The Indigenous Peoples of Canada

01B.pngNakoaktok woman painting a hat. She is wearing a short, seamless, cedar bark cape, for protection from rain. The abalone shell nose ornament and gold bracelets indicate that she is a woman of wealth and rank. Ca. 1914.

01A.pngSampson and Leah Beaver with their daughter Frances Louise, Kootenay Plains, AB, 1907.

01D.pngStoney Nakoda mother (Mrs. Abraham Silas) and her daughter, Kootenay Plains, AB, 1907.

01C.pngChinook-style canoes on the Songhees Reserve, Victoria, BC, 1869. The photographer noted that the canoe owners were visiting for a great potlatch, a traditional gifting celebration. Potlatches—whose “give-away” aspect was inimical to Euro-Canadian economic practices and the concept of private property—were banned by the Canadian government in 1885.

02A.pngStó:lō Coast Salish men in front of their salmon caches on the Fraser River at Yale, BC, 1867-68. Nets on long poles for use in the Fraser’s rapids, and long fishing spears are visible. First Nations people had engineered sophisticated weirs to efficiently catch enough fish to meet their needs and provide a tradable product. The weirs’ efficiency alarmed government officials, who were convinced that the salmon would shortly be fished out by such practices and therefore ordered many weirs dismantled. In fact, it was over-fishing by the commercial fishery that was unsustainable.

03A.pngFour Mi’kmaw women seated in front of their wigwams, with their canoes nearby. Near Sydney, NS, ca. 1890.

04A.pngBuffalo bones ready for loading on Canadian Pacific Railway boxcar, Moose Jaw, SK.1887-89.

For millennia, buffalo provided Prairie First Nations not only meat but also hides essential for surviving cold winters. Prairie buffalo had once numbered 30 to 200 million. Yet First Nations peoples were frugal amid plenty, killing only what they needed and using every part of the animal, from the horns to the tail hairs. The railway’s arrival to the American West enabled trappers, settlers and sports tourists to overhunt there. By the 1870s, American trappers were shipping hundreds of thousands of buffalo hides eastward each year; over 1.5 million were packed aboard trains and wagons in the winter of 1872-73 alone. As well, some US army generals ordered soldiers to shoot buffalo to deny Native Americans a source of food.

04B.pngBuffalo bone yard, Michigan Carbon Works, Detroit, Michigan.

By 1880, only a few thousand buffalo remained in the US or Canada. The widespread hunger caused by the destruction of the buffalo stocks forced many Canadian Indigenous leaders to sign unfavourable treaties with the Canadian government, in order to obtain rations for their hungry communities.

05B.pngLouis Riel, Métis political leader of the North-West Rebellion. ca. 1875.

05A.pngGabriel Dumont, Métis leader and military commander of the North-West Rebellion. ca. 1880s.

05C.pngMany Cree chiefs, including Piapot, second left in a blanket, considered the Rebellion futile.

05G.pngThe beginning of the Battle of Batoche, SK.

05D.pngMétis rebels killed in the battle of Batoche.

05E.pngMiserable Man surrendering at Battleford, SK. Riel refused to let Dumont destroy the railway lines, which gave the government troops an advantage. After three days, the Métis, who were dug in at Batoche, ran out of ammunition. The Métis had won every battle but the one at Batoche, but that loss proved decisive. Dumont escaped to the US, where he was granted political asylum. Riel was convicted of treason, and hanged November 16. Miserable Man and seven other First Nations people were hanged on November 17, one of the largest mass executions in Canadian history.

05F.pngMistahi maskwa (Big Bear), a Plains Cree chief who participated in the Rebellion, albeit minimally, in leg chains after the Rebellion. He was released a year and a half into his prison sentence, due to ill health, and died only months later.

06A.pngA group of Métis women refugees, during the North-West Rebellion.

07A.pngIndigenous peoples waiting for rations, Revillon Frères, Great Whale River, QC, 1921. Throughout Canada, Indigenous peoples suffered dramatic land loss and various other kinds of government interference with their hunting and fishing rights. As well, the residential school system prevented Indigenous children from acquiring the traditional knowledge and skills needed to thrive on the land. Therefore, many of Canada’s First Nations peoples became dependent to one degree or another on government assistance for survival.

08A.pngA group of nuns with Aboriginal students. Quebec. ca. 1890. The residential school system stripped Indigenous communities of their children, sometimes as young as four years old. It dispossessed the children of their ties to their families and traditional knowledge. Various Christian denominations and the government colluded to impose Euro-Canadian culture, languages and religious practices on the children. The trauma of separation from their families and communities was further compounded by the fact that many teachers and principals abused the children psychologically, physically and sexually. They beat children for speaking their Indigenous languages.

09A.pngAboriginal families camp by a residential school run by the Presbyterian Church, in Birtle, MB, in 1904. It is not known whether they were there to visit their children, or to hand them over to the school, or to take them home at the end of the school year.

09B.pngQuewich, an indigenous father, and his three children who attended the Qu'Appelle Industrial School, SK, ca. 1900.

