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.
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.
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.
Francis “Peggy” Pegahmagabow, Anishnaabe (Ojibwa) chief, Aboriginal rights advocate, war hero (born on 9 March 1889 on the Parry Island reserve, ON; died 5 August 1952 at Parry Island, ON). One of the most highly decorated Indigenous people in Canada during the First World War, Pegahmagabow became a vocal advocate for Indigenous rights and self-determination.2
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.
Georges Henry Erasmus, OC, Indigenous leader, activist and spokesperson (born 8 August 1948 in Fort Rae, NT). Erasmus has been a leading advocate for the self-determination of Indigenous peoples in Canada. He has served as the head of several Indigenous public policy organizations, including the Dene Nation and the Assembly of First Nations. He also served as the co-chair for the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples.
Alikomiak (also spelled Alekámiaq) and Tatimagana, Inuit hunters from the central Arctic, were the first Inuit to be condemned and executed for murder under Canadian law on 1 February 1924. The trials of Alikomiak and Tatimagana have been described as demonstrations of federal authority over the Inuit as well as of Canadian sovereignty in the Arctic.
Dan George, OC, Tsleil-Waututh actor, poet, public speaker (born 24 July 1899 on the Burrard Indian Reserve No. 3 in BC; died 23 September 1981 in North Vancouver, BC). By his film roles and personal appearances, Dan George helped improve the popular image of Indigenous people, often represented in stereotypical ways.
Gloria Mary Maureen George, Indigenous politician, activist and public servant (born 24 July 1942 in Hubert, BC). A tireless advocate for non-status Indians, George was elected president of the Native Council of Canada in 1975, becoming the first and only woman to lead a major Indigenous political organization.
Bill Wilson (Hemas Kla-Lee-Lee-Kla), Kwagiulth (Kwakwaka’wakw) hereditary chief, politician, administrator (born in 1944 in Comox, BC). A leading theorist in British Columbia Indigenous politics, he was also influential in a successful proposal to amend the Constitution Act, 1982 to enshrine Indigenous rights. He is the father of Jody Wilson-Raybould, minister of justice and attorney general of Canada (2015–), who has continued his legacy.1
Alanis Obomsawin, OC, GOQ, filmmaker, singer, artist, storyteller (born 31 August 1932 near Lebanon, New Hampshire). One of Canada’s most distinguished documentary filmmakers, Alanis Obomsawin began her career as a professional singer and storyteller before joining the National Film Board of Canada (NFB) in 1967. Her award-winning films address the struggles of Indigenous peoples in Canada from their perspective, giving prominence to voices that have long fallen on deaf ears. An Officer of the Order of Canada and a Grand Officer of the National Order of Québec, she has received the Prix Albert-Tessier and the Canadian Screen Awards’ Humanitarian Award, as well as multiple Governor General’s Awards, lifetime achievement awards and honorary degrees.
Buffalo Child Long Lance, writer, actor, impostor (born Sylvester Long at Winston-Salem, North Carolina on 1 December 1890; died in Arcadia, California on 20 March 1932). Of mixed Indigenous and white (and possibly black) ancestry, he was able to escape the segregated southern US because he looked "Indian."