Explore The Culture
In Canada, Indigenous cultures are represented by Inuit, First Nations and Métis peoples. The terms Aboriginal, Native and Indian are also still used by certain people and in certain texts although they appear to have fallen in disfavour with some. Inuit peoples live in the Arctic region from Alaska in the west all the way to Quebec and Labrador in the east. There are over 630 First Nations communities in Canada which represent more than 50 nations. Métis peoples have both indigenous and non-indigenous heritage. In the 2016 census, it was reported that there were 1,673,785 people in Canada who self-identified as indigenous and that they speak over 70 indigenous languages.
The Inuit have been known until not long ago as “Eskimo” by outsiders. They would rather be known as Inuit which means people. Around 4000 Inuit live in the Arctic area of North America, from the Bering Strait all the way to East Greenland, their land covering a distance of over 6000 kilometres. Inuit people also live in northern Alaska and Greenland, and are also closely related to communities in Siberia, Russia. They are united by a common cultural heritage and language. There are many dialects including Inupiaq spoken by the Innupiat in Alaska, Kalaallisut spoken by the Katladit in Greenland, Inuktitun spoken by the Innuvialuit of the Northwest Territories and Inuktitut spoken in the Western Arctic comprised of Nunavut, Nunavik and Labrador. About 27,000 people claim that Inuktitut is their first language making it the second most spoken language in Canada after Cree. For more information, visit http://www.inuulitsivik.ca/northern-life-and-inuit-culture/who-are-the-inuits
The Mi’gmaq, also known as Mi’kmaq, or Micmac, (pronounced “Meegmaw”) live in Quebec, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island in Canada, as well as in the Maine and Massachussetts in the United States. Belonging to the Algonquian family, the Mi’kmaq refer to themselves as l’nuk or the people. There are around 20,000 Mi’gmaq living in Canada and the US of which 11,000 speak the language.
The Anishinaabe people include the Odawa (or Ottawa), the Ojibway (also called Ojibwe, Chippewa, Ochipwe or Saulteaux) and Algonquin peoples. Their traditional territory extends from Quebec in the east, to as far as Saskatchewan to the west, from Lake Winnipeg to the north down to the southern shores of Lake Michigan. This map shows an approximate location of where the Anishinaabe people live today.
The Cree Nation is the most widespread of any of the indigenous nations in Canada. Their traditional territory extended from Quebec in the east all the way to the Rockies in the west, from subarctic regions in the north all the way to the plains of Alberta and Saskatchewan and the north shores of the great lakes in Ontario and into Quebec to the south.
The Cree language is part of the Algonquian family group, which includes Blackfoot, Saulteaux, Mi’qmak, Naskapi, Montagnais, Algonquin, Chippewa and Ojibwa in Canada. Cree is spoken in nine major dialects: Plains Cree or Y Dialect found in the Plains and western woodlands, Woods Cree or Th Dialect spoken in the central woodlands of Saskatchewan and Manitoba, Swampy Cree or N Dialect is further subdivided into East and West Swampy Cree and spoken to the west of Hudson Bay and James Bay in the lowlands, Moose Cree (L Dialect) is spoken to the south of James Bay while East Cree is spoken in subarctic Quebec to the east of James Bay, Attikamek or R Dialect is spoken in Saint-Maurice River region of Quebec. Although Naskapi and Montagnais have a distinct identity, their languages are included as dialects of Cree and are spoken in eastern Quebec and Labrador. Naskapi and Montagnais people are also better known as Innu people.
Cree is a word that originated from a cross between “kistanowak”, an Ojibwa word meaning people of the north and the Jesuit word “kristinue”. Cree people call themselves Nehiyawak for Plains Cree, Nihithawak for Woodland Cree, Nehinawak for Swampy Cree.
Primarily hunters, the Cree people formerly relied mainly on moose, caribou, bear and beaver. They also hunted geese and other fowl particularly in the Swampy Cree areas. They hunted with snares, traps, bows and arrows. Fishing also played a role particularly in the woodlands and eastern regions. They travelled by light birchbark canoe until the waterways froze and then by snowshoes, toboggans and sleds.
The Cree lived in wigwams, a conical structure usually covered with moose or caribou hides. Their clothing was made of moose or caribou hides and often was embellished with porcupine quills. Later, the decoration of clothing changed and was done with coloured threads and beadwork.
The Dene (Den-ay) are also called the Athapaskan peoples. They live off the land across a vast expanse from Alaska to Northwest Territories and Nunavut, east to the Hudson Bay and all the way to the southern United States. There are many distinct Dene groups, each with their own language and territory. In the Northwest Territories, the Dene people include the North Slavey, South Slavey, Tłįchǫ (Dogrib), Gwich’in and Chipewyan people. They are also related to southern tribes such as the Tsuut’ina and Navajo. The population of the Northwest Territories is reported to be 44,520 with approximately half the population identifying as indigenous.
The largest group of Dene are the Chipewyan located to the east. They live at the edge of the northern transitional forest to the west of Hudson Bay, and also travel far out onto the tundra, which is also known as the barren lands.
The Dene moved seasonally throughout their traditional lands, depending upon the availability of different animals, fish and birds. They could not carry much with them because of their travels. Sharing became their way of ensuring everyone had enough to survive. They live in an environment that is harsh by any standards. In the winter, they experienced intense cold, deep snow and little daylight. The summers are more pleasant but would bring hordes of mosquitoes and black flies.
For more information, visit http://www.denenation.ca/ and http://denenahjo.com/
The Blackfoot (or Blackfeet in the United States), are one of the three nations that make up the Blackfoot Confederacy. As of 2016, the Siksika count approximately 7,320 registered members, many of whom live on reserves in Alberta. In the Blackfoot language, Siksika means “Blackfoot.” They are part of the Algonquian linguistic group and traditionally speak the same language as the Kainai and Piikani, the two other nations of the Blackfoot Confederacy.
Historically, the Blackfoot were buffalo hunters and warriors. Blackfoot and other confederacy member warrior societies had strict rules and often clashed with rivals like the Cree and Assiniboine. Relying solely on the hunt for subsistence, Blackfoot culture developed according to the demands and availability of the buffalo. Clans and groups moved from hunting ground to hunting ground, using jumps and runs to trap and harvest buffalo. Like other Plains peoples, Blackfoot used the travois—a sled-like apparatus usually pulled by domesticated dogs and horses—to transport their goods, including their highly mobile tipi dwellings.
The Blackfoot have a strong religious and spiritual culture that was passed on through oral histories. This culture includes participating in sweat lodges, the Sun Dance, using medicine bundles, and other means of purifying the body and soul. Sacred places include Head Smashed In Buffalo Jump, Writing-On-Stone and Badger-Two Medicine (below Glacier National Park).
The arrival of Christian missionaries in the late 19th century introduced significant changes to the Siksika lifestyle. However, oral traditions keep many of the traditional beliefs alive today.
The Blackfoot creation story takes place at Badger-Two Medicine in present day Montana. Although versions of the story differ according to the tribe, the Blackfoot generally believe that N’api (also known as Old Man or the Creator) created and is eternally part of all living people, creatures and life forms. N’api was believed to be light personified, and was therefore also considered to be the beginning of the day, the beginning of life. As in other Indigenous religions, the Creator is non-human and non-gendered.