Canada is a land filled with a rich history. Approximately 4.9% of Canada’s population comprises indigenous people— the natives of their land, practicing and preserving their unique, age-old traditions. However, retaining their cultures in this new globalized world is a tough task, especially when most indigenous people worldwide are being wiped out and getting lesser in number.
There was a time when there was no advancement in technology nor any means to travel the world. A time when there was no itch to explore and discover new lands among the likes of Columbus and Vasco da Gama, and no countries to expand and conquer. During such a time, the natives continued living in their lands, blissfully ignorant of the whole wide world out there.
Obviously, all this changed, and then came wars and peace treaties that followed with it. New countries formed, and some old countries were destroyed. Humanity started exploring and settling in new countries. Globalization further removed all these boundaries and made transit to other countries easier than ever.
In all this beautiful cultural mish-mash of the world, it is easy to forget about the lands’ original inhabitants. They remain in the lands occupied by their ancestors, passing down their culture and traditions. These people are now referred to as indigenous people or aboriginals.
Here is a simple explanation of everything you need to know about the Indigenous Canadian community, including their history, culture, and way of life.
Demography of Canada
According to the 2016 census, 35 million people reside in Canada. It is a fact known to all, Canada is a culturally diverse country. Different cultures, races, religions, languages, and traditions co-exist in peaceful harmony in established societies, leaving their unique mark on this country they inhabit. Amongst this ethnic heterogeneity, the indigenous population of Canada still thrive in societies, preserving and passing down their cultures from one generation to the next.
Demographically, the indigenous population of Canada makes about 4.9% of the country’s total population. According to the 2016 census by Statistics Canada, an estimated 1.6 million people are identified as indigenous in Canada, including 977,230 First Nations people, 587,545 Métis, and 65,025 Inuit.
The census also predicts more than 2.5 million in the aboriginal population in the next two decades. These demographic changes reflect higher life expectancy, higher birth rates, and increased number of people identified as indigenous in the 2016 census. Children under the age of 14 accounts for 7.7% of the indigenous population.
Indigenous People in Canada
People inhabited Canada long before the Europeans ventured into the country and started settling there in the 16th century. Due to European colonization, the next 200 years witnessed a huge decline in Canada’s indigenous population. Owing to a population surge in 1950, the indigenous population still thrives in this country, settling in permanent communities, practicing agriculture, hunting, and food-gathering. They have established settlements with civic and ceremonial architecture and possess social hierarchies that are complex in nature.
In Canada, the aboriginal people are identified by three categories – First Nations, Métis, and Inuit peoples.
First Nations, Intuits And Métis
Intuits mostly inhabit the Northern regions of Canada— particularly in Nunavut, Nunavik, Nunatsiavut, NunatuKavut, and various parts of the Northwest Territories surrounding the Arctic Ocean. They refer to their homeland as Intuit Nunangat, which includes much of the land, water, and ice contained in the Arctic region.
Intuit is said to have little-to-none interaction with the Europeans during the colonization period. According to section 25 and section 25 of the Constitution Act of 1982, the Inuits are not included under either the First Nations or the Métis. They are classified as a distinctive aboriginal group in Canada.
The original inhabitants of Canada can be identified as First Nations. They mainly inhabit the south of the arctic, about half of them residing in British Columbia and Ontario provinces. In Canada, there are 634 recognized First Nations governments or bands.
The Métis are an interracial population descended from marriages between First Nations and European colonizers, especially the French. They originated in the middle of the 17th century and possessed mixed European and Indigenous ancestry. While the Métis population and culture are spread throughout the parts of Canada, the traditional metis homeland includes much of the Canadian Prairies.
The Indian Act
The Indian Act is a Canadian Act of Parliament that outlines how the government of Canada works with the country’s 614 First Nation bands and their members. First passed in 1876, this Act has been subject to a lot of amendments and controversy.
Status Indians and Non-Status Indians
The aboriginal peoples in Canada are further divided into two groups under the Indian Act: Status Indians and Non-Status Indians.
The indigenous people who are registered under the official Indian Register, an official record maintained by the government of Canada, can be legally called Indians or Status Indians. They are eligible for all legal rights, benefits, and restrictions granted to them by the government.
