2 Indigenous Peoples

Indigenous People

Rebecca Hiebert

While you read, consider the following:

  • What information is new?
  • What did I used to think?
  • How can I use this information to welcome others?

When the Europeans came to what is now called Canada, they encountered people already living there. Initially the Europeans were trying to find a route to India, so they called the first peoples they saw “Indians.” This name was widely used even though it does not accurately represent the identity of the first peoples living in what is now Canada. Now we use the word “Indigenous” to identify the original peoples of the land that is now Canada and the term “Indian” is only used in the federal legal context.

Who Are the Indigenous Peoples in Canada?

Before the arrival of European explorers and traders, North America was occupied by Indigenous peoples living and thriving with their own distinct cultures, languages, and ways of knowing.[1]

“Indigenous peoples” is a collective name for the original peoples of Canada and their descendants. It is the preferred term for the collective noun for the three larger groups of Indigenous people living in what is now Canada. These three groups are First Nations, Métis, and Inuit.[2]

Even though “Indigenous” is a term used to describe the descendants of the original peoples living on the land that is now Canada, Indigenous people are made of up of many diverse groups with different cultures and languages across Canada.

First Nations people are Indigenous people who do not identify as Inuit or Métis. In the past, these people were referred to as “Indians.” Today, the word “Indian” is used in a federal legal context but the term is not used in contemporary Canadian society. First Nations have lived and thrived since time immemorial on this land now called Canada. They have many different languages, cultures, traditions, and spiritual beliefs. Historically, First Nations managed their lands and resources with their own governments, laws, policies, and practices. Their societies were very complex and included systems for trade and commerce, building relationships, managing resources, and spirituality.[3]

The Métis originated in the 1700s when many French and Scottish men migrated to Canada to work in the fur trade with the Hudson’s Bay Company or the North West Company, or as independent traders. Some married and had children with First Nations women and formed a new culture, language, and community. The French mixed families and their descendants were most often referred to as “Métis.”[4]

Inuit are Indigenous peoples living in the Arctic regions of Canada, Greenland, Alaska, and Russia.[5] Inuit have lived and thrived in the Arctic for thousands of years. Traditionally they lived off the resources of the land, and many Inuit continue to harvest these resources today. Inuit existed prior to contact with Europeans and Inuit is the accepted term for people who are Indigenous and do not identify as First Nations or Métis.[6]

Key Takeaways

Indigenous peoples have been living on the land that is now Canada since before the European settlers arrived. Indigenous peoples are diverse with many cultures, languages, and communities. Indigenous is the collective noun referring to three main groups: First Nations, Métis, and Inuit.

  1. Pulling Together: Foundations Guide by Kory Wilson and Colleen Hodgson (MNBC). Kory Wilson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.  https://opentextbc.ca/indigenizationfoundations/chapter/43/
  2. https://opentextbc.ca/indigenizationfoundations/chapter/aboriginal-or-indigenous/
  3. https://opentextbc.ca/indigenizationfoundations/chapter/first-nations/
  4. https://opentextbc.ca/indigenizationfoundations/chapter/metis/
  5. Please note that this section has not been vetted by Inuit writers and the information is based on current Nunavut government information.
  6. https://opentextbc.ca/indigenizationfoundations/chapter/topic-inuit/