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Aboriginal peoples in Canadamarker comprise the First Nations, Inuit and Métis. The descriptors Indian and Eskimo are falling into disuse. Old Crow Flats and Bluefish Caves are the earliest archaeological sites of human habitation in Canada. The Paleo-Indian Clovis, Plano cultures and Pre-Dorset pre-date American indigenous and Inuit cultures. Projectile point tools, spears, pottery, bangles, chisels and scrapers mark archaeological sites, thus distinguishing cultural periods, traditions and lithic reduction styles.

Hundreds of Aboriginal nations evolved trade, spiritual and social hierarchies. The Métis culture of mixed blood originated in the mid-17th century when First Nation and native Inuit married European settlers. The Inuit had more limited interaction with European settlers during that early period.

Various laws, treaties, and legislation have been enacted between European immigrants and First Nations across Canada. Aboriginal Right to Self-Government provides opportunity to manage historical, cultural, political, health care and economic control aspects within first people's communities.

There are currently over 600 recognized First Nations governments or bands encompassing 1,172,790 2006 peoples spread across Canada with distinctive Aboriginal cultures, languages, art, and music. National Aboriginal Day recognises the cultures and contributions of Aboriginal peoples of Canada. In all walks of life First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples have become prominent figures serving as role models in the Aboriginal community and help to shape the Canadian cultural identity.


The terms First Peoples and First Nations are interchangeable. The terms First Peoples or Aboriginals in Canada are normally broader terms than First Nations, as they include Inuit, Métis and First Nations. First Nations (most often used in the plural) has come into general use for the Indigenous peoples of North America located in Canada, and their descendants, who are neither Inuit nor Métis. First Nations person is used on reserves is being supplanted by members of various nations referring to themselves by their group or national identity. In conversation this would be as "I am Haida," or "we are Kwantlens," in recognition of their First Nations ethnicities. In this Act, "Aboriginal peoples of Canada" includes the Indian, Inuit and Métis peoples of Canada.

Indian remains in place as the legal term used in the Canadian Constitution, its usage outside such situations can be considered offensive. Aboriginals is more commonly used to describe all Indigenous peoples of Canada. It also refers to self-identification of Aboriginal people who live within Canada claiming rights of Sovereignty or Aboriginal title to lands.

The term Eskimo has pejorative connotations and in Canada and Greenland. Indigenous peoples have replaced the term Eskimo with Inuit. The Yupik of Alaska and Siberia do not consider themselves Inuit, and ethnographers agree they are a distinct people. They prefer the terminology Yupik, Yupiit, or Eskimo. The Yupik languages are linguistically distinct from the Inuit languages. Linguistic groups of Arctic people have no universal replacement term for Eskimo, inclusive of all Inuit and Yupik people across the geographical area inhabited by the Inuit and Yupik peoples.


Lithic period

According to archeological and genetic evidence, North and South America were the last continents in the world with human habitation. During the (Wisconsin glaciation), 50,000 17,000 years ago, falling sea levels allowed people to move across the Bering land bridge that joined Siberiamarker to north west North America (Alaska). Alaska was ice-free due to low snowfall, allowing a small population to exist. The Laurentide ice sheet covered the majority of Canada, blocking nomadic inhabitants and confining them to Alaska (East Beringia) for thousands of years.

Mitochondrial DNA indicates that the first inhabitants of the Americas share a single ancestral population, one that developed in isolation, conjectured to be Beringia. The isolation of these peoples in Beringia might have lasted 5,000 15,000 years. Around 16,500 years ago, the glaciers began melting, allowing people to move south and east into Canada and beyond.

The first inhabitants entered the Americas pursuing Pleistocene mammals such as the giant beaver, steppe wisent, musk ox, mastodons, woolly mammoths and ancient reindeer (early caribou). One route hypothesized is that people walked south via an ice-free corridor on the east side of the Rocky Mountains, and then fanned out across North America before continuing on to South America. The other conjectured route is that they migrated, either on foot or using primitive boats, down the Pacific Coast to the tip of South America, and then crossed the Rockies and Andes. Evidence of the latter has been covered by a sea level rise of hundreds of metres following the last ice age.

