The process of absorbing one cultural group into another. This can be pursued through harsh and extreme state policies, such as removing the children from their families and placing them in the homes or institutions of another culture. Forcing people to assimilate through legislation is cultural genocide – the intent is to make a culture disappear.
The first appearance of and interaction with Europeans in the land area of what is now Canada.
The customs, history, values and languages that make up the heritage of a person or people and contribute to that person’s or people’s identity.
Colonization & Colonizers
Colonization can be defined as some form of invasion, dispossession and subjugation of a peoples as a means of gaining control of land and resources. It involves one group of people, the colonizers, coming into an area and dominating the people who are already living there.
The invasion can begin or continue as a geographical intrusion in the form of agricultural, urban or industrial encroachments, resulting in the dispossession of vast amounts of lands from the original inhabitants. This is often legalized after the fact.
Historically, First Nation peoples lost approximately 98% of their original lands through various means. The long-term result of such massive dispossession is institutionalized inequality. The colonizer/colonized relationship is by nature an unequal one that benefits the colonizer at the expense of the colonized.
Some Indigenous communities identify an Elder as an individual whose wisdom about spirituality, culture and/or life is recognized and given designation by the community. Elders can be any age although they generally have many years of experience. The use of the term is most common amongst Anishinaabe and Cree communities, but in other societies, such as the Haudeonsaunee, the equivalent term is referred to as Clanmother or Cultural Advisor in the modern context. Community members will normally seek the advice and assistance of elders in various traditional and contemporary areas.
First Nations is not a legal term but came into common use in the 1970s to replace Indian, which some people found offensive. Many communities have also replaced “band” with “First Nation” in their names.
In 1980, hundreds of chiefs met in Ottawa and used “First Nations” for the first time in their Declaration of the First Nations. Symbolically, the term elevates First Nations to the status of “first among equals” alongside the English and French founding nations of Canada. It also reflects the sovereign nature of many communities, and the ongoing quest for self-determination and self-government.
First Nations people may live on or off reserve, they may or may not have legal status under the Indian Act, and they may or may not be registered members of a community or nation.
“First Nations” should be used exclusively as a general term as community members are more likely to define themselves as members of specific nations or communities within those nations. For example, a Mohawk (Kanienkehaka) person from Akwesasne who is a member of the Bear clan may choose any of those identifiers. Others may identify themselves as members of one of the many other Nations in Canada – Innu, Cree, Salteaux, Ojibwe, Haida, Dene, Maliseet, Mi’kmaq, Blood, Secwepmec, etc., each with its own tribal history, culture, and traditions.
The process of interaction and decision-making by a group (government, organization, family, etc) that lