The Indigenous People of Canada: Your In-Depth Read

Posted on September 16, 2021

Canada is facing a reckoning. Nearly 1.7 million Canadians identify as Indigenous. They can trace their family roots back thousands of years, all within the borders of Canada. 

The Indigenous people of Canada have proven resilient to centuries of oppression. Many have been uprooted and manipulated by different organizations.  This requires immediate and comprehensive action to rectify.

Many Canadians regard Indigenous people as poor and outdated. It is true that 40% of Indigenous people live below the poverty line. But Indigenous people are relevant and active in Canadian culture today.  

Who makes up the Indigenous people of Canada? What is Indigenous Peoples Day, and how can you celebrate it? What are some Indigenous people of Canada issues?

Answer these questions and you can be part of the solution to complicated problems. Here is your comprehensive guide. 

Who Are the Indigenous People of Canada? 

The Canadian Constitution acknowledges three main groups of Indigenous people. First Nations groups make up more than sixty percent of Canada's Indigenous population. Métis groups make up roughly one-third of the population, while Inuit groups make up the remainder. 

Métis communities combine Indigenous and European cultural practices. Some Métis people identify as mixed-race, while others identify as Indigenous or white.

This means that some people exclude the Métis when discussing Indigenous issues. They count as Indigenous because of their traditions and origins. 

You may hear the term, "Aboriginal people." Though some authors continue to use this term, it implies that Indigenous people are out of date. Whenever possible, use the name of individual groups and communities. 

Each main group contains dozens of communities and subgroups. It is impossible to list all of them, but you can understand some details about a few of them. 

Algonquin

The traditional lands of the Algonquin people lie in Eastern Canada. Most Algonquins reside in Quebec. But you can find Algonquin communities all over the country. 

Algonquin people speak English, French, and Algonquin. The Algonquin language is a verb-based language with several distinct dialects. More than 2,500 people can speak it. 

Algonquin spiritual beliefs and practices are diverse. The Midewiwin is a religious society made of spiritual leaders who conduct ceremonies. 

Kitchi Manitou is an all-encompassing force referred to throughout Algonquin folklore. Kitchi Manitou created and inhabits the entire universe. It is present in all living things and natural phenomena. 

Algonquin traditions are passed down through written texts and oral histories. This includes agricultural and architectural skills that remain in practice today. 

Algonquin communities lived independently from each other. Some communities were bound through kinship, but others were hostile. Some Algonquin clans warred with the Iroquois over access to land and furs. 

Cree

The Cree is one of the most populous Indigenous groups in Canada. Their traditional territories include large parts of modern-day Alberta, Manitoba, and Ontario. The Cree live in many different communities all over Canada.

The Cree lived in small communities that were spread out over woodland areas. They followed animals as they migrated, travelling through canoes and toboggans.

The Cree language is similar to Algonquin. There are many different dialects of Cree, though most share common rules. 

Hunting remains a critical part of Cree culture today. Many communities make clothes and artwork out of the remains of animals. Some people depend on hunting for sustenance. 

Cree communities would gather together during the summer. They would engage in religious ceremonies and socialize with one another. 

The Cree religion celebrates the interconnection between human beings and nature, including animals. Each community has its own stories, including origin stories.

Most incorporate a Creator and trickster figures. These figures provide examples of how individuals can conduct themselves. 

The most famous Cree religious practice is the Sun Dance. But practices included the "walking out ceremony." A community greets a child as they leave their family's tent for the first time. 

Haida

The Haida are Indigenous people whose traditional lands lie in British Columbia. They are one of the smallest Indigenous communities in Canada. But they remain prominent in Indigenous life. 

The Haida language remains spoken by several hundred people. It is an endangered language, but activists and linguists are working on efforts to preserve it. 

The Haida people lived in villages, with each one serving as its own political unit. The villages interacted with other Indigenous communities, trading goods and hunting together. 

Villages were divided into two social groups, the Eagle and the Raven. A member from one group would marry into the other group and have children with them. Family units were very important, with families adopting crests and carving works of art to proclaim their status. 

Haida mythology focuses on a Creator named Ne-kilst-lass. The Creator expresses itself through a raven, and it has qualities akin to a trickster. 

Art remains a very important part of Haida culture. Many Haida have become well-known as visual artists, and their works are found in museums throughout the world. Haida art pieces include totem poles, sculptures, and masks. 

Kivallirmiut

The Kivallirmiut are Inuit communities that live in Nunavut. Historians do not exactly know where their traditional homelands are. Some researchers speculate that they migrated from modern-day Alaska. 

Inuktitut is the traditional spoken language of the Kivallirmiut. It is a language amongst several Inuit communities, and it has several dialects.

The Kivallirmiut did not have a written language, which makes it hard to understand their early history. But the Kivallirmiut preserved their traditions through storytelling and singing. 

Families formed partnerships with each other and gathered together in small social units. Units moved from one region to the other to sustain themselves. Hunters would target caribou for meat and for their bones, which they could use to make tools. 

The Kivallirmiut shared some beliefs with other Inuit communities. Inuit stories were short, describing behavioural codes and supernatural phenomena. 

The Kivallirmiut live in five inland groups today. They are heavily involved in environmental activism. They are resisting attempts by the Canadian government to run uranium projects on their lands.  