The Old Crow Flats and basin was one of the areas in Canada untouched by glaciations during the Pleistocene Ice ages, thus it served as a pathway and refuge for ice age plants and animals. The area holds evidence of early human habitation in Canada dating from about 20,000 years ago and ending about 11,000 years ago. Fossils from the area include some never accounted for in North America, such as hyenas and large camels. Bluefish Caves is an archaeological site in the Yukon Territorymarker of Canada from which a specimen of apparently human-worked mammoth bone has been radiocarbon dated to 18,000 years ago.
During the 1950s, geologists first conjectured that an ice-free corridor ran north and south through Alberta during the Late Wisconsin period. Lithic reduction stone scrapers and choppers were preserved from archaeological sites in Grimshaw, Bow River, and Lethbridgemarker. These Lithic flaked stone tools discovered under glacial sand and gravel are classified as pre-glacial and indicate nomadic humans occupied the area as early as 23,000 years ago. Archaeologists are still finalising the dates recorded for the Alberta and the Old Crow flats sites.

Clovis sites dated at 13,500 years ago were discovered in western North America during the 1930s. Clovis peoples were regarded as the first widespread Paleo-Indian inhabitants of the New World and ancestors to all indigenous peoples in the Americas. Archaeological discoveries in the past thirty years have brought forward other distinctive knapping cultures who occupied the Americas from the lower Great Plainsmarker to the shores of Chilemarker.

Localised regional cultures developed from the time of the Younger Dryas cold climate period which dated 12,900 – 11,500 years ago. The Folsom tradition are characterised by their use of Folsom points as projectile tips at archaelogical sites. These tools assisted activities at kill sites which marked the slaughter and butchering of bison.
The land bridge existed until 13,000 11,000 years ago, long after the oldest proven human settlements in the New World began. Lower sea levels in the Queen Charlotte soundmarker and Hecate Straitmarker produced great grass lands called archipelago of Haida Gwaii.Hunter-gatherers of the area left distinctive lithic technology tools and the remains of large butchered mammals, occupying the area from 13,000 9,000 years ago. In July of 1992, the Federal Government officially designated X̲á:ytemmarker as a National Historic Site, one of the first Indigenous spiritual sites in Canada to be formally recognised in this manner.

The Plano culture was a group of hunter-gatherer communities that occupied the Great Plains area of North America between 12,000 10,000 years ago. The Paleo-Indians moved into new territory as it emerged from under the glaciers. Big game flourished in this new environment. The Plano culture are characterised by a range of projectile point tools collectively called Plano points which were used to hunt bison. Their diets also included pronghorn antelope, elk, deer, raccoon and coyote. At the beginning of the Archaic Era, they began to adopt a sedentary approach to subsistence. Sites in and around Belmont, Nova Scotiamarker have evidence of Plano-Indians, indicating small seasonal hunting camps, perhaps re-visited over generations from around 11,000 10,000 years ago. Seasonal large and smaller game fish and fowl were food and raw material sources. Adaptation to the harsh environment included tailored clothing and skin-covered tents on wooden frames.

Archaic period

The North American climate finally stabilised by 8000  before the Common Era BCE(10,000 years ago), climatic conditions were very similar to today's. This led to wide spread migration, cultivation and subsequently a dramatic rise in population all over the Americas. Over the course of thousands of years, American indigenous peoples domesticated, bred and cultivated a large array of plant species. These species now constitute 50 – 60% of all crops in cultivation worldwide.
The vastness and variety of Canada's climates, ecology, vegetation, fauna, and landform separations have defined ancient peoples implicitly into cultural or linguistic divisions. Canada is surrounded north, east, and west with coastline and since the last ice age, Canada has consisted of distinct forest regions. Language contributes to the identity of a people by influencing social life ways and spiritual practices. Aboriginal religions developed from anthropomorphism and animism philosophies.

