Search for "Indigenous Organizations"

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Maisie Hurley

Maisie Hurley, née Maisie Amy Campbell-Johnston, Vancouver-area political activist, Indigenous ally (see Indigenous Peoples in Canada), newspaper founder and art collector (born 27 November 1887 in Swansea, Wales; died 3 October 1964 in North Vancouver, British Columbia). Although Hurley had no formal legal training or law degree (see Legal Education), she worked on several legal cases and advocated for Indigenous peoples’ basic human rights as well as for changes to the Indian Act. In 1946, Hurley started a newspaper called The Native Voice that aimed to bring attention to important issues concerning Indigenous communities across Canada (see Rights of Indigenous Peoples in Canada). In 2011, Hurley’s collection of Indigenous art was displayed at the North Vancouver Museum.

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Nellie J. Cournoyea

Nellie J. Cournoyea, OC, politician, premier of the Northwest Territories 1991–95 (born on 4 March 1940 in Aklavik, NT). Cournoyea is the first Indigenous woman to lead a provincial or territorial government in Canada.

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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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Enfranchisement (Plain Language Summary)

Throughout much of Canadian history, a First Nations person would lose their Indian status if they were enfranchised. An enfranchised person is someone who has the right to vote in elections. A First Nations person who is deemed a Status Indian has certain rights and benefits granted to them through the Indian Act.

(This article is a plain-language summary of Enfranchisement. If you are interested in reading about this topic in more depth, please see our full-length entry Enfranchisement).

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Bertha Clark-Jones

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.

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Fred Loft

Frederick Ogilvie Loft (commonly known as Fred or F.O. Loft), Mohawk chief, activist, war veteran, reporter, author and lumberman (born 3 February 1861 on the Six Nations reserve, Grand River, Canada West [ON]; died 5 July 1934 in Toronto, ON). Loft founded the League of Indians of Canada, the first national Indigenous organization in Canada, in December 1918 (see Indigenous Political Organization and Activism in Canada). He fought in the First World War and is recognized as one of the most important Indigenous activists of the early 20th century. His Mohawk name was Onondeyoh, which translates as “Beautiful Mountain.”

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Powwows in Canada

Powwows are celebrations that showcase Indigenous music, dances, regalia, food and crafts. Commonly hosted by First Nations communities (either on reserve or in urban settings), powwows are often open to non-Indigenous and Métis and Inuit peoples alike. Contemporary powwows originated on the Great Plains during the late 19th century and, since the 1950s, have been growing in size, number and popularity. Powwows serve an important role in many Indigenous peoples’ lives as a forum to visit family and friends, and to celebrate their cultural heritage, while also serving as a site for cross-cultural sharing with other attendees and participants. Indeed, powwows provide the opportunity for visitors to learn about, and increase their awareness of, traditional and contemporary Indigenous life and culture.

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Cowichan Sweater

The Cowichan sweater is a garment created in North America with a distinctly patterned design knitted out of bulky-weighted yarn. It originated during the late 19th century among the Cowichan, a Coast Salish people in British Columbia. Historically also called the Indian sweater or Siwash sweater (a derogatory Chinook word for Indigenous people), the Cowichan people reclaimed the name after the 1950s as a means of emphasizing their claim to the garment. The popularity of the sweater by the mid-1900s thrust Cowichan sweaters into the world of international fashion, where they have been appropriated by non-Indigenous designers. Nevertheless, several knitters from various Coast Salish communities around Vancouver Island and the mainland of British Columbia continue to create and sell authentic sweaters. In 2011, the Canadian government recognized Cowichan knitters and sweaters as nationally and historically significant.

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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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Indigenous Languages in Canada

There are around 70 distinct Indigenous languages in Canada, falling into 12 separate language families. While in many places there has been decreased transmission of languages from one generation to the next, recognition of this has led to efforts by Indigenous peoples to revitalize and sustain their languages. Canada, and North America more generally, represent a highly complex linguistic region, with numerous languages and great linguistic diversity. Indigenous languages are spoken widely and are official languages in Nunavut and the Northwest Territories, while the Yukon recognizes the significance of the Indigenous languages of the territory. On 5 February 2019, the Canadian government tabled the Indigenous Languages Act, which seeks to protect and revitalize Indigenous languages in Canada.

