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Indigenous Language Revitalization in Canada

Before European settlement in Canada, Indigenous peoples spoke a wide variety of languages. As a means of assimilating Indigenous peoples, colonial policies like the Indian Act and residential schools forbid the speaking of Indigenous languages. These restrictions have led to the ongoing endangerment of Indigenous languages in Canada. In 2016, Statistics Canada reported that for about 40 Indigenous languages in Canada, there are only about 500 speakers or less. Indigenous communities and various educational institutions have taken measures to prevent more language loss and to preserve Indigenous languages.

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Walking Buffalo (Tatanga Mani)

Walking Buffalo (born Tatanga Mani, also known as George McLean), Stoney-Nakoda leader, statesman, philosopher (born 20 March 1870 in the Bow River Valley near Morley, AB; died 27 December 1967 in Banff, AB). Walking Buffalo was present at the signing of Treaty 7 (1877) and later served as a respected leader in Bearspaw First Nation until his death. Walking Buffalo preached world peace and, in 1959, journeyed around the globe to spread this word. He was a strong advocate for protecting the environment and Indigenous rights and culture.

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Mi’k ai’stoowa (Red Crow)

Mi’k ai’stoowa, also known as Red Crow, warrior, peacemaker, Kainai (Blood) leader (born ca. 1830 near the junction of St. Mary’s and Oldman rivers, AB; died 28 August 1900 near the Belly River on the Kainai reserve, AB). Head chief of the Kainai, Mi’k ai’stoowa was a skilled negotiator and passionate advocate for his people. Mi’k ai’stoowa sought improved conditions for the Kainai in the wake of monumental changes amid the decline of the bison in traditional territories in the 1860s and 1870s, the encroachment of European settlers and the disastrous effects of smallpox epidemics.

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Max Gros-Louis

Magella “Max” Gros-Louis (or Oné Onti in the Huron-Wendat language, meaning “paddler”), politician, businessman (born on 6 August 1931 in Wendake, QC; died on 14 November 2020 in Quebec City, QC). As chief of the Huron-Wendat for 33 years, Gros-Louis championed several Indigenous causes including the fight for recognition of Indigenous territory and overall equality for Indigenous peoples in Canada.

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Qalipu Mi’kmaq First Nation

Qalipu (pronounced: ha-lee-boo) is a Mi’kmaq First Nation based in Newfoundland and Labrador. The nation was established in 2011 under the Indian Act. According to the federal government, Qalipu has 23,435 registered members, making it the second-largest First Nation by population in Canada. The nation’s members hail from 67 different communities across Newfoundland. As of 2020, roughly 95 per cent of Qalipu members live in Newfoundland and Labrador; the other 5 per cent live throughout Canada. The Qalipu Mi’kmaq First Nation currently controls no reserve land. (See also Reserves in Newfoundland and Labrador.)

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Isapo-muxika (Crowfoot)

Isapo-muxika (Crowfoot), Siksika chief (born circa 1830 near Belly River, AB; died 25 April 1890, near Blackfoot Crossing, AB). Known more commonly as Crowfoot, Isapo-Muxika was a Siksika chief and diplomat who negotiated with the federal government on behalf of the Blackfoot Confederacy. He was a key link between Indigenous peoples on the western Plains and colonial forces by way of the North-West Mounted Police, and was key negotiator and supporter of Treaty 7.

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Charlie Panigoniak

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.

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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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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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Tlingit

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.

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Inuktitut

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.

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Frances Oldham Kelsey

​Frances Oldham Kelsey, CM, pharmacologist (born 24 July 1914 in Cobble Hill, BC; died 7 August 2015 in London, ON). As an employee of the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Kelsey blocked the sale of thalidomide in the United States. The drug, which had been widely prescribed in Europe and Canada, was later shown to cause severe birth defects in children whose mothers had taken the drug while pregnant. In recognition of her “exceptional judgment” and determination, Kelsey received the President’s Award for Distinguished Federal Civilian Service. Kelsey and her work have been widely lauded in the United States but are less known in Canada. She was made a Member of the Order of Canada shortly before her death.

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Gerald Stanley and Colten Boushie Case

On 9 February 2018, Gerald Stanley, a white farmer from rural Saskatchewan, was acquitted of murder and manslaughter in the killing of a 22-year-old Cree man, Colten Boushie. The acquittal caused great controversy but was not appealed by prosecutors. However, it led the Justin Trudeau government to abolish the peremptory challenges that allowed Stanley to keep five Indigenous people off the all-white jury that acquitted him.

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Pit House

A pit house is a type of dwelling historically used by various Indigenous peoples living in the Plateau region of Canada. Partially built into the ground, pit houses provided warmth and shelter during the winter season. While pit houses no longer serve as common dwellings, they retain cultural significance for many Indigenous peoples. Archeological remains and replicas of pit houses can be found in various parts of Canada. (See also Architectural History of Indigenous Peoples in Canada.)

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Theresa Tam

Dr. Theresa Tam, BMBS, physician, Chief Public Health Officer of Canada (born 1965 in Hong Kong). Dr. Tam is Canada’s chief public health officer, the federal government’s lead public health professional. She has expertise in immunization, infectious diseases and emergency preparedness. She has served on several World Health Organization emergency committees and has been involved in international missions to combat Ebola, MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome) and pandemic influenza. She has also worked toward the eradication of polio. Dr. Tam became widely known to Canadians through media briefings in 2020 as she led the medical response to the novel coronavirus and the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Cuthbert Grant

Cuthbert Grant, fur trader, Métis leader (born circa 1793 in Fort de la Rivière Tremblante, SK; died 15 July 1854 in White Horse Plains, MB). Grant led the Métis to victory at Seven Oaks in 1816 and founded the Métis community Grantown (later St. François Xavier), Manitoba, in 1824. Today, Cuthbert Grant is hailed as a founder of the Métis nation. (See also Indigenous Peoples in Canada.)

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