The placement of artifacts and materials within an Archaic burial site indicated social differentiation based upon status. There is a continuous record of occupation of S'ólh Téméxw by Aboriginal people dating from the early Holocene period, 10,000 9,000 years ago. Archaeological sites at Stave Lakemarker, Coquitlam Lakemarker, Fort Langleymarker and region uncovered early period artifacts. These early inhabitants were highly mobile hunter-gatherers, consisting of approximately 20 to 50 members of an extended family. The Na-Dene people occupied much of the land area of northwest and central North America starting around 8,000 BCE. They were the earliest ancestors of the Athabaskan-speaking peoples, including the Navajo and Apache. They had villages with large multi-family dwellings, used seasonally during the summer, from which they hunted, fished and gathered food supplies for the winter. The Wendat peoples settled into Southern Ontario along the Eramosa Rivermarker around 8,000 7,000 BCE (10,000 9,000 years ago). They were concentrated between Lake Simcoemarker and Georgian Baymarker. Wendat hunted caribou to survive on the glacier-covered land. Many different First Nations cultures relied upon the buffalo starting by 6,000 5,000 BCE (8,000 7,000 years ago). They hunted buffalo by herding migrating buffalo off cliffs. Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jumpmarker, near Lethbridge, Albertamarker, is a hunting grounds which was in use for about 5,000 years.
The west coast of Canada by 7,000 5000 BCE (9,000 7,000 years ago) saw various cultures who organised themselves around salmon fishing. The Nuu-chah-nulth of Vancouver Islandmarker began whaling with advanced long spears at about this time. The Maritime Archaic is one group of North America's Archaic culture of sea-mammal hunters in the subarctic. They prospered from approximately 7,000 BCE 1,500 BCE (9,000 3,500 years ago) along the Atlantic Coast of North America. Their settlements included longhouses and boat-topped temporary or seasonal houses. They engaged in long-distance trade, using as currency white chert, a rock quarried from northern Labrador to Maine. The Pre-Columbian culture, whose members were called Red Paint People, is indigenous to the New Englandmarker and Atlantic Canadamarker regions of North America. The culture flourished between 3,000 BCE 1,000 BCE (5,000 3,000 years ago) and was named after their burial ceremonies which used large quantities of ochre -- normally red -- to cover both bodies and grave goods.

The Arctic small tool tradition is a broad cultural entity that developed along the Alaska Peninsulamarker, around Bristol Baymarker, and on the eastern shores of the Bering Strait around 2,500 BCE (4,500 years ago). These Paleo-Arctic peoples had a highly distinctive toolkit of small blades (microblades) that were pointed at both ends and used as side- or end-barbs on arrows or spears made of other materials, such as bone or antler. Scrapers, engraving tools and adze blades were also included in their toolkits. The Arctic small-tool tradition branches off into two cultural variants, including the Pre-Dorset, and the Independence traditions. These two groups, ancestors of Thule people, were displaced by the Inuit by 1000 Common Era (CE).

Post-Archaic period

The Old Copper Complex societies dating from 3,000 BCE 500 BCE (5,000 2,500 years ago) are a manifestation of the Woodland Culture, and are pre-pottery in nature. Evidence found in the northern Great Lakesmarker regions indicates that they extracted copper from local glacial deposits and used it in its natural form to manufacture tools and implements.

The Woodland cultural period dates from about 2,000 BCE 1,000 CE, and has locales in Ontario, Quebec, and Maritime regions. The introduction of pottery distinguishes the Woodland culture from the earlier Archaic stage inhabitants. Laurentian people of southern Ontario manufactured the oldest pottery excavated to date in Canada. They created pointed-bottom beakers decorated by a cord marking technique that involved impressing tooth implements into wet clay. Woodland technology included items such as beaver incisor knives, bangles, and chisels. The population practicing sedentary agricultural life ways continued to increase on a diet of squash, corn, and bean crops.

The Hopewell tradition is an Aboriginal culture that flourished along American rivers from 300 BCE 500 CE. At its greatest extent, the Hopewell Exchange System networked cultures and societies with the peoples on the Canadian shores of Lake Ontariomarker. Canadian expression of the Hopewellian peoples encompasses the Point Peninsula, Saugeen, and Laurel complexes.

First Nations

First Nations peoples had settled and established trade routes across what is now Canada by 500 BCE 1,000 CE. Communities developed each with its own culture, customs, and character. In the northwest were the Athapaskan, Slavey, Dogrib, Tutchone, and Tlingit. Along the Pacific coast were the Haida; Salish; Kwakiutl; Nootka; Nisga'a; Senakw and Gitxsan. In the plains were the Blackfoot; Blood; Sarcee and Peigan. In the northern woodlands were the Cree and Chipewyan. Around the Great Lakes were the Anishinaabe; Algonquin; Míkmaq; Iroquois and Huron. Along the Atlantic coast were the Beothuk, Maliseet, Innu, Abenaki and Micmac.

