On your path to migrating and settling in Canada, you’ll find yourself learning more about the country. Sooner or later, that includes familiarizing yourself with the Indigenous Peoples – the original caretakers of this land.
To celebrate Indigenous or Aboriginal Peoples and to honour their deep history, rich culture, and unique traditions, the month of June is observed as the National Indigenous History Month in Canada.
Indigenous Peoples and communities
Canada recognizes three groups of Indigenous Peoples: First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples.
The 2021 Census listed 1.8 million people as Indigenous, accounting for five percent of the total population. More than a million identified as First Nations, Métis accounted for more than 600,000, and more than 70,000 Inuit were living in Canada.
There are more than 630 First Nation communities in Canada, which represent more than 50 Nations and 50 Indigenous languages. Historians tend to group the early First Nations (or Indians) according to six geographical areas of the country: the Woodland First Nations, the Iroquoian First Nations, the Plains First Nations, the Plateau First Nations, the Pacific Coast First Nations; and the First Nations of the Mackenzie and Yukon River Basins.
Some of the First Nations peoples include the Huron-Wendat, Tahltan, Chilcotin, Haudenosaunee, Cree, Haida, Anishinaabe, and Tsimshian.
A spiritual belief common to all First Nations is that their values and traditions are gifts from their creators. Most importantly, First Nations peoples believe in living in harmony with the natural world.
Inuit are the Indigenous peoples of the Arctic; the word ‘Inuit’ means ‘the people’ in the Inuit language of Inuktitut. Many Inuit in the country live across 53 communities in Canada’s north, across a tract of land called Inuit Nunangat, or ‘the place where Inuit live’.
Inuit Nunangat consists of four regions: Inuvialuit in the Northwest Territories and Yukon, Nunavik in Northern Quebec, Nunatsiavut in Labrador, and Nunavut, which is Canada’s newest and largest territory and means ‘our land’ in Inuktitut.
Canada has several programs and initiatives to help young Inuit fully participate in the national economy. Inuit art has also played an integral role in the northern economy and contributed millions of dollars to the regional economy.
Métis descended from Indigenous peoples and the European settlers who came to this land. The Métis refers to a distinct group of peoples who, in addition to their unique ancestry, developed their own culture, customs and group identity separate from their Indian/Inuit, and European ancestors.
To determine whether one is Métis, Canada has developed the Powley test, under which an individual must identify as Métis, be an accepted member of a present-day Métis community, and have ties to historic Métis communities.
Today, there are Metis Nations in Saskatchewan, Alberta, British Columbia, Ontario, the Manitoba Métis Federation, and a Métis National Council to promote self-determination for Métis peoples.
National Day for Truth and Reconciliation
Canada’s colonial legacy has a dark past that brought harm and pain to the Indigenous Peoples. To admit the tragic history, advance reconciliation, and renew relationships with the Indigenous Peoples, National Day for Truth and Reconciliation and Orange Shirt Day take place on September 30 annually. The day honours survivors of residential schools, their families and communities; and the children who never returned home from these institutions.
You can find out about what efforts are being taken to deliver on the 94 calls to action issued by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
An Indigenous-led grassroots effort to raise awareness of the social impact of residential schools, Orange Shirt Day also promotes the concept of ‘Every Child Matters’. The colour orange symbolizes the stripping away of culture, freedom, and self-esteem experienced by Indigenous children over generations.
Where can you learn more?
The Government of Canada has plenty of resources on Indigenous communities.
Also read: Ways to learn about Indigenous Peoples
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