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Piapot (also spelled Payipwat, meaning “One Who Knows the Secrets of the Sioux,” originally named Kisikawasan, meaning “Flash in the Sky”), Cree chief (born in 1816 on the southern prairies; died in 1908 on the Piapot Reserve, SK). During Piapot’s 92 years, he witnessed great changes on the Canadian prairies, including the disappearance of the bison and the settlement of non-Indigenous peoples on Indigenous lands. As chief, Piapot resisted assimilation and strove to uphold Cree customs and traditions.
The Nisga’a are the original occupants of the Nass River Valley of Northwestern British Columbia. As of 2011, 1,909 Nisga’a continue to live on traditional lands in this area. Granted self-government in a landmark case in 2000, the Nisga’a Lisims Government now governs the Nisga’a nation.
The Haisla are a First Nation in Canada. The Haisla Nation is made up of two historic bands, the Kitamaat of upper Douglas Channel and Devastation Channel and the Kitlope of upper Princess Royal Channel and Gardner Canal in British Columbia. The Kitamaat call themselves Haisla ("dwellers downriver"); and the Kitlope, Henaaksiala ("dying off slowly"), a reference to their traditional longevity. The official designations Kitamaat ("people of the snow") and Kitlope ("people of the rocks") were adopted from the names used by the Tsimshian to refer to their Haisla neighbours.
What Is A Reserve?
A reserve is land set aside by the Canadian government for use by First Nations. Reserves were created by treaties and other agreements signed between various Indigenous peoples and the Crown. These lands represent a small fraction of the traditional territories Indigenous peoples had before the signing of treaties. The reserve system is governed by the Indian Act.
Wolastoqiyik (also Welastekwewiyik or Welustuk), meaning “people of the beautiful river” in their language, have long resided along the Saint John River in New Brunswick and Maine, and the St. Lawrence River in Quebec. Historically, the Europeans referred to the Wolastoqiyik by a Mi’kmaq word, Maliseet (or Malecite), roughly translating to English as “broken talkers.” The name indicates that, according to the Mi’kmaq, the Wolastoqiyik language is a “broken” version of their own. Today, there are six Wolastoqiyik Maritime communities in Canada and one in Maine. In the 2016 census, 7,635 people identified as having Wolastoqiyik ancestry.
10 Indigenous Firsts
Indigenous peoples have contributed greatly to Canadian society, culture and politics. Despite facing discrimination, racial segregation and policies of assimilation, Indigenous peoples have fought to make this country a better place for all, and to protect their own Indigenous cultures. From leaders in the fields of medicine and law, to war veterans, chiefs and politicians, many Indigenous peoples have risen to the top of their respective fields, championing a variety of causes. This list of 10 Indigenous “firsts” celebrates those trailblazers who were the first in their profession to make historic accomplishments in Canada.
Sahtu Got'ine (Bearlake)
Sahtu Got'ine (also referred to as Sahtúot’ine, Sahtugotine and Great Bear Lake Dene) are Dene people who live around Great Bear Lake in the Northwest Territories. They settled in Déline, which has been self-governing since 2016. (See also Indigenous Peoples in Canada.)
Charlie Panigoniak, ONu, singer, songwriter, guitarist (born 7 March 1946 in Eskimo Point, NWT [now Arviat, NU]; died 6 March 2019 in Rankin Inlet, NU). Charlie Panigoniak was one of the first people to write, record and perform music in Inuktitut. Often referred to as the “Johnny Cash of the North,” he is considered by many to be the father of Inuktitut music. (See also Music of Indigenous Peoples in Canada.) He was a Member of the Order of Nunavut and a recipient of the Nunavut Commissioner’s Performing Arts Award.
Sandra Lovelace Nicholas
Mary Sandra Lovelace Nicholas, CM, Wolastoqiyik (Maliseet), Tobique Nation, Liberal Senator for New Brunswick, Indigenous rights advocate (born 15 April 1948 on Tobique reserve near
Perth-Andover, NB). Sandra Lovelace Nicholas is the first woman of Indigenous background appointed to the Senate from Atlantic Canada.
She championed changes to the Indian Act that seek to restore the legal rights of many Status Indian women and children.
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.
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.
The McIvor v. Canada case was about gender discrimination in section 6 of the 1985 Indian Act, which deals with Indian status. Sharon McIvor — a woman who regained status rights after the passing of Bill C-31 in 1985 — was not able to pass on those rights to her descendants in the same way that a man with status could. In her case against the federal government, the British Columbia Supreme Court ruled in 2007 that section 6 did, in fact, deny McIvor’s equality rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. In response to this case, the federal government introduced new legislation (Bill C-3) in 2011 to counter gender discrimination in the Indian Act.
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.
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.
Bertha Clark-Jones (née Houle), OC, Cree (Nehiyawak)-Métis advocate for the rights of Indigenous women and children (born 6 November 1922 in Clear Hills, AB; died 21 October 2014 in Bonnyville, AB). A veteran of the Second World War, Clark-Jones joined the Aboriginal Veterans Society and advocated for the fair treatment of Indigenous ex-service people. She was co-founder and first president of the Native Women’s Association of Canada. Clark-Jones devoted her life to seeking equality and greater power for women in Canada.
The Tlingit (sometimes also known as the Łingít) are Indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest Coast of North America who share a common cultural heritage. Tlingit means “people of the tides.” In the 2016 Census, 2,110 people identified as having Tlingit ancestry.
Inuktitut is an Indigenous language in North America spoken in the Canadian Arctic. The 2016 census reported 39,770 speakers, of which 65 per cent lived in Nunavut and 30.8 per cent in Quebec. Inuktitut is part of a larger Inuit language continuum (a series of dialects) stretching from Alaska to Greenland. Inuktitut uses a writing system called syllabics, created originally for the Cree language, which represent combinations of consonants and vowels. The language is also written in the Roman alphabet, and this is the exclusive writing system used in Labrador and parts of Western Nunavut. Inuktitut is a polysynthetic language, meaning that words tend to be longer and structurally more complex than their English or French counterparts.
Jeffery Amherst, 1st Baron Amherst
Jeffery Amherst, 1st Baron Amherst, British army officer (born 29 January 1717 near Sevenoaks, England; died 3 August 1797 near Sevenoaks). Jeffery Amherst was the commander-in-chief of British forces in North America during the Seven Years' War, which saw France surrender Canada to the British. Several streets and towns in North America — including Amherst, Nova Scotia, and Amherstburg, Ontario — were named in his honour. However, Amherst’s legacy is controversial, given his policy towards Indigenous peoples. This included his suggestion in 1763 to deliberately infect Indigenous peoples with smallpox during Pontiac’s War. In 2019, Montreal’s Amherst Street was renamed Atateken Street; Atateken means “brothers and sisters” in Kanien'kéha, the Mohawk language.