Many Canadian Aboriginal civilisations established characteristics and hallmarks which included permanent or urban settlements, agriculture, civic and monumental architecture, and complex societal hierarchies. These civilisations had evolved and changed by the time of the first permanent European arrivals (c. late 15th–early 16th centuries), and have been brought forward through archaeological investigations.

There are indications of contact made before Christopher Columbus between the first peoples and those from other continents. Aboriginal people in Canada interacted with Europeans as far back as 1000 AD, but prolonged contact came after Europeans established permanent settlements in the 17th and 18th centuries. In Columbus' time there was speculation that other Europeans had made the trip in ancient or contemporary times; Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo y Valdés records in his General y natural historia de las Indias of 1526, which includes biographical information on Columbus. European written accounts generally recorded friendliness on the part of the First Nations, who profited in trade with Europeans. Such trade generally strengthened the more organised political entities such as the Iroquois Confederation. Throughout the 16th century, European fleets made almost annual visits to the eastern shores of Canada to cultivate the fishing opportunities. A sideline industry emerged in the un-organised traffic of furs overseen by the Indian Department.

Prominent First Nations people include Joe Capilano, who met with King of the United Kingdom, Edward VII, to speak of the need to settle land claims and Ovide Mercredi, a leader at both the Meech Lake Accord constitutional reform discussions and Oka Crisis.


The Inuit are the descendants of what anthropologists call the Thule culture, which emerged from western Alaska around 1,000 CE and spread eastward across the Arctic, displacing the Dorset culture (in Inuktitut, the Tuniit). Inuit historically referred to the Tuniit as "giants", or "dwarfs", who were taller and stronger than the Inuit. Researchers hypothesize that the Dorset culture lacked dogs, larger weapons and other technologies used by the expanding Inuit society. By 1300, the Inuit had settled in west Greenlandmarker, and finally moved into east Greenland over the following century. The Inuit had trade routes with more southern cultures. Boundary disputes were common and gave rise to aggressive actions.
Warfare was common among Inuit groups with sufficient population density. Inuit, such as the Nunatamiut (Uummarmiut) who inhabited the Mackenzie Rivermarker delta area, often engaged in common warfare. The Central Arctic Inuit lacked the population density to engage in warfare. In the 13th century, the Thule culture began arriving in Greenland from what is now Canada. Norse accounts are scant. Norse-made items from Inuit campsites in Greenland were obtained by either trade or plunder. One account, Ívar Bárðarson, speaks of "small people" with whom the Norsemen fought. 14th-century accounts that a western settlement, one of the two Norse settlements, was taken over by the Skræling.

After the disappearance of the Norse colonies in Greenland, the Inuit had no contact with Europeans for at least a century. By the mid-16th century, Basque fishermen were already working the Labrador coast and had established whaling stations on land, such as been excavated at Red Baymarker. The Inuit appear not to have interfered with their operations, but they did raid the stations in winter for tools, and particularly worked iron, which they adapted to native needs.

Notable among the Inuit are Abraham Ulrikab and family who became a zoo exhibit in Hamburgmarker, Germanymarker, and Tanya Tagaq Gillis, a traditional throat singer. Abe Okpik, CM, was instrumental in helping Inuit obtain surnames rather than disc numbers and Kiviaq (David Ward) won the legal right to use his single-word Inuktituk name.


The Métis are a people descended from marriages between Europeans and Cree, Ojibway, Algonquin, Saulteaux, Menominee, Mi'kmaq, Maliseet, and other First Nations. mainly French. Their history dates to the mid-17th century.The Métis homeland consists of the Canadian provinces of British Columbiamarker, Alberta, Saskatchewanmarker, Manitobamarker, Quebecmarker, New Brunswickmarker, Nova Scotiamarker, and Ontariomarker, as well as the Northwest Territoriesmarker (NWT).

