related to
First Nations of Canada.
Look up first nations in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.
Aboriginal Virtual Exhibits from the Virtual Museum of
consortium of Canadian museums)
Gateway to Aboriginal Heritage from the Canadian Museum of
Official website of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada, a
department of the government of Canada
Aboriginal Perspectives A National Film Board of
Canada website with
documentaries on Canada's Aboriginal Peoples, including films by
First Nations Seeker
Portal to First
Nation websites across North
America along with continental map showing locations of all the
People of Canada
Horn of Africa
English North American
Flemish - Walloons
By province & territory.. Alberta
Newfoundland & Labrador
Prince Edward Island
By city.. Calgary
Canadian cities by census
By province & territory..
Newfoundland and Labrador
Prince Edward Island
Members of.. Canada's Walk of Fame
Fathers of Confederation
The Greatest Canadian
Newsmaker of the Year
Individuals by.. Aboriginals
Province and city