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Perry Bellegarde

Perry Bellegarde, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations (AFN), administrator, business leader (born 29 August 1962 in Fort Qu’Appelle, SK). A member of the Little Black Bear First Nation, Bellegarde has been involved in politics since 1986. On 10 December 2014, Bellegarde was elected as the 12th national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, following the resignation of Shawn Atleo. (See also Indigenous Political Organization and Activism in Canada.)

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Huron-Wendat

The Huron-Wendat are an Iroquoian-speaking nation that have occupied the St. Lawrence Valley and estuary to the Great Lakes region. “Huron” was a nickname given to the Wendat by the French, meaning “boar’s head” from the hairstyle of Huron men, or “lout” and “ruffian” in old French. Their confederacy name was Wendat (Ouendat) perhaps meaning “people of the island.” During the fur trade, the Huron-Wendat were allies of the French and enemies of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois). Following a series of 17th century armed conflicts, the Huron-Wendat were dispersed by the Haudenosaunee in 1650. However, the Huron-Wendat First Nation still remains (located in Wendake, Quebec) and as of July 2018, the nation had 4,056 registered members.

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Haida

Haida are Indigenous people who have traditionally occupied the coastal bays and inlets of Haida Gwaii in British Columbia. In the 2016 census, 501 people claimed Haida ancestry, while 445 people identified as speakers of the Haida language.

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Indigenous Political Organization and Activism in Canada

Political activism among Indigenous people in Canada since the late 19th century has largely reflected attempts to organize political associations beyond the band level to pursue common interests. In the wake of persistent criticism of the federal government’s proposed “White Paper” policy (1969), major Indigenous organizations, most notably the Assembly of First Nations, gained political recognition and became established players on the national scene. These organizations were joined in 2012 by the national movement Idle No More.

This article describes Indigenous political organization as it relates to Canadian federal, provincial or territorial political bodies, not the political structures of specific Indigenous communities, which often predate interaction with Europeans and subsequent colonial infrastructure.

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Siksikáí’powahsin: Blackfoot Language

Siksikáí’powahsin (commonly referred to as the Blackfoot language) is an Algonquian language spoken by four Blackfoot nations: the Siksiká (Blackfoot), Aapátohsipikani (North Piikani), Aamsskáápipikani (South Piikani) and Kainai (Blood). While there are some dialectal differences between these groups, speakers can generally understand one another. Blackfoot is an endangered language; since the 1960s, the number of new speakers has significantly decreased. The development of language programs and resources in Canada and the United States seek to preserve the language and promote it to new speakers.

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Blackfoot Confederacy

The Blackfoot Confederacy, sometimes referred to as the Blackfoot Nation or Siksikaitsitapi, is comprised of three Indigenous nations, the Kainai, Piikani and Siksika. People of the Blackfoot Nation refer to themselves as Niitsitapi, meaning “the real people,” a generic term for all Indigenous people, or Siksikaitsitapi, meaning “Blackfoot-speaking real people.” The Confederacy’s traditional territory spans parts of southern Alberta and Saskatchewan, as well as northern Montana. In the 2016 census, 22,490 people identified as having Blackfoot ancestry.

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Mary Brant (Konwatsi'tsiaiénni)

Mary Brant, Kanyen'kehà:ka (Mohawk), Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) leader, Loyalist, diplomat, political activist (generally known as Molly Brant and as Konwatsi'tsiaiénni in the Mohawk language, meaning “someone lends her a flower”) (born circa 1736; died 16 April 1796 in Kingston, ON). Brant was one of the most important Indigenous women in Canadian history. From her influential position as head of a society of Six Nations matrons, she enjoyed a much greater status within the Mohawk nation than her more colourful, younger brother, Mohawk leader Joseph Brant. Consulted by Indigenous people on matters of importance, she was a powerful ally to the British forces and served as their highly effective intermediary with the Iroquois in the American Revolutionary War (1775–1783).