Amongst nameable Métis people are Tom Jackson, television actor, Tony Whitford, Commissioner of the Northwest Territories and Louis Riel who led two resistance movements, the Red River Rebellion of 1869–1870 and the North-West Rebellion of 1885 which ended in his trial.

The languages inhernelty Métis are either Métis French or a mixed language called Michif. Michif, Mechif or Métchif is a phonetic spelling of Métif, a variant of Métis. The Métis today predominantly speak English, with French a strong second language, as well as numerous Aboriginal tongues. A 19th-century community of the Métis people, the Anglo-Métis, were referred to as Countryborn. They were children of Rupert's Land fur trade typically of Orcadian, Scottish, or English paternal descent and Aboriginal maternal descent. Their first languages would have been Aboriginal (Cree, Saulteaux, Assiniboine, etc.) and English. Their fathers spoke Gaelic, thus leading to the development of an English dialect referred to as "Bungee".

There is debate over legally defining the term Métis. Unlike First Nations people and Inuit, there is no distinction between status and non-status. S.35 of the Constitution Act, 1982 mentions the Métis. Métis, their heritage and aboriginal ancestry have been absorbed and assimilated into their surrounding populations.


From the late 18th century, European Canadians encouraged Aboriginals to assimilate into their own culture, referred to as "Canadian culture". These attempts reached a climax in the late 19th and early 20th centuries with forced integration. Due to laws and policies that encouraged or required Aboriginals to assimilate into a Eurocentric society, Canada may be in violation of the United Nations Genocide Convention that Canada signed in 1949 and passed through Parliament in 1952. The residential school system that removed Aboriginal children from their homes for placement in Christian-run schools has led scholars to believe that Canada can be tried in international court for genocide. In 2008 Prime Minister Stephen Harper issued an apology on behalf of the Canadian government and its citizens for the residential school system.

Politics, law and legislation


The Canadian Crown and Aboriginal peoples began interactions during the European colonialisation period. Numbered treaties, the Indian Act, the Constitution Act of 1982 and case laws were established. Aboriginals construe these agreements as being between them and the Crown of Canada via the districts Indian Agent, and not the Cabinet of Canada.The Māori interprets the Treaty of Waitangi in New Zealandmarker similarly. A series of eleven treaties were signed between Aboriginals in Canada and the reigning Monarch of Canada from 1871 to 1921. The Government of Canada created the policy, commissioned the Treaty Commissioners and ratified the agreements. These Treaties are agreements with the Government of Canada administered by Canadian Aboriginal law and overseen by the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development.

According to the proposed First Nations Federal Crown Political Accord "cooperation will be a cornerstone for partnership between Canada and First Nations, wherein Canada is the short-form reference to Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada. The Supreme Courtmarker argued that treaties "served to reconcile pre-existing Aboriginal sovereignty with assumed Crown sovereignty, and to define Aboriginal rights". First Nations people interpreted agreements covered in treaty 8 to last "as long as the sun shines, grass grows and rivers flow."

Indian Act and Bill C-31

The Indian Act is federal legislation that dates from 1876. There have been over twenty major changes made to the original Act since then, the last time being in 1951; amended in 1985 with Bill C-31. The Indian Act indicates how Reserves and Bands can operate and defines who is recognised as an "Indian".

In 1985, the Canadian Parliament passed Bill C-31, "An Act to Amend the Indian Act". Because of a Constitutional requirement, the Bill took affect as of April 17, 1985.
  • It ends discriminatory provisions of the Indian Act, especially those which discriminated against women.
  • It changes the meaning of "status" and for the first time allows for limited reinstatement of Indians who were denied or lost status and/or Band membership in the past.
  • It allows bands to define their own membership rules.

Those people accepted into band membership under band rules may not be status Indians. C-31 clarified that various sections of the Indian Act would apply to band members. The sections under debate concern community life and land holdings. Sections pertaining to Indians (Aboriginals) as individuals (in this case, wills and taxation of personal property) were not included.

Royal Commission

The Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples was a Royal Commission undertaken by the Government of Canada in 1991 to address issues of the Aboriginal peoples of Canada. It assessed past government policies toward Aboriginal people, such as residential schools, and provided policy recommendations to the government.The Commission issued its final report in November 1996. The five-volume, 4,000 page report covered a vast range of issues; its 440 recommendations called for sweeping changes to the interaction between Aboriginal, non-Aboriginal people and the governments in Canada. The report "set out a 20 year agenda for change."

