Search for "Indigenous Culture"

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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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Longhouse

A longhouse was the basic house type of pre-contact northern Iroquoian-speaking peoples, such as the Huron-Wendat, Haudenosaunee, Petun and Neutral. The longhouse sheltered a number of families related through the female line. In the 1700s, European-style single-family houses gradually replaced longhouses as primary residences. However, longhouses still function as important facilities in which some Indigenous peoples conduct ceremonies, political meetings and various community gatherings. (See also Architectural History of Indigenous Peoples in Canada.)

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Snowshoes

Snowshoes are footwear that help to distribute the weight of a person while they walk over deep snow, preventing them from sinking too far into the snow with every step. In the past, Indigenous peoples used snowshoes for winter travel in Canada, outside the Pacific and Arctic coasts. Snowshoeing has since become a popular Canadian pastime, enjoyed by hikers and sportspeople.

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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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Moccasin

Moccasins are a type of footwear often made of animal hide and traditionally made and worn by various Indigenous peoples in Canada. During the fur trade, Europeans adopted these heelless, comfortable walking shoes to keep their feet warm and dry. Moccasins continue to serve as practical outerwear, as well as pieces of fine Indigenous handiwork and artistry.

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Canadian Sports History

Sports have a long history in Canada, from early Indigenous games (e.g., baggataway) to more recent sports such as snowboarding and kitesurfing. Officially, Canada has two national sports: lacrosse (summer) and hockey (winter).

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Totem Pole

The totem pole (also known as a monumental pole) is a tall structure carved out of cedar wood, created by Northwest Coast Indigenous peoples to serve variously as a signboard, genealogical record and memorial. Some well-known carvers include Mungo Martin, Charles Edenshaw, Henry Hunt, Richard Hunt and Stanley Hunt.

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Quillwork

Quillwork refers to the Indigenous art of using coloured porcupine quills to decorate various items such as clothing, bags, medicine bundles and regalia. Quillwork pieces have been preserved in museums and cultural centres across North America. Now considered a rare artform, elders and specialized artists use quillwork to promote cultural traditions.

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Cradleboard

Historically, the cradleboard (or cradle board), was used by various Indigenous peoples to protect and carry babies. Securely bound to a thin rectangular board, a baby could be carried on its mother's back or put in a safe location while she performed her daily routine. In some communities, Indigenous peoples still use cradleboards.

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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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Potlatch

The potlatch (from the Chinook word Patshatl) is a ceremony integral to the governing structure, culture and spiritual traditions of various First Nations living on the Northwest Coast and in parts of the interior western subarctic. It primarily functions to redistribute wealth, confer status and rank upon individuals, kin groups and clans, and to establish claims to names, powers and rights to hunting and fishing territories.

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Social Conditions of Indigenous Peoples in Canada

Social conditions, including health, income, education, employment and community, contribute to the well-being of all people. Among the Indigenous population in Canada (i.e., First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples), social conditions have been impacted by the dispossession of cultural traditions, social inequities, prejudice and discrimination. Social conditions also vary greatly according to factors such as place of residence, income level, and family and cultural factors. While progress with respect to social conditions is being achieved, gaps between the social and economic conditions of Indigenous people and non-Indigenous people in Canada persist.

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Medicine Bundles

Medicine bundles (also called “sacred bundles”), wrapped collections of spiritually significant items, were the focus of most Indigenous spiritual rituals in the Plains region (see Plains Indigenous Peoples in Canada). A bundle might be a few feathers wrapped in skin or a multitude of objects such as animal skins, roots, or stone pipes inside a rawhide bag.

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Indian Horse

Indian Horse (2012) is the sixth novel by Ojibwe author Richard Wagamese. Set in Northern Ontario in the late 1950s and early 1960s, it follows protagonist Saul Indian Horse as he uses his extraordinary talent for ice hockey to try and escape his traumatic residential school experience. He achieves moderate success as a hockey player but is unable to escape his “Indian” identity or the trauma from his past. Indian Horse was a finalist on CBC’s Canada Reads in 2013, where it won the People’s Choice award. It was also the winner of the 2013–14 First Nation Communities Read Selection and the Burt Award for First Nations, Inuit and Métis Literature from the Canadian Organization for Development through Education (CODE). In 2017, Indian Horse was adapted into an award-winning film by writer Dennis Foon and director Stephen S. Campanelli.

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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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Hudson’s Bay Point Blanket

The Hudson’s Bay Point Blanket is a wool blanket with a series of stripes and points (markers on cloth) first made for the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) in 1779. The most iconic design is that which is white with green, red, yellow and indigo stripes; these colours are now used as an emblem for the HBC. While the HBC was not the first to create the point blanket, the company did popularize it among Indigenous and settler communities in Canada. Today, the design from the blanket is used on a variety of clothing, accessories and household items sold by the HBC.

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Three Day Road

Joseph Boyden’s first novel, Three Day Road, made him one of Canada’s most prominent writers of fiction. It won multiple awards and drew attention to an overlooked aspect of Canada’s history, namely the role Indigenous people played in Canada’s military history. Inspired by the story of Anishnaabe First World War sniper Francis Pegahmagabow, Three Day Road follows a wounded soldier’s journey home. The novel parallels the death that hangs over the battlefields of the First World War with the destruction of traditional Indigenous cultures. The book won the McNally Robinson Aboriginal Book of the Year Award, the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize and the Amazon.ca/Books in Canada First Novel Award.