By Carolina Salinas
Canada has quite the Indigenous population, as they were the original inhabitants of the land that is now Canada. Inuit’s and First Nations emerged well before the arrival of Europeans in Canada, while the Métis were born as a distinct cultural byproduct of the intermarriage between European settlers and First Nations people.
All Aboriginal people suffered from persecution of colonial governments in different ways, such as displacement, starvation, land seizure and cultural genocide.
According to the 2016 Census in Canada, there are more than 1.67 million Indigenous people who identify themselves as Aboriginal, that live across Canada. This population is mainly made up of three groups: the First Nations, Inuit’s, and Métis - each of which have their own language, culture, customs, and spiritual beliefs.
According to the Terminology of First Nations, Native, Indigenous and Métis, “First Nations” officially became used as a term starting at the beginning of the 1980s, in order to replace the term “Indian band”, to avoid any offensive or derogatory connotation.
Furthermore, and based on the last Census, there are more than 630 First Nation communities in Canada. This group is the most predominant of the Indigenous peoples in Canada, south of the Arctic Circle. Besides, they are spread throughout all of Canada in six groups, which at the same time make up the six main geographical areas of Canada: Woodland, Iroquoian, Plains, Plateau, Pacific Coast First Nations, and First Nations of the Mackenzie and Yukon River Basins.
As a result, each group has its own traditional customs, housing style, language and ways of feeding. For example, there are over thirty different languages spoken by Indigenous people, many of which are unfortunately in decline. Some of these languages include Cree, Chipewyan, Inuktitut, and more.
On the other hand, among their most predominant pieces of art is Shamans´masks, totems poles, Potlatch and others manifestations. Their music is made from instruments made out of parts of animals, such as animal horns or drums with animal fur, in order to make music to mark various occasions or ceremonies.
Inuit’s best known as the Indigenous peoples of the Arctic and live in 53 communities across the northern regions of Canada, which at the same time are divided into four regions. 1. Inuvialuit (NWT and Yukon), 2. Nunavik (Northern Quebec), 3. Nunatsiavut (Labrador), 4. Nunavut. Based on a 2016 census, roughly 64,235 Inuit’s live in Canada.
The official language on the Inuit is Inuktut. Although it is important to note that each region has its own dialect, something else you should keep in mind is that they have two different writing styles of Inuktut: Syllabics and Roman Orthography. The first one uses symbols to represent sounds instead of letters, while Roman Orthography makes use of the English alphabet to produce sounds in the words in Inuktut.
In addition to this, the various versions of Inuit art (e.g. music, film, theatre, fine arts etc.) have played a pivotal role in the Canadian Economy, which has contributed to millions of dollars to Canada.
Based on the 2011 National Household Survey, there are more than 418,380 Métis in Canada. These Aboriginal people have their own unique culture, traditions, language (Michif), way of life, collective consciousness and nationhood much like the others. As a matter of fact, the Métis flag is actually the oldest flag created in Canada. However, the Métis have two flags. Both of them with the same design, an infinity sign, but in different colors, either red or blue. The red represents the Hudson´s Bay Company, while the blue is the colour of the North-West Company. Its infinity sign has two meanings, which is the joining of two distinct cultures and the immortality of the Métis Nation.
Traditionally the Métis were hunters of buffalo and other animals, such as moose, elk, prairie bush rabbit, and others species. Their lifestyle was totally dependent of these animals to survive. That is why a large number of Métis communities set up along the routes of the fur trade, in the Northwest. This Métis Nation Homeland developed in the three Prairie provinces (Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta), and parts of Ontario, British Columbia, the Northwest Territories and the Northern United States.
Nowadays, many of these historic Métis communities continue to live in these regions, as well large numbers of Métis citizens now living in urban centres within the Métis Nation Homeland.
Canada was formed by Indigenous People, who arrived to unspoiled Canadian lands with the purpose to survive and establish some of the first communities, in order to form their families. Thus, during this National Indigenous History Month – and now more than ever, we must celebrate this multiculturalism that prevails across Canada, being proud of its roots that have helped build the rich nation that it is today.