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Indigenous Peoples

Indigenous (Aboriginal) Peoples are the original inhabitants of the land that is now Canada. Inuit and First Nations history extends well before the arrival of Europeans in Canada, while Métis emerged as a distinct culture after intermarriage between European settlers and First Nations people. Indigenous people were essential to the development of early Canada, but suffered massive population declines due to the arrival of European disease. In addition, though they were often military allies, they faced persecution at the hands of colonial governments in the form of displacement, starvation, land seizure and cultural genocide through residential schools and destructive legislation. Indigenous people live throughout Canada and continue to strive to reinvigorate traditional culture and ways of life.

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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 2016 census by Statistics Canada, over 1.6 million people in Canada identified as Indigenous, making up 4.9 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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Indigenous Peoples' Medicine in Canada

Since time immemorial Indigenous peoples in Canada have been using plants and other natural materials as medicine. Plant medicines are used more frequently than those derived from animals. In all, Indigenous peoples have identified over 400 different species of plants (as well as lichens, fungi and algae) with medicinal applications. Medicine traditions — the plants used, the ailments treated, protocols for harvesting and application, and modes of preparation — are similar for Indigenous peoples across the country. In many Indigenous communities, there are recognized specialists trained in traditional medicine, and their practice often reflects spiritual aspects of healing as well as physical outcomes. In many cases, the therapeutic properties of Indigenous medicines are attributable to particular compounds and their effects on the body, but in other instances, their application is little understood by western medical practitioners. Within Indigenous communities, specific methods of harvesting and preparation of medicines are considered intellectual property of particular individuals or families.

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Indigenous Services Canada

Indigenous Services Canada (part of the former Indigenous/Indian and Northern Affairs Canada or INAC) was created by the federal government in 2017 to provide and support the delivery of services such as health care, child care, education and infrastructure to First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities. The overarching vision of the department is to support self-determination as a means of providing Indigenous peoples with the power to deliver their own services.

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Indigenous Territory

Indigenous territory — also referred to as traditional territory — describes the ancestral and contemporary connections of Indigenous peoples to a geographical area. Territories may be defined by kinship ties, occupation, seasonal travel routes, trade networks, management of resources, and cultural and linguistic connections to place.

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Indigenous Women's Issues in Canada

First NationsMétis and Inuit women (collectively referred to as Indigenous women) face many socio-economic issues today because of the effects of colonization. Europeans forced a male-controlled system of government and society (known as patriarchy) on Indigenous societies. The 1876 Indian Act disadvantaged certain Indigenous women by excluding them from band council government and enforcing discriminatory measures that took away Indian Status rights. Many Indigenous women today are leading the way in the area of healing the wounds of colonization, as they grapple with the issues of residential schools, missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, abuse and violence, and drug, alcohol and other addictions. (See also Indigenous Feminisms in Canada.)

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Indigenous-British Relations Pre-Confederation

With the end of the Seven Years’ War in 1763, Britain replaced France as the preeminent colonial power in the land that is now 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.

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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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Innu (Montagnais-Naskapi)

Innu, which means “people” in the Innu language, is the predominant term used to describe all Innu. Some groups maintain the use of one of two older terms: Montagnais (French for “mountain people”), usually applied to groups in forested, more southern communities, and Naskapi, which refers to far northern groups who inhabit the barren lands of the subarctic. In the 2016 census, 27,755 people identified as having Innu/Montagnais ancestry, while an additional 1,085 identified as Naskapi.

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Intergenerational Trauma and Residential Schools

Historical trauma occurs when trauma caused by historical oppression is passed down through generations. For more than 100 years, the Canadian government supported residential school programs that isolated Indigenous children from their families and communities (see Residential Schools in Canada). Under the guise of educating and preparing Indigenous children for their participation in Canadian society, the federal government and other administrators of the residential school system committed what has since been described as an act of cultural genocide. As generations of students left these institutions, they returned to their home communities without the knowledge, skills or tools to cope in either world. The impacts of their institutionalization in residential school continue to be felt by subsequent generations. This is called intergenerational trauma.

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Interior Salish

The Interior Salish peoples include the Lillooet (see Lillooet, BC), Shuswap (now Secwepemc), Thompson (now Nlaka'pamux) and Okanagan First Nations. They are the four First Nations in the interior of British Columbia (although Okanagan territory extends into the state of Washington in the United States) who speak languages belonging to the Interior Salish division of the Salishan language family. In the 2016 Census (Canada), 5620 peoples identified themselves as Salish speakers, including 1290 that speak Shuswap (Secwepemctsin). (Also, see Indigenous Languages in Canada).

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Inuinnait (Copper Inuit)

Social organization was based on kinship and on various types of formal partnership, and affiliation between individuals tended to be more a matter of personal choice than is usually found among other Inuit groups.