In Canada, the term Indigenous peoples (or Aboriginal peoples) refers to First Nations, Métis and Inuit. Indigenous people are the original inhabitants of the land that is now Canada. In 2011, there were more than 1.8 million Indigenous people living in communities throughout the country. Their history significantly predates the arrival of European settlers. Though severely threatened — and in certain cases extinguished — by colonial forces, Indigenous culture, language and social systems have shaped the development of Canada, and continue to grow and thrive despite extreme adversity.
Indigenous Peoples – Cultural Areas
Indigenous peoples, both historical and contemporary, in North America can be divided into 10 cultural areas: Arctic, Subarctic, Northwest Coast, Plateau, Plains, Eastern Woodlands (sometimes referred to as the Northeast), Southeast, Southwest, Great Basin, and California. Only the first six areas are found within the borders of what is now Canada. Contemporary geopolitical borders in North America do not reflect (and often overlap) traditional lands. For example, the Mohawk Nation at Akwesasne straddles both provincial (Quebec and Ontario) and international (New York State) borders, as its existence predates the establishment of the international border in 1783.
These areas are based on linguistic divisions first defined by the ethnologist and linguist Edward Sapir in 1910, while he was head of the Anthropology Division at Geological Survey of Canada, which later became the Canadian Museum of Civilization. Sapir’s geographical framework was adopted by the Smithsonian Institution’s 1978 Handbook of North American Indians, and continue to be used widely in scholarship. The Handbook states that these categories are “used in organizing and referring to information about contiguous groups that are or were similar in culture and history,” but it is important to note that these delineations are not concrete, and neighbouring peoples always share some similarities and some differences. Rather than representing ten distinct cultures, these areas reflect geographic and cultural groupings that are fluid and often intermixed. In addition, contemporary Indigenous peoples may live far from their ancestral homelands, and indeed may form new communities rooted in urban centres rather than traditional lands. These cultural areas are massive and generalized; what is true of a part is not always true of the whole. Some sources further divide the Eastern Woodlands into the Great Lakes and Northern Woodland regions, while others combine the Northeast and Southeast regions into simply Woodlands, and as such one must not assume that all peoples in a cultural area shared the same experiences.
The ethnologists, archaeologists and anthropologists on whose research these articles rely were often not Indigenous themselves . Though much of this research was done through interviews and fieldwork, it inevitably operated within a settler-colonial framework — a worldview that privileges property acquisition, European-style government and economic growth — regardless of the positive intentions of the researcher. Nevertheless, these articles remain valuable both as a historical and historiographical tools.
The articles on the six cultural areas that cover what is now Canada are general surveys that provide only some specific anthropological information. The peoples included in these areas are in some ways similar and in other ways different. What is true for the Wendat may not have been true for the Mi’kmaq, and indeed there existed variations among bands within a group. When considering contemporary situations, it is impossible to assume that one issue, set of beliefs, or cultural reference can relate to all Indigenous people in Canada, though in contemporary politics large-scale political movements like Idle No More have gained wide acceptance and mobilization.
The Indigenous peoples of Canada are considered under 6 general articles.
|Indigenous People: Arctic
|Indigenous People: Eastern Woodlands
|Indigenous People: Northwest Coast|
|Indigenous People: Plains|
|Indigenous People: Plateau|
|Indigenous People: Subarctic
There are also separate entries on the following groups:
H.A. Dempsey, Indian Tribes of Alberta (1978); P. Drucker, Indians of the Northwest Coast (1955); W. Duff, The Indian History of British Columbia (1964); L.M. and J.R. Hanks, Tribe Under Trust: A Study of the Blackfoot Reserve of Alberta (1950); H.B. Hawthorn et al, The Indians of British Columbia (1958); D. Jenness, The Indians of Canada (1932); T. McFeat, ed, Indians of the North Pacific Coast (1966); D.G. Mandelbaum, The Plains Cree (1979); R.B. Morrison and C.R. Wilson, The Native Peoples: The Canadian Experience (1987); A. Ray, Indians in the Fur Trade (1974); V.F. Ray, Cultural Relations in the Plateau of Northwestern America (1939); W.C. Sturtevant, gen ed, Handbook of North American Indians, vol 15: Northeast, ed, B.G. Trigger (1978) and vol 6: Subarctic, ed, J. Helm (1981), other volumes are forthcoming; J.W. Vanstone, Athapaskan Adaptations: Hunters and Fishermen of the Subarctic Forests (1974); M. Zaslow, ed, A Century of Canada's Arctic Islands 1880-1980 (1981).