Things you should know before exploring the Indigenous people of Canada...

There are three different Indigenous peoples that Canada recognizes: the First Nations, the Inuit, and the Metis.

1534 (The beggining of French exploration and Indigenous relationships)

Jacques Cartier landed in Upper North America or the “northern lands” as it was referred to back then, currently where Gaspé ( a city in Quebec) resides, thus beginning French colonization. Cartier was authorized by France’s King Francis I to travel to the New World to procure golds and riches while also finding a northwest passage to Asia. In total, Cartier made three trips to Canada. In his first trip, he became more affiliated with the land, he discovered Prince Edward Island, and explored Newfoundland and Anticosti Island. During this period of exploration, Cartier came into contact with Indigenous peoples, two of them who happened to be the sons of the Chief Donnacona, accompanied and guided Cartier for the rest of his voyages


Cartier embarked on his second voyage along with his Amerindian guides, Domagaya and Taignoagny, who then introduced him to the Stadacona peoples. Friendly exchanges occurred between the explorers and the Native Indians, which was a positive sign for Cartier and bartering relationships soon developed. Cartier then proceeded to explore the lands to find a safe spot to shelter. He decided to briefly shelter at the junction of the Lairet and Saint-Charles Rivers, which proved to be advantageous because his ships were safe from being drifted away by the tides, and the surrounding hills created shelter from the wind. Today, this site is known as the “Cartier-Brébeuf National Historic Site”. Shortly after, Cartier planned to travel upriver to Hochelaga which today is Montreal. After landing, the Amerindians there warmly welcomed Cartier, and since Cartier’s previous guides/interpreters refused to join him on his second voyage, Cartier and the Amerindians ended up using sign language to communicate with one another.


Even after experiencing a harsh winter in his second voyage, Cartier embarked on a third voyage to Canada in 1541 on a colonizing expedition. King François I sponsored this expedition and named Jean-François de la Rocque, Sieur de Roberval, as commander. Cartier thought he found Gold and diamonds on this third voyage thus he was anxious to return to France. However, the route back to France beyond the Lachine rapids was going to be a lengthy and grueling journey, and Commander Roberval urged Cartier not to go back. Cartier was anxious however to convert the “riches” he found to money so he decided to disobey and continue onward. Roberval was now without assistance at the settlement, and he had to endure a harsh winter which resulted in the settlement returning France in the spring. The third voyage overall wasn’t successful because France was unable to settle and colonize, and the riches that Cartier thought he found were actually iron pyrite and quartz instead of gold and diamonds.


The Indian Act of 1876 merged all legislations regarding the First Nations people into this act which was under jurisdiction of the Canadian Federal Government. This act allowed the government to control many aspects of First Nations peoples lives with little input from the First Nations. At this time, Inuit and Metis people were not under this laws jurisdiction. The act was at first aimed to control Indigenous status, identity, resources, band administration, etc. The act aimed to assimilate the First Nations people both culturally and legally. For example, one would lose their indian status if they obtained a university degree or married a non status person. In the acts earlier years, it restricted the use of cultural practices and traditions, as well as wearing traditional clothing. The Indian Act defined what being "Indian" was. In the United States, the Indigenous Nation determines who is a member, whereas in Canada the government decides. Overall, this act is multifaceted. It has evolved over the years, and to this day it is still being amended.


This was the year when the National Indian Brotherhood became the Assembly of First Nations. Before the 1980s, Indigenous peoples were referred to as "indians" (this isn't a culturally reflective or accurate term), and then in 1980 the term "First Nations" was used in the Declaration of First Nations which was a significant milestone. Being referred to as First Nations people instead of indians elevates one's status because it communicates that the indigenous people of Canada were on the land first, and that they should be seen as equals to the migrants from Europe and nothing less. Today, the Assembly of First Nations advocates on behalf of the First Nations. They often discuss, "advocacy efforts and campaigns, legal and policy analysis, communicating with governments, including facilitating relationship building between First Nations and the Crown as well as public and private sectors and general public." (AFN website)


In May 2016, Canada publicly states their support for the UN declaration on Indigenous rights. The document expresses the individual and collective rights of Indigenous people, not just in Canada but around the world. It touches on issues such as culture, identity, religion, language, education, and community. This document's purpose is to foster positive relationships between Indigenous peoples and states/global organizations based on mutual respect and equality. Considering Canada's past history and interactions with Indigenous peoples, their announcement of full support for this declaration is very signiifcant and I believe it is beneficial for the country's future and relationship with indigenous peoples.



The Indian Act

UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigneous peoples