Before contact with Europeans, Indigenous peoples educated their youth through traditional means — demonstration, group socialization, participation in cultural and spiritual rituals, skill development and oral teachings. The introduction of European classroom-style education as part of a larger goal of assimilation disrupted traditional methods and resulted in cultural trauma and dislocation. Reformers of Indigenous education policies are attempting to reintegrate traditional teachings and provide more cultural and language-based support to enhance and improve the outcomes of Indigenous children in the education system.
The federal government is responsible for the development of policies related to First Nations, Métis, Inuit and Northern communities. After Confederation, the British — who had created the first Indian Department after 1755 — transferred this responsibility to the Canadian government. Since then, different departments have been responsible for the portfolios of Indigenous and Northern affairs. There are currently two departments overseeing Indigenous affairs: Indigenous Services Canada is concerned with providing and supporting the delivery of services (health care, child care, education, etc.) to Indigenous communities; while Crown-Indigenous Relations Canada (formerly Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada) oversees Indigenous-government relations, such as matters pertaining to treaty rights and self-government. On 18 July 2018, the Northern affairs portfolio was moved to a new ministry: Intergovernmental and Northern Affairs and Internal Trade.
After the 1885 Northwest Rebellion (also known as the Northwest Resistance), the federal government developed the pass system — a process by which Indigenous people had to present a travel document authorized by an Indian agent in order to leave and return to their reserves. The pass system was a way of controlling the movement of Indigenous people. It aimed to prevent large gatherings, seen by many White settlers as a threat to their settlements. Colonial officials also believed that the pass system would prevent another conflict like the Northwest Resistance. Used in conjunction with policies such as the Indian Act and residential schools, the pass system was part of an overall policy of assimilation. Though it never became a law, the pass system restricted Indigenous freedom in the Prairie West during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It has had lasting impacts on generations of Indigenous people, as restrictions on mobility caused damage to Indigenous economies, cultures and societies.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) was officially launched in 2008 as part of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement (IRSSA). Intended to be a process that would guide Canadians through the difficult discovery of the facts behind the residential school system, the TRC was also meant to lay the foundation for lasting reconciliation across Canada.
In 2016, 744,855 people identified as First Nations with Indian Status, 44.2 per cent of which lived on reserves. Reserves are governed by the Indian Act, and residence on a reserve is governed by band councils as well as the federal government. Under the Indian Act, reserves that serve as residences are referred to as Indian Bands. Many reserves or bands are now referred to as First Nations. Reserves may serve as spiritual and physical homelands for their people, but they are also tangible representations of colonial governance. As such they are often the focal point of activism relating to land claims, resource management, cultural appropriation, socio-economic conditions, self-governance and cultural self-determination.1
There are 13 First Nation communities in Nova Scotia. Spread over 42 reserves and settlements, these communities range from Acadia First Nation in the southwest to Membertou First Nation in northeastern Cape Breton. Of Nova Scotia’s 19,090 registered Mi’kmaq (in 2018), 10,878 live on reserve. Eight of these communities are on mainland Nova Scotia, and five are in Cape Breton. Their reserves vary in size from over 3,500 hectares to less than one, though almost every community has more than one land tract. Nova Scotia is unusual for the makeup of its on-reserve First Nation communities, in that they are all Mi’kmaq. In terms of the number of First Nation communities, Nova Scotia is comparable to New Brunswick (with 15 First Nations) and Yukon (18 First Nations). Other provinces, such as Ontario and British Columbia, have many more First Nation communities (127 and nearly 200, respectively), while those like Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador have significantly fewer (two and four, respectively).
To a tremendous extent, the enslavement of Indigenous peoples defines slavery in Canada. Fully two-thirds of the slaves in the colony of New France — which held the most slaves and for the longest duration in Canada — were Indigenous. These people were products of the slave trade that developed in the southernmost of Britain’s thirteen colonies during the late 1600s. It was there that settlers turned an Indigenous practice of slavery into a devastating cycle of events that tore apart Indigenous nations and affected all of the European colonies in North America.
The social conditions of Indigenous peoples in Canada vary greatly according to place of residence, income level, family and cultural factors and classification (i.e., First Nations, Métis and Inuit). Areas of particular social concern include housing, employment, education, health, justice, and family and cultural growth.
The Arctic Winter Games (AWG) are biennial games initiated in 1970 to provide northern athletes with opportunities for training and competition, and to promote cultural and social interchange among northern peoples. Although the Games originated in North America, they have grown to include athletes from other parts of the world, including Greenland and parts of Russia, including Magadan, Sápmi and Yamal.
National Indigenous Peoples Day, 21 June, is an official day of celebration to recognize and honour the achievements, history and rich cultures of First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples in Canada. This day has been celebrated as a statutory territorial holiday in the Northwest Territories since 2001 and in the Yukon since 2017.
Indigenous peoples in Canada developed rich building traditions thousands of years before the arrival of the first Europeans. Each of the six broad cultural regions of Indigenous peoples in Canada, defined by common climatic, geographical and ecological characteristics — the Arctic, Subarctic, Northwest Coast, Plateau, Plains and Eastern Woodlands — gave rise to distinctive building forms which reflected these conditions, as well as the available building materials, means of livelihood, and social and spiritual values of the resident peoples.
Two-Spirit, a translation of the Anishinaabeg (Ojibwe) 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.
Chanie “Charlie” Wenjack (born 19 January 1954; died 23 October 1966 near Redditt, ON). Chanie Wenjack, an Anishinaabe boy from Ontario, ran away from his residential school near Kenora at age 12, and subsequently died from hunger and exposure to the harsh weather. His death in 1966 sparked national attention and the first inquest into the treatment of Indigenous children in Canadian residential schools.
During the 20th century, the federal government established racially segregated “Indian hospitals” for the treatment of First Nations and Inuit peoples in Canada. With the coming of medicare in the late 1960s, the government began to close most of the Indian hospitals, though it continues to operate hospitals at Norway House and Hodgson in Manitoba.
Indigenous territory — also referred to as traditional territory — describes the ancestral and contemporary connections of Indigenous peoples to a geographical area. Territories may be defined by kinship ties, occupation, seasonal travel routes, trade networks, management of resources, and cultural and linguistic connections to place.
In Canada, the term Indigenous peoples (or Aboriginal peoples) refers to First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples. These are the original inhabitants of the land that is now Canada. In 2011, more than 1.4 million people in Canada identified as Indigenous. 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.1
The Oka Crisis was a 78-day standoff (11 July–26 September 1990) between Mohawk protesters, police, and army. At the heart of the crisis was the proposed expansion of a golf course and development of condominiums on disputed land that included a Mohawk burial ground. Tensions were high, particularly after the death of Corporal Marcel Lemay, a police officer, and the situation was only resolved after the army was called in. While the golf course expansion was cancelled, and the land purchased by the federal government, it has not yet been transferred to the Kanesatake community.