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Cultural Appropriation of Indigenous Peoples in Canada

Cultural appropriation is the use of a people’s traditional dress, music, cuisine, knowledge and other aspects of their culture, without their approval, by members of a different culture. For Indigenous peoples in Canada, cultural appropriation is rooted in colonization and ongoing oppression. Indigenous peoples have seen culturally significant symbols and motifs used in non-Indigenous goods, marketing and art. They have also seen stereotypical images of “Indians” used in sports logos and the sale of various products.

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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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Mi'kmaq

Mi’kmaq (Mi’kmaw, Micmac or L’nu, “the people” in Mi’kmaq) are Indigenous peoples who are among the original inhabitants in the Atlantic Provinces of Canada. Alternative names for the Mi’kmaq appear in some historical sources and include Gaspesians, Souriquois and Tarrantines. Contemporary Mi’kmaq communities are located predominantly in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, but with a significant presence in Quebec, Newfoundland, Maine and the Boston area. As of 2015, there were slightly fewer than 60,000 registered members of Mi’kmaq nations in Canada. In the 2011 National Household Survey, 8,935 people reported knowledge of the Mi’kmaq language. In the Government of Canada’s 2016 Census, 8,870 people are listed as speaking Mi’kmaq.

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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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Anishinaabe

Anishinaabe (other variants include Anishinabe, Anicinape, Nishnaabe, Neshnabé and Anishinabek) refers to a group of culturally and linguistically related First Nations that live in both Canada and the United States, concentrated around the Great Lakes. The Anishinaabeg (plural form of Anishinaabe) live from the Ottawa River Valley west across Northern Ontario and to the plains of Saskatchewan south to the northeast corner of North Dakota, northern Minnesota and Michigan, as well as the northern shores of Lakes Ontario and Erie. The Ojibwe, Chippewa, Odawa, Potawatomi, Algonquin, Saulteaux, Nipissing and Mississauga First Nations are Anishinaabeg. Some Oji-Cree First Nations and Métis also include themselves within this cultural-linguistic grouping. (See also Indigenous Peoples in Canada.)

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Two-Spirit

​Two-Spirit, a translation of the Anishinaabemowin term niizh manidoowag, refers to a person who embodies both a masculine and feminine spirit. Activist Albert McLeod developed the term in 1990 to broadly reference Indigenous peoples in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) community. Two-spirit is used by some Indigenous peoples to describe their gender, sexual and spiritual identity. (See also Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights in Canada.)

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Inuit

Inuit — Inuktitut for “the people” — are an Indigenous people, the majority of whom inhabit the northern regions of Canada. An Inuit person is known as an Inuk. The Inuit homeland is known as Inuit Nunangat, which refers to the land, water and ice contained in the Arctic region.

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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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Reconciliation in Canada

In Canada, the process of reconciliation is tied to the federal government's relationship with Indigenous peoples. The term has come to describe attempts made by individuals and institutions to raise awareness about colonization and its ongoing effects on Indigenous peoples. Reconciliation also refers to efforts made to address the harms caused by various policies and programs of colonization, such as residential schools. For some, the word represents an opportunity to reflect on the past, to heal and to make right. For others, however, current gestures of reconciliation are merely performative and lack meaningful action to address the harms done by colonization.

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Rights of Indigenous Peoples in Canada

It is difficult to generalize about definitions of Indigenous rights because of the diversity among First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples in Canada. Broadly speaking, however, Indigenous rights are inherent, collective rights that flow from the original occupation of the land that is now Canada, and from social orders created before the arrival of Europeans to North America. For many, the concept of Indigenous rights can be summed up as the right to independence through self-determination regarding governance, land, resources and culture.

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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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Obwandiyag (Pontiac)

Obwandiyag (Pontiac), Odawa chief (born c. 1720 along the Detroit River; died 20 April 1769 in Cahokia, Illinois Country). Obwandiyag was the leader of a loose coalition of Indigenous nations that opposed British rule in what became known as Pontiac’s War (1763–66). The uprising is regarded by many as a historical antecedent to more contemporary Indigenous rights movements.

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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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Racial Segregation of Indigenous Peoples in Canada

Racial segregation is the enforced separation of different racial groups in a country, community or establishment. Historically, the racial segregation of Indigenous peoples in Canada has been enforced by the Indian Act, reserve system, residential schools, and Indian hospitals, among other programs. These policies interfered with the social, economic, cultural and political systems of Indigenous peoples, while also paving the way for European settlement across the country. The segregation of Indigenous peoples in Canada must be understood within the history of contact, doctrines of discovery and conquest, and ongoing settler colonization.

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Joseph Benjamin Keeper

Joseph Benjamin “Joe” Keeper, world-class athlete and war hero of the Norway House Cree Nation (born 21 January 1886 in Walker Lake, MB; died 29 September 1971 in Winnipeg, MB). Keeper competed at the 1912 Stockholm Summer Olympics, where he participated in the 5,000 and 10,000 m track events. Keeper later served in the Canadian Expeditionary Force during the First World War and received the Military Medal for his actions at the front. After his death, Keeper was inducted into the Canadian Olympic Hall of Fame in 1977 and Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame in 2015.

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Oka Crisis

The Oka Crisis, also known as the Kanesatake Resistance or the Mohawk Resistance at Kanesatake, was a 78-day standoff (11 July–26 September 1990) between Mohawk protesters, Quebec police, the RCMP and the Canadian Army. It took place in the community of Kanesatake, near the Town of Oka, on the north shore of Montreal. Related protests and violence occurred in the Kahnawake reserve, to the south of Montreal. The crisis was sparked by the proposed expansion of a golf course and the development of townhouses on disputed land in Kanesatake that included a Mohawk burial ground. Tensions were high, particularly after the death of Corporal Marcel Lemay, a Sûreté du Québec police officer. Eventually, the army was called in and the protest ended. The golf course expansion was cancelled and the land was purchased by the federal government. However, it did not establish the land as a reserve, and there has since been no organized transfer of the land to the Mohawks of Kanesatake.

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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.