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Architectural History of Indigenous Peoples in Canada

Before the arrival of Europeans, Indigenous peoples in Canada had their own building traditions. Dwellings and structures differed vastly from nation to nation, depending on their purpose and function. Building traditions also reflected important aspects of Indigenous peoples’ respective cultures, societies, geographies, environments and spiritual beliefs. This article provides an overview of the main types of dwellings and structures used by Indigenous peoples in the Arctic, Subarctic, Northwest Coast, Plateau, Plains and Eastern Woodlands.

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Haisla (Kitamaat)

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.

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Tionontati (Petun)

Tionontati (also known as Petun) are an Iroquoian-speaking Indigenous people, closely related to the Huron-Wendat. The French called them Petun because they were known for cultivating tobacco or petún. The people call themselves Tionontati. After war with the Haudenosaunee in the mid-1600s, Tionontati and some other survivors, including the Attignawantan (a Huron-Wendat people) and the Wenrohronon (or Wenro), joined to become the Wendat, now known as the Wyandotte (or Wyandot) Nation. Today, the Wyandotte Nation is a federally recognized tribe of Oklahoma in the United States. There are also Wyandotte communities in Michigan (Wyandot of Anderdon Nation) and Kansas (Wyandot Nation of Kansas).

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Nuxalk (Bella Coola)

The Nuxalk are an Indigenous people in Canada. Their traditional territories are in and around Bella Coola, British Columbia. The term "Bella Coola" once referred collectively to the Nuxalk, Talio, Kimsquit and some Kwatna who inhabited villages around North Bentinck Arm and the Bella Coola Valley, South Bentinck Arm, Dean Channel and Kwatna Inlet. Since the late 1970s, the Nuxalk have called themselves the Nuxalk Nation, derived from the term that in earlier times referred exclusively to the people of the Bella Coola Valley. In 2020, the Government of Canada reported the registered population of Nuxalk was 1,741, with 899 people living on reserve. (See also First Nations and Northwest Coast Indigenous Peoples in Canada.)

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Dinjii Zhuh (Gwich'in)

Dinjii Zhuh (also Gwich’in, formerly Kutchin), meaning “one who dwells (in)” or “the inhabitant of,” are Dene (Athabaskan)-speaking Indigenous peoples who live in northwestern North America. These communities are often referred to collectively as Dinjii Zhuh, although some First Nations and the Gwich’in Tribal Council retain the Gwich’in name. There are thought to be between 7,000 and 9,000 Dinjii Zhuh living in communities in Alaska, Yukon and the Northwest Territories.

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Tlicho (Dogrib)

Tlicho (Tłı̨chǫ), also known as Dogrib, are an Indigenous people in Canada. They fall within the broader designation of Dene, who are Indigenous peoples of the widespread Athapaskan (or Athabascan) language family. Their name for themselves is Doné, meaning "the People." To distinguish themselves from their Dene neighbours, including the DenesulineSlaveySahtu Got'ine and K'asho Got'ine, they have come to identify themselves as Tlicho, a Cree word meaning “dog's rib,” referring to a creation story. In 2005, the Tlicho Agreement, which saw the Tlicho gain control of 39,000 km2 of their traditional lands, became the first combined self-government agreement and comprehensive land claim in the Northwest Territories. According to the Northwest Territories Bureau of Statistics (2019), the population of the Tlicho region of the territory was 2,983.

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Tsilhqot'in (Chilcotin)

The Tsilhqot'in (Chilcotin) are an Indigenous people who live between the Fraser River and the Coast Mountains in west-central British Columbia. Traditionally Dene (Athabascan) speaking, their name means "people of the red river" and also refers to the Chilcotin Plateau region in British Columbia. The Tsilhqot’in National Government is a tribal council established in 1989 that represents the six member First Nations of the Chilcotin Plateau. In 2014, the Tsilhqot’in people won a Supreme Court of Canada case that focused on the issue of Aboriginal title. In 2018, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau formally apologized to the Tsilhqot’in people for the wrongful conviction and hanging of Tsilhqot’in chiefs during the Chilcotin War of 1864.

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Wild Nuts in Canada

Nuts are the hard-shelled fruits of flowering trees or shrubs. Within each shell are one or more seed kernels that are easily separated from the outer shell. Most nuts are edible and nutritious, and are sought after by many animals as well as people. There are about 20 edible nut species native to Canada. Most of these species are found in the Great Lakes-St Lawrence and deciduous forest regions of southeastern Canada, including the American hazelnut (Corylus americana), American beechnut (Fagus grandifolia) and black walnut (Juglans nigra). Nuts found in western Canada include the beaked hazelnut (Corylus cornuta), whitebark pine seeds (Pinus albicaulis), and garry oak acorns (Quercus garryana). Virtually all are known to have been used as food by Indigenous Peoples. Some are still harvested and used today, but most have been replaced in peoples’ diets by imported nut species such as European filbert (Corylus avellana), English or Persian walnut (Juglans regia), American pecan (Carya illinoinensis) and cashews (Anacardium occidentale). This article includes descriptions of the most widely-used wild nuts 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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The Neutral Confederacy

The Neutral Confederacy was a political and cultural union of Iroquoian nations who lived in the Hamilton-Niagara district of southwestern Ontario and across the Niagara River to western New York before their dispersal by the Seneca in the mid-17th century. Some surviving Neutral migrated west and south, where they were absorbed by various Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) communities. As a result of this dispersal, information about pre-contact Neutral history comes mainly from Jesuit records and archaeological excavations.

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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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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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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.

timeline event

Reserve Declares State of Emergency After Three Suicides and Four Attempts in One Month

Chief Ronald Mitsuing of the Makwa Sahgaiehcan First Nation, located northwest of Saskatoon, declared that the community of 1,000 people was in a state of emergency and a state of crisis after three people, including a 10-year-old and a 14-year-old, committed suicide in the space of a month. At least four others attempted suicide in that time. “The community and our frontline workers are looking for immediate relief; and we are calling on our local, provincial and federal governments for support,” Mitsuing said in a statement. (See also Suicide Among Indigenous Peoples in Canada.)

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Pitikwahanapiwiyin (Poundmaker)

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.