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.
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.
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.
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.
Missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in Canada (MMIWG, formerly MMIW) refers to a human rights crisis that has only recently become a topic of discussion within national media. Indigenous women and communities, women’s groups and international organizations have long called for action into the high and disproportionate rates of violence and the appalling numbers of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in Canada. Prior to the launch of the national public inquiry on 8 December 2015, these calls were continually ignored by the federal government. Described by some as a hidden crisis, Dawn Lavell-Harvard, former president of the Native Women’s Association of Canada, refers to MMIWG as a national tragedy and a national shame. In 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada supported the call for a national public inquiry into the disproportionate victimization of Indigenous women and girls.
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.
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.
Mary Sandra Lovelace Nicholas, CM, Wolastoqiyik (Maliseet), Tobique Nation, Liberal Senator for New Brunswick, Indigenous rights advocate (born 15 April 1948 on Tobique reserve near Perth-Andover, NB). Sandra Lovelace Nicholas is the first woman of Indigenous background appointed to the Senate from Atlantic Canada. She championed changes to the Indian Act that seek to restore the legal rights of many Status Indian women and children.
Indigenous treaties in Canada are constitutionally recognized agreements between the Crown and Indigenous peoples. Most of these agreements describe exchanges where Indigenous nations agree to share some of their interests in their ancestral lands in return for various payments and promises. On a deeper level, treaties are sometimes understood, particularly by Indigenous people, as sacred covenants between nations that establish a relationship between those for whom Canada is an ancient homeland and those whose family roots lie in other countries. Treaties therefore form the constitutional and moral basis of alliance between Indigenous peoples and Canada.
The “Sixties Scoop” refers to the large-scale removal or “scooping” of Indigenous children from their homes, communities and families of birth through the 1960s, and their subsequent adoption into predominantly non-Indigenous, middle-class families across the United States and Canada. This experience left many adoptees with a lost sense of cultural identity. The physical and emotional separation from their birth families continues to affect adult adoptees and Indigenous communities to this day.
The 1969 White Paper (formally known as the “Statement of the Government of Canada on Indian Policy, 1969”) was a Canadian government policy paper that attempted to abolish previous legal documents pertaining to Indigenous peoples in Canada, including the Indian Act and treaties, and assimilate all “Indian” peoples under the Canadian state.
It is difficult to make generalizations about definitions of Indigenous rights because of the diversity among First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples in Canada. Broadly speaking, however, Indigenous rights are inherent, collective rights that flow from the original occupation of the land that is now Canada, and from social orders created before the arrival of Europeans to North America. For many, the concept of Indigenous rights can be summed up as the right to independence through self-determination regarding governance, land, resources and culture.2
Prior to the 1960s, only a few periodicals were published for Aboriginal people, mainly by non-Aboriginal missionary and government organizations. Notable examples were the Chinook-language Kamloops Wawa (1891-1905) and the Inuktitut-language Oblate publications of the 1940s and 1950s.
The Aboriginal population is the most rural in Canada. One-half of a million Aboriginal people are committed to the land by heritage, by rights in a rural land base, and by a broad range of bureaucratic mandates provided by the federal government. These conditions are supported by the Constitution Act, 1982, a legal guarantee that is unique in the world for an Aboriginal population with a predominantly hunting heritage.
Health and Disease The health of Indigenous people suffered drastic changes after the arrival of Europeans from the 16th to the 19th century. The introduction of "new" diseases, particularly infections such as smallpox, measles, and influenza, resulted in epidemics, famines, and social disruptions.
Over 1.8 million people reported having an Aboriginal ancestry, or ancestors with an Indigenous identity in Canada in 2011. More than 1.4 million people (over 4 per cent of the total population in Canada) identified themselves as an Aboriginal/Indigenous person.
Gertrude “Gertie” Guerin (née Ettershank, also known as “Old War Horse”), chief, politician, community advocate, elder (born 1917 in Mission, BC; died 1998). Guerin was a fierce protector of First Nations people and culture. She represented the Musqueam nation locally as an elected chief, and on the national stage in challenges to Canadian jurisdiction over traditional Musqueam territory.