09E.pngPrayer time, junior girls’ dormitory, Cecilia Jeffrey School, Shoal Lake, near Kenora, ON. ca. 1950-53.

09D.pngMr. and Mrs. Joe Paul, their daughter and grandchildren camping one night near the Cecilia Jeffrey Residential School, Shoal Lake, near Kenora, ON. ca. 1950s.

09C.pngOn January 1, 1937, four homesick young Nadleh First Nation boys—Andrew Paul (8), John Michel Jack (7), Justa Maurice (8), and Alan Willie (9)—ran away from the Lejac Residential School. The school did not alert the authorities for over 24 hours. The four boys were found frozen to death in summer clothing on Fraser Lake. (They were put into winter clothing for the photo.)

10A1.pngCree child Thomas Moore, before (ca. 1891) admission to the Regina Industrial School. The presence of a gun in Thomas’s hand—unusual for an Aboriginal child—may have been intended to portray Thomas and other Indigenous children, as potential threats to society.

10A2.pngThomas Moore after admission to the Regina Industrial School (ca. 1895-96). Thomas has been shorn of his braids, although in many First Nations, long hair is considered sacred and braids signify unity of the body, mind and spirit. His traditional Indigenous clothing has been replaced by Euro-Canadian garments and shoes. The photos, included in a government report, were likely taken to document residential schools “civilizing” effects and worthiness of funding.

11A.pngCultural dispossession: North-West Mounted Police intruding on an Aboriginal dance ceremony in Rivière Qui Barre, AB, in 1900. In 1884, the government banned First Nations’ dances associated with rituals and religious ceremonies, as well as potlatches (traditional elaborate gifting ceremonies). For many Indigenous peoples, dancing was central to their spirituality and their social relations. The prohibition on such dances and potlatches was only lifted in 1951.

12A_(1)-1.pngPollution and clear-cut logging: The case of Grassy Narrows: Between 1962 and 1970, Dryden Chemicals Inc., a paper mill, dumped 20,000 pounds of mercury into the Wabigoon River with the permission of the Province of Ontario. According to a recent study, 79% of Grassy Narrows First Nation people tested in 2002 and 2004 had or may have had Minimata disease—a chronic neurological condition arising from exposure to methyl-mercury. Minimata causes tremors, tunnel vision, impaired hearing and speech, loss of muscular coordination and loss of sensation in the extremities. Above, a 2010 protest by Grassy Narrows people in Toronto. The Grassy Narrows First Nation is currently appealing an Ontario government decision to approve clear-cut logging on its traditional land.

13B-1.pngInnu protesting (ca. 1984-90) government plans to allow up to 40000 low-level NATO training flights a year over Innu territory [ntesinan] in Labrador. The ear-splitting body-shaking flights terrified humans and disturbed fish and wildlife. The Innu won this battle.

13D-1.pngQuebec Provincial Police arresting Mi’kmaw protester during one of two controversial police raids in June 1981 to prevent the Listuguj Mi’kmaq from exercising their fishing rights.

13E-1.pngIn summer 1990, the Quebec town of Oka’s plan for a golf course expansion and luxury condo development on the Mohawk community of Kanesatake’s land triggers a 78-day crisis. Quebec Premier Robert Bourassa requests Army intervention; 2500 soldiers go in. Above, Canadian soldier Patrick Cloutier and Ojibway activist Brad Larocque in standoff September 1, 1990.

13A-1.pngHaida protesters, including Haida leader Guujaaw (on right), blockading road on Lyell Island October 31, 1985 to prevent clear-cut logging.

13C-1.pngThe standoff at Gustafsen Lake, BC, 1995, which was controversial among First Nations peoples. Fourteen Indigenous people were jailed; the operation reportedly cost the government $5 billion.

14A-1.pngThe Alberta tar sands projects threaten the hunting and fishing rights and health of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation (ACFN); the toxic tailings ponds already produced are reportedly the largest single toxic spot on Earth.

14B-1.pngACFN children, Healing Walk protest, July 2013.

14E-1.pngElsipogtog First Nation’s Amanda Polchies praying for peace and her people during RCMP raid on Mi’kmaw-led anti-fracking blockade. October 17, 2013, Rexton, NB.

14D_-1.pngRCMP hose protesters, pepper-spray dozens and arrest 40, including Chief Aaron Sock, during October 17 raid on Elsipogtog blockade.

14C-1.pngACFN Chief Allan Adam, Healing Walk protest.

14F-1.pngProtesters outside RBC AGM support First Nations chiefs inside demanding that RBC not finance petroleum projects without First Nations’ “free, prior and informed consent.” 2010.

14G-1.pngWet’suwet’en, Tahltan and Gitxsan leaders and children protest Shell plans in the Sacred Headwaters of three great salmon-bearing rivers—the Nass, the Upper Skeena and the Stikine. Smithers, BC, August 2007. BC subsequently permanently bans future oil and gas development in the headwaters.