Métis Nation

The Métis Nation refers to Métis people who trace their backgrounds to the Red River Valley and adjacent prairies. This includes areas of modern-day Manitoba and Saskatchewan. It also stretches below the Canadian border into the United States.

Europeans from different nationalities interacted with Indigenous people from many different communities. This means that Métis Nations are influenced by a wide variety of Indigenous traditions. 

A few Métis Nation languages are mixed. Michif has some common words with French, but it follows Cree word order and verb phrase rules. 

Some communities show a combination of Indigenous and European practices. Musicians may play European-style fiddles, as dancers perform Indigenous-influenced moves. Sculptures may have Indigenous beads in European floral and natural motifs. 

For decades, the Canadian government regarded the Métis with derision. In recent years, the provincial and national governments have taken steps to provide the Métis with self-government. 

Indigenous Peoples Day

National Indigenous Peoples Day is Canada's annual celebration of the First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples. It falls on 21 June every year, in part to recognize the summer solstice. 

Indigenous activists began organizing in the 1940s for a national holiday. In 1996, the Governor-General of Canada Roméo LeBlanc proclaimed it as an official holiday. It is a territorial holiday in the Northwest Territories and Yukon, but it is not a statutory holiday throughout the rest of Canada. 

Celebratory events occur all throughout Canada. Non-Indigenous people can watch dances and musical performances and take part in feasts. The Canadian government finances different events and provides educational resources for people to learn about Indigenous communities. 

The Issues of Canada's Indigenous People

Indigenous people are involved in a wide range of political issues. The following is a list of some relevant issues, but it is not exhaustive. 

Residential Schools

Residential schools for Indigenous children from the 1880s into the 1990s. These schools were designed to promote a more church based faith in the children.

Sadly, Indigenous children were removed from their families to attend these schools. They had to speak English, follow Christianity, and perform other cultural practices. If they disobeyed, there were some unfortunate consequences. 

Some children were forced into manual labours. Others suffered from emotional, physical, and sexual abuse. More than 2,800 students died in residential schools, with many of them buried in unmarked graves. 

Many leaders in Indigenous communities today survived the residential school system. Activists are currently fighting for reparations to survivors and their communities. They are also working to hold certain individuals responsible for their crimes, and they have secured several convictions since the 1990s. 

Reconciliation 

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada investigated the residential school system. In 2015, they released a report outlining actions the government could take to stop abuses of Indigenous people. 

"Reconciliation" refers to attempts to raise awareness of state violence against Indigenous people and address the harms of it. But it is a controversial idea. 

Some activists believe that reconciliation renders the residential school system and other atrocities as historical events. By this logic, racism against Indigenous people occurred centuries ago, with limited focus on today.

These activists push for reparations that will improve the lives of Indigenous communities on the ground. This includes education about using government resources in Canada's healthcare system. 

Cultural Genocide

The residential school system was one way the Canadian government has been involved in cultural genocide. The government relocated many Indigenous communities from their homes, including the Kivallirmiut. This makes it harder for communities today to practice their cultures. 

Activists are reclaiming and preserving practices. They are making audio recordings of Indigenous languages, allowing future generations to study them. They are returning to their traditional lands to perform cultural events, sometimes with the help of locals. 

Violence Against Women 

Missing and murdered Indigenous women is an ongoing genocide in Canada. Roughly 4,000 Indigenous women and girls have been murdered or kidnapped in recent decades.

The exact number is difficult to determine because records were poorly kept. It is likely that many abusers of Indigenous women are continuing their abuse as well. 

Some families went to the police to report the loss of their loved ones. But law enforcement personnel conducted incomplete investigations. Some of them lacked the resources to go in-depth, while others filed their investigations away due to racist attitudes. 

The federal government is creating a fund so people can investigate the murders. But the government has made few concrete steps to end the genocide. 

Health Problems

Indigenous Canadians suffer from worse health outcomes than non-Indigenous Canadians. 20% of First Nations adults older than 50 report having diabetes. Only 14% of the general population reports the same thing. 

Nearly one-fifth of the Indigenous population live in unsuitable housing. Their homes may lack proper plumbing and access to water.

Some homes contain mould and other allergens. This contributes to a rise in infectious diseases. 

A 2018 study found that many Indigenous people lack access to healthcare providers. The care they receive is ineffective. Some people wait in long lines, while others do not have preventive care. 

What Is Being Done to Resolve these Issues? 

Some activists are working with the federal government on issues. Others are working within their own communities.

This is especially the case for cultural preservation. Educators stay in communities and record the stories of Elders. 

Others are taking to the Internet. They are starting social media pages to organize events throughout Canada.

The Women's Memorial March takes place every 14 February. Indigenous women organize it online. 

Support the Indigenous People of Canada

The Indigenous people of Canada are diverse. First Nations, Inuit, and Métis people all count as Indigenous.

Noteworthy communities include the Algonquin. But there are hundreds that you can learn about. 

Indigenous Peoples Day is every 21 June. It is a good occasion to commemorate Indigenous lives. But work must be done every day to overcome challenges. 

Reparations should go to the survivors of the residential school system. All people who commit violence against Indigenous women should be prosecuted. 

Every Indigenous person should receive health insurance. Insurdinary is committed to that effort. Get your affordable quote today. 

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