The aboriginals not registered with the federal government under the Indian Act are called the non-status Indians. The Indian Register notably excludes Métis and Inuit people, thus categorizing them as Non-status Indians, exempted from all legal rights and benefits. First Nations individuals
A Brief History of The Indigenous Population
Europeans may be credited with having discovered Canada. However, the original inhabitants of the land had been living there for long before any European took their first steps on Canadian soil. These inhabitants got termed as Indians simply because the colonizers believed in having discovered the East Indies. The natives lived in an agricultural co-harmony, hunting and gathering food and social ecosystems. Frequent skirmishes arose among the different groups as they conflicted for land and other natural resources.
The colonization and expansion of Europeans put an end to the social, cultural, political, and economic systems established by the natives of North America. In addition, numerous aboriginals were eradicated after the European invasion, partly due to their lack of immunity to fight against the diseases that came along with the invasion.
To seek control of the aboriginals and to assimilate them into the Western culture, several policies and acts were introduced— such as the Indian Act, pass system, and residential schools. Generations of Indigenous peoples have been afflicted by these measures, with the impacts still visible on the surviving indigenous groups.
As decades passed, the indigenous people and Europeans forged an allyship based on economic and military support, laying the groundwork for future emancipation and Canada as an officially recognized country.
The official languages of Canada are French and English. However, there are many languages in Canada that are unique to the aboriginals residing in the country.
According to Statistics Canada, there are 13 Aboriginal language groups. It includes 11 oral and 2 sign languages that are made up of more than 65 distinct dialects. Cree is the most widely spoken aboriginal language.
Inuktitut and Inunaktu are the official languages in Nunavut, in addition to the national languages English and French. Inuktitut is the official language of the territorial government and has several variations. In 2016, 260,550 indigenous people said they could converse in an aboriginal language.
Did you know that canoeing, tug of war, snowshoes, lacrosse, and even Canada’s favorite, the heavenly maple syrup, were all originally indigenous inventions? The aboriginals must be credited for the yummy maple syrup you devour and even the unhealthy tobacco (that you should not be chewing). Numerous indigenous phrases, innovations, and activities have become commonplace in Canadian speech and usage. Barbeque, chipmunk, skunk, hammock, and moose are some of the everyday words that have their origins in Canada’s indigenous.
The indigenous lands have a distinct culture that corresponds closely with the ecological ecosystem.
June 21 is recognized and celebrated as National Indigenous Peoples Day in appreciation of the cultures and contributions of the First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples of Canada.
Legal Safeguards and Conservation Efforts
The indigenous population of Canada is safeguarded by section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982 that stipulates the rights of indigenous peoples.
The Aboriginal Right to Self-Government Policy was announced in 1995, which provides the First Nations and Intuit the constitutional right to form their own governments. They are given the right to form a government in accordance with their culture, history, policies, health, and economic aspects.
The Indian Health Transfer Policy established a framework for indigenous peoples to take control of health services. They outlined a developmental approach to transfer centered on health self-determination.
Erasure of Indigenous in Canada
The Indigenous population has been exposed to cruel adversities for over centuries now. They have been victims of colonial oppression and discrimination, subjected to ill-treatment which entailed frequent starvation, displacement, seizure of their lands, and a victim of cultural genocide.
This oppression has ongoing impacts on the aboriginals, including a systematic cultural genocide and erasure of indigenous groups. The mainstream racist attitudes of western society belittle the ignorance and culture of the indigenous groups, who struggle to adapt to the new, westernized world while preserving their archaic culture and history.
The Indian Act introduced amendments for making attendance in school mandatory for indigenous children between the ages of 6 and 16 years old. These residential schools enabled the separation of indigenous children from their culture and were designed to assimilate them into a superior Canadian culture.
The indigenous children have endured extreme violence subjected to them by these residential schools, including physical and sexual abuse. These establishments have been associated with post-traumatic stress disorders, substance abuse, alcoholism, and suicide, which prevail within the indigenous groups. There is no record of the official deaths, but the deaths of 3,200 to over 30,000 indigenous children are estimated.
Movements of resistance and events have been implemented to fight back for indigenous rights and educate the unaware masses about the indigenous issues. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the Idle No More movement, and the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls are some of the events responsible for provoking a required change for more defined and proper safeguards for the rights of the indigenous population.