The game is six degrees of Canadian history. Take two seemingly unrelated pieces of Canadian culture and connect the dots through various people, places and events to discover how they’re distantly — or maybe not-so-distantly — related. Along the way, we visit the quizzical and curious, the tragic and comic, and everything in between.
Matthew Coon Come, Grand Chief of the James Bay Cree Nation of Iiyuuschee/Cree Regional Authority (1987-1999, 2009–), National Chief of AFN (2000-2003); activist, environmentalist (born in 1956 near Mistissini, Québec). Matthew Coon Come was elected Grand Chief of the James Bay Cree Nation five times, and served one term as National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations. He achieved national and international fame through his successful opposition to the James Bay hydroelectric project in the 1990s, his assertion of Cree self-determination in relation to Québec separatism, and his advocacy for Aboriginal self-determination across the world.
Emily Pauline Johnson (also known as Tekahionwake, “double wampum”), poet, writer, artist and performer (born 10 March 1861 on the Six Nations Reserve, Canada West; died 7 March 1913 in Vancouver, BC) was one of North America’s most notable entertainers of the late 19th century.
Mary Brant (generally known as Molly Brant and as Konwatsi'tsiaiénni in the Mohawk language, meaning "someone lends her a flower"). Brant was one of the most important women in North American Indigenous history. She held an influential position as head of a society of Six Nations matrons and also gained power from her relationship with Sir William Johnson, first superintendent of the northern Indigenous peoples in British North America.
Elijah Harper, Oji-Cree politician, consultant, policy analyst (born 3 March 1949 at Red Sucker Lake, MB; died 17 May 2013 in Ottawa, ON). Harper is best known for the role he played in scuttling the Meech Lake Accord, for which he was named the Canadian Press newsmaker of the year for 1990.
Frank Arthur Calder, OC, Nisga’a politician, chief, businessman (born 3 August 1915, Nass Harbour, BC; died 4 November 2006 in Victoria, BC). Frank Calder was the first Indigenous member of a Canadian legislature, elected in 1949 during the BC general election. Calder is best known for his role in the Nisga’a Tribal Council’s Supreme Court case against the province of British Columbia (commonly known as the Calder case), which demonstrated that Aboriginal title (i.e., ownership) to traditional lands exists in modern Canadian law.
In 1969, the federal government released the Statement of the Government of Canada on Indian Policy, otherwise known as the 1969 White Paper. It proposed the elimination of separate legal status for Aboriginal people in Canada and called for their assimilation into mainstream Canadian society.
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, no less those of the Poundmaker Cree Nation in Saskatchewan.
Mistahimaskwa (Big Bear), Plains Cree chief (born near Fort Carlton, SK; died 17 January 1888 on the Little Pine Reserve, SK). Mistahimaskwa is best known for his refusal to sign Treaty 6 in 1876 and for his band’s involvement in violent conflicts associated with the 1885 North-West Rebellion.
Joseph Brant, or Thayendanegea, Mohawk war chief, Loyalist, statesman (born circa March 1742/43 in Cayahoga [near Akron, Ohio]; died 24 November 1807 at Burlington Bay, Upper Canada); brother of Mary (Molly) Brant. In May 1784, following the American Revolution, Joseph Brant led the Mohawk Loyalists and some other Indigenous peoples to a large tract of land on the Grand River granted them in compensation for their losses in the war.
Shawnadithit (also known as Nance or Nancy April), the last Beothuk (born circa 1800-6 in what is now NL; died 6 June 1829 in St. John’s, NL). Shawnadithit’s record of Beothuk culture continues to shape modern understandings of her people. In 2007, the federal government announced the unveiling of a Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada plaque recognizing Shawnadithit’s importance to Canadian history.
Jeannette Vivian Corbiere Lavell (called Keewednanung, “North Star” in the Anishinaabe language), CM, activist, educator and community worker (born 21 June 1942 in Wikwemikong, ON). Corbiere Lavell, an Anishinaabe (Ojibwe) woman, was one of several Indigenous women who brought increased public awareness to the gendered discrimination that First Nations women faced because of status law, namely section 12(1)(b) of the Indian Act. Her efforts were central to revising patriarchal (male-dominated) aspects of Canadian legal code.
Sitting Bull (Tatanka Iyotake in the Lakota language, meaning literally “Buffalo Bull Who Sits Down”), Hunkpapa Lakota Sioux chief (born in 1831; died 15 December 1890 at Standing Rock, South Dakota). Sitting Bull led the Dakota (Sioux) resistance against US incursion into traditional territory. After the most famous battle at Little Big Horn, in which General George Custer’s forces were completely annihilated, Sitting Bull left the United States for the Cypress Hills in Saskatchewan. Sitting Bull symbolized the conflict between settlers and Indigenous culture over lifestyles, land and resources.
Stephen Kakfwi, Dene leader, politician, premier of the Northwest Territories 2000–2003 (born 1950 near Fort Good Hope, NT). Kakfwi attended residential schools in Inuvik, Yellowknife and Fort Smith. He achieved national prominence because of his forceful appearance before the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline Inquiry. In the mid-1970s he argued passionately that the proposed construction of a pipeline across the traditional homeland of the Dene people before the settlement of their land claims would destroy their way of life as well as damage the natural environment of the region.