Health policy

In 1995, the federal government announced the Aboriginal Right to Self-Government Policy. This policy recognises that First Nations and Inuit have the constitutional right to shape their own forms of government to suit their particular historical, cultural, political and economic circumstances. The Indian Health Transfer Policy provided a framework for the assumption of control of health services by Aboriginal peoples, and set forth a developmental approach to transfer centred on the concept of self-determination in health. Through this process, the decision to enter into transfer discussions with Health Canada rests with each community. Once involved in transfer, communities are able to take control of health programme responsibilities at a pace determined by their individual circumstances and health management capabilities. The National Aboriginal Health Organization (NAHO) incorporated in 2000, is an Aboriginal-designed and-controlled not-for-profit body in Canada that works to influence and advance the health and well-being of Aboriginal Peoples.

Political organization

First Nations and Inuit organisations ranged in size from band societies of a few people to multi-nation confederacies like the Iroquois. First Nations leaders from across the country formed the Assembly of First Nations, which began as the National Indian Brotherhood in 1968.

Today's political organisations have resulted from interaction with European-style methods of government via the Federal Interlocutor for Métis and Non-Status Indians. Aboriginal political organisations throughout Canada vary in political standing, viewpoints, and reasons for forming. First Nations, Métis and Inuit negotiate with the Canadian Government through Indian and Northern Affairs Canada in all affairs concerning land, entitlement, and rights. The First Nation groups that operate independently do not belong to these groups.


Further information: Aboriginal culture in Canada and Notable Aboriginal people of Canada
Countless North American Indigenous words, inventions and games have become an everyday part of Canadian language and use. The canoe, snowshoes, the toboggan, lacrosse, tug of war, maple syrup and tobacco are just a few of the products, inventions and games. Some of the words include the barbecue, caribou, chipmunk, woodchuck, hammock, skunk, mahogany, hurricane and moose. Many North American and South American areas, towns, cities and rivers have names of Indigenous origin. The word "Canada" derives from the St. Lawrence Iroquoian word meaning "village" or "settlement". The province of Saskatchewanmarker derives its name from the Saskatchewan River; which in the Cree language is called "Kisiskatchewani Sipi", meaning "swift-flowing river." Canada's capital city Ottawamarker comes from the Algonquin language term "adawe" meaning "to trade." Modern youth groups such as the Boy Scouts and the Girl Scouts include programs based largely on Indigenous lore, arts and crafts, character building and outdoor camp craft and living.

Aboriginal cultural areas depend upon their ancestors' primary lifeway, or occupation, at the time of European contact. These culture areas correspond closely with physical and ecological regions of Canada. The indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest Coast were centred around ocean and river fishing; in the interior of British Columbia, hunter-gatherer and river fishing. In both of these areas the salmon was of chief importance. For the people of the plains, bison hunting was the primary activity. In the subarctic forest, other species such as the moose were more important. For peoples near the Great Lakes and Saint Lawrence Rivermarker, shifting agriculture was practised, including the raising of maize, beans, and squash. While for the Inuit, hunting was the primary source of food with seals the primary component of their diet. The caribou, fish, other marine mammals and to a lesser extent plants, berries and seaweed are part of the Inuit diet. What may be one of the more noticeable symbols of Inuit culture, the inukshuk, is the emblem of the Vancouvermarker 2010 Winter Olympics. Inuksuit are rock sculptures made by stacking stones in the shape of a human figure they are called inunnguaq.

Indian reserves, established in Canadian law by treaties such as Treaty 7, are lands of First Nations recognised by non-indigenous governments. Some reserves are within cities, such as the Opawikoscikan Reserve in Prince Albert, Saskatchewanmarker, Wendakemarker in Quebec Citymarker or Stony Plain 135marker in the Edmonton Capital Region. There are more reserves in Canada than there are First Nations, which were ceded multiple reserves by treaty. Aboriginal people currently work in a variety of occupations and may live outside their ancestral homes. The traditional cultures of their ancestors, shaped by nature, still exert a strong influence on them, from spirituality to political attitudes. National Aboriginal Day is a day of recognition of the cultures and contributions of the First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples of Canada. The day was first celebrated in 1996, after it was proclaimed that year, by then Governor General of Canada Roméo LeBlanc, to be celebrated on June 21 annually. Most provincial jurisdictions do not recognise it as a statutory holiday.