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Shawnadithit

Shawnadithit (also known as Nance or Nancy April), the last Beothuk (born circa 1800-6 in what is now NL; died 6 June 1829 in St. John’s, NL). Shawnadithit’s record of Beothuk culture continues to shape modern understandings of her people. In 2007, the federal government announced the unveiling of a Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada (See Historic Site) plaque recognizing Shawnadithit’s importance to Canadian history.

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Roberta Jamieson

Roberta Louise Jamieson, OC, Kanyen'kehà:ka (Mohawk) lawyer, ombudsman, Six Nations chief, policy advisor, senior mediator, businesswoman (born in 1953 at Six Nations of the Grand River Territory near Brantford, ON). Jamieson was the first Indigenous woman in Canada to earn a law degree (1976); first non-Parliamentarian appointed to a House of Commons committee (1982); first woman appointed ombudsman in Ontario (1989); and first woman elected as Six Nations chief (2001).

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Coast Salish

Coast Salish peoples have historically occupied territories along the Northwest Pacific Coast in Canada and the United States. Though each nation is different, Coast Salish peoples generally have strong kinship ties and engage in political, treaty and environmental partnerships.

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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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Jean Cuthand Goodwill

Jean Cuthand Goodwill, OC, nurse, public servant and Indigenous health and education advocate (born 14 August 1928 on the Poundmaker Cree Nation, SK; died 25 August 1997 in Regina, SK). Cuthand Goodwill was one of the first Indigenous registered nurses in Canada. In 1974, she cofounded Indian and Inuit Nurses of Canada (now known as the Canadian Indigenous Nurses Association). She was a lifelong organizer, writer and educator who promoted First Nations health and culture.

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Pitikwahanapiwiyin (Poundmaker)

Pitikwahanapiwiyin (Poundmaker), Cree chief (born circa 1842 in central SK; died 4 July 1886 in Blackfoot Crossing, AB). Remembered as a great leader, Pitikwahanapiwiyin strove to protect the interests of his people during the negotiation of Treaty 6. Considered a peacemaker, he did not take up arms in the North-West Rebellion (also known as the North-West Resistance). However, a young and militant faction of his band did participate in the conflict, resulting in Pitikwahanapiwiyin’s arrest and imprisonment for treason. His legacy as a peacemaker lives on among many Cree peoples, including the Poundmaker Cree Nation in Saskatchewan.

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Cree Language

The Cree language (also called Cree-Montagnais-Naskapi) is spoken in many parts of Canada, from the Rocky Mountains in the west to Labrador in the east. Cree is also spoken in northern Montana in the United States. Often written in syllabics (i.e., symbols representing a combination of consonant and vowel, or just a consonant or vowel), Cree is one of the most widely spoken Indigenous languages in Canada. In the 2016 census, 96,575 people reported speaking Cree.

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Tsetsaut

The Tsetsaut (also known as the Wetaɬ) were a Dene people who lived inland from the Tlingit (Łingít) along the western coast of British Columbia and Southeastern Alaska. Apart from Nisga’a oral tradition and the linguistic research of anthropologist Franz Boas, who lived among the Tsetsaut in the 1890s, little is known about them. The Tsetsaut were decimated by war and disease in the 1800s, their numbers reduced to just 12 by the end of the century. It was once believed that the last of the Tsetsaut people died in 1927 and that their ancient language was no longer spoken. However, as of 2019, there are approximately 30 people from the Tsetsaut/Skii km Lax Ha Nation identifying as Tsetsaut in British Columbia.

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Odawa

Odawa (or Ottawa) are an Algonquian-speaking people (see Indigenous Languages in Canada) living north of the Huron-Wendat at the time of French penetration to the Upper Great Lakes. A tradition of the Odawa, shared by the Ojibwa and Potawatomi, states that these three groups were once one people. The division of the Upper Great Lake Algonquians apparently took place at Michilimackinac, the meeting point of lakes Huron and Michigan. The Odawa, or "traders," remained near Michilimackinac, while the Potawatomi, "Those-who-make-or-keep-a-fire," moved south, up Lake Michigan. The Ojibwa (Ojibwe), or "To-roast-till-puckered-up," went northwest to Sault Ste Marie.

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