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Gustafsen Lake Standoff

The Gustafsen Lake Standoff was a month-long conflict (18 August–17 September 1995) between a small group of First Nations Sun Dancers and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). The standoff took place in central British Columbia, in Secwepemc (Shuswap) territory near 100 Mile House. Sparked by a dispute between a local rancher and a camp of Sun Dancers over access to private land for ceremonial purposes, the armed confrontation raised larger questions of Indigenous land rights in British Columbia. On 11 September 1995, in what was later called the largest paramilitary operation in the history of the province, RCMP surrounded the remote camp and a firefight erupted during which, remarkably, no one was seriously injured. The standoff at Gustafsen Lake is perhaps the least known in a series of localized armed conflicts involving Indigenous peoples in the 1990s that included the Oka and Ipperwash crises in Quebec and Ontario, respectively.

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Plateau Indigenous Peoples in Canada

There are six cultural areas contained in what is now Canada, unrestricted by international boundaries. The Plateau cultural area consists of the high plateau between the British Columbia coastal mountains and the Rocky Mountains, and extends south to include parts of Washington State, Oregon, Idaho, and Montana. At lower elevations it is comprised of grasslands and subarctic forests. The Plateau peoples include, among others, the Secwepemc, Stl’atl’imc, Ktunaxa, and Tsilqot’in.

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Turtle Island

For some Indigenous peoples, Turtle Island refers to the continent of North America. The name comes from various Indigenous oral histories that tell stories of a turtle that holds the world on its back. For some Indigenous peoples, the turtle is therefore considered an icon of life, and the story of Turtle Island consequently speaks to various spiritual and cultural beliefs.

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Powley Case

R. v. Powley was a legal case concerning Métis hunting rights in Canada. In 1993, the province of Ontario charged Steve and Roddy Powley with illegal hunting. The Powleys disputed their conviction, arguing that the Aboriginal rights enshrined in section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982 protected their hunting rights as Métis people. The case concluded in 2003, when the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the Powleys were, in fact, exercising lawful Métis hunting rights. The Powley case established criteria on who can legally qualify for Métis rights. It outlined 10 specific criteria, known as the Powley Test, which applies to Métis communities across Canada. The case also clarified that the Métis are a distinct people, separate from First Nations and Inuit peoples in Canada. Some legal experts believe the Powley case might lead to expanded Métis rights, including harvesting and fishing rights and possibly self-government.

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Contemporary Indigenous Art in Canada

Contemporary Indigenous art is that which has been produced by Indigenous peoples between around 1945 to the present. Since that time, two major schools of Indigenous art have dominated the contemporary scene in Canada:  Northwest Coast Indigenous Art and the Woodlands school of Legend Painters. As well, a more widely scattered group of artists work independently in the context of mainstream Western artand may be described as internationalist in scope and intent.

Contemporary Inuit art has evolved in parallel with contemporary Indigenous art, producing celebrated artists like Zacharias Kunuk and Annie Pootoogook.

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Native People's Caravan

The Native People’s Caravan was a cross-country mobile protest that took place in 1974. Its main purpose was to raise awareness about the poor living conditions and discrimination experienced by Indigenous peoples in Canada. It travelled from Vancouver to Ottawa, where the subsequent occupation of a vacant warehouse on Victoria Island, near Parliament Hill, extended into 1975. The caravan brought various Indigenous groups together in protest of broken treaties, as well as a lack of government-supported education, housing and health care. As a result, meetings between Cabinet ministers and Indigenous leaders became more frequent. The protest is remembered as an important turning point in Indigenous activism in Canada.

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Pauline Johnson (Tekahionwake)

Emily Pauline Johnson (a.k.a. Tekahionwake, “double wampum”) poet, writer, artist, performer (born 10 March 1861 on the Six Nations Reserve, Canada West; died 7 March 1913 in VancouverBC). Pauline Johnson was one of North America’s most notable entertainers of the late 19th century. A mixed-race woman of Mohawk and European descent, she was a gifted writer and poised orator. She toured extensively, captivating audiences with her flare for the dramatic arts. Johnson made important contributions to Indigenous and Canadian oral and written culture. She is listed as a Person of National Historic Significance and her childhood home is a National Historic Site and museum. A monument in Vancouver’s Stanley Park commemorates her work and legacy. In 2016, she was one of 12 Canadian women in consideration to appear on a banknote. (See Women on Canadian Banknotes.)