Main articles: Canadian Aboriginal syllabics, First Nations Aboriginal languages, Inuit language, Eskimo-Aleut languages and Indigenous languages of the Americas
There are 11 Aboriginal language groups in Canada, made up of more than 65 distinct dialects. Of these, only Cree, Inuktitut and Ojibway have a large enough population of fluent speakers to be considered viable to survive in the long term. Two of Canada's territories give official status to native languages. In Nunavut, Inuktitut and Inuinnaqtun are official languages alongside the national languages of English and French, and Inuktitut is a common vehicular language in territorial government. In the NWT, the Official Languages Act declares that there are eleven different languages: Chipewyan, Cree, English, French, Gwich’in, Inuinnaqtun, Inuktitut, Inuvialuktun, North Slavey, South Slavey and Tłįchǫ. Besides English and French, these languages are not vehicular in government; official status entitles citizens to receive services in them on request and to deal with the government in them.

Aboriginal language No. of speakers

Mother tongue

Home language
Cree 99,950 78,855 47,190
Inuktitut 35,690 32,010 25,290
Ojibway 32,460 11,115 11,115
Montagnais-Naskapi 11,815 10,970 9,720
Dene 11,130 9,750 7,490
Oji-Cree 12,605 8,480 8,480
Mi’kmaq 8,750 7,365 3,985
Siouan languages 6,495 5,585 3,780
Atikamekw 5,645 5,245 4,745
Blackfoot 4,915 3,085 3,085
For a complete list see : Spoken languages of Canada


Aboriginals were producing art for thousands of years prior to the arrival of European settler colonists and the eventual establishment of Canada as a nation state. Like the peoples that produced them, indigenous art traditions spanned territories across North America. Indigenous art traditions are organised by art historians according to cultural, linguistic or regional groups: Northwest Coast, Plateau, Plains, Eastern Woodlands, Subarctic, and Arctic.

Art traditions vary enormously amongst and within these diverse groups. Indigenous art with a focus on portability and the body is distinguished from European traditions and its focus on architecture. Indigenous visual art may be used conjunction with other arts. Shaman's masks and rattles are used ceremoniously in dance, storytelling and music.
Artworks preserved in museum collections date from the period after European contact and show evidence of the creative adoption and adaptation of European trade goods such as metal and glass beads. The distinct Métis cultures that have arisen from inter-cultural relationships with Europeans contribute culturally hybrid art forms. During the 19th and the first half of the 20th century the Canadian government pursued an active policy of forced and cultural assimilation toward indigenous peoples. The Indian Act banned manifestations of the Sun Dance, the Potlatch, and works of art depicting them.

It was not until the 1950s and 1960s that indigenous artists such as Mungo Martin, Bill Reid and Norval Morrisseau began to publicly renew and re-invent indigenous art traditions. Currently there are indigenous artists practicing in all media in Canada and two indigenous artists, Edward Poitras and Rebecca Belmore have represented Canada at the Venice Biennale in 1995 and 2005 respectively.


The Aboriginal peoples of Canada encompass diverse ethnic groups with their individual musical traditions. Music is usually social (public) or ceremonial (private). Public, social music may be dance music accompanied by rattles and drums. Private, ceremonial music includes vocal songs with accompaniment on percussion, used to mark occasions like Midewivin ceremonies and Sun Dances.

Traditionally, Aboriginal peoples used the materials at hand to make their instruments for centuries before Europeans immigrated to Canada. First Nations people made gourds and animal horns into rattles, which were elaborately carved and brightly painted. In woodland areas, they made horns of birch bark and drumsticks of carved antlers and wood. Traditional percussion instruments such as drums were generally made of carved wood and animal hides. These musical instruments provide the background for songs, and songs the background for dances. Traditional First Nations people consider song and dance to be sacred. For years after Europeans came to Canada, First Nations people were forbidden to practice their ceremonies.


They are three distinctive groups of North America indigenous peoples recognised in the Canadian Constitution Act, 1982, sections 25 and 35. Under the Employment Equity Act, Aboriginal people are a designated group along with women, visible minorities, and persons with disabilities. They are not a visible minority under the Employment Equity Act and in the view of Statistics Canada.

The 2006 Canadian Census enumerated 1,172,790 Aboriginal people in Canada, 3.8% of the country's total population. This total comprises 698,025 people of First Nations descent, 389,785 Métis, and 50,485 Inuit. National representative bodies of Aboriginal people in Canada include the Assembly of First Nations, the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, the Métis National Council, the Native Women's Association of Canada, the National Association of Native Friendship Centres and the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples.

Indigenous people assert that their sovereign rights are valid, and point to the Royal Proclamation of 1763 which is mentioned in the Canadian Constitution Act, 1982, Section 25, the British North America Acts and the 1969 Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties (to which Canada is a signatory) in support of this claim.

Province/Territory Number %

,(First Nations)
Métis Inuit Multiple Other
British Columbiamarker 196,075 4.8% 16.7% 129,575 59,445 795 1,655 4,605
Albertamarker 188,365 5.8% 16.1% 97,280 85,495 1,605 1,220 2,760
Saskatchewanmarker 141,890 14.9% 12.1% 91,400 48,115 220 625 1,530
Manitobamarker 175,395 15.5% 15.0% 100,645 71,805 565 680 1,695
Ontariomarker 242,495 2.0% 20.7% 158,400 73,610 2,040 1,910 6,540
Quebecmarker 108,430 1.5% 9.2% 65,085 27,980 10,950 955 3,450
New Brunswickmarker 17,655 2.5% 1.5% 12,385 4,270 185 100 710
Nova Scotiamarker 24,175 2.7% 2.1% 15,240 7,680 320 100 830
Prince Edward Islandmarker 1,730 1.3% 0.1% 1,230 385 30 10 75
Newfoundland and Labradormarker 23,450 4.7% 2.0% 7,765 6,470 4,715 290 4,205
Yukonmarker 7,580 25.1% 0.6% 6,275 800 255 50 190
Northwest Territoriesmarker 20,635 50.3% 1.8% 12,640 3,580 4,160 105 145
Nunavutmarker 24,915 85.0% 2.1% 100 125 24,640 30 20
Canada 1,172,790 3.8% 100.0% 698,025 389,785 50,480 7,740 26,760
Sources: 2006 Census
A. % of the provincial or territorial population that is Aboriginal
B. % of Canada's population that is Aboriginal
C. According to Statistics Canada this figure "Includes those who identified themselves as Registered Indians and/or band members without identifying themselves as North American Indian, Métis or Inuit in the Aboriginal identity question."
Cultural areas of North American Indigenous peoples at the time of European contact.
Ethnographers commonly classify indigenous peoples of the Americas in the United States and Canada into ten geographical regions, cultural areas, with shared cultural traits. The Canadian regions are:

  • Arctic
  • Subarctic
  • Northwest Coast (Also known as Pacific Coast)
  • Northeast Woodlands (Also known as the Eastern Woodlands)
  • Plains
  • Plateau

In the 20th century the Aboriginal population of Canada increased tenfold. Between 1900 and 1950 the population grew by 29%. After the 1960s the infant mortality level on reserves dropped dramatically and the population grew by 161%. Since the 1980s the number of First Nations babies more than doubled and currently almost half of the First Nations population is under the age of 25.

See also


  1. URL gives introduction online
  2. }
  3. Aboriginal Identity (8), Sex (3) and Age Groups (12) for the Population of Canada, Provinces, Territories, Census Metropolitan Areas and Census Agglomerations, 2006 Census-20% Sample Data Click to view table notes, BC, AB, SK, MB, ON, QC, NB, NS, PE, NL, YT, NT, NURetrieved 2009-10-05.
  4. Number and percentage of population reporting Aboriginal identity, Canada, provinces and territories, 2006Retrieved 2009-10-05.
  5. Percentage of Aboriginal people in the population, Canada, provinces and territories, 2006 Retrieved 2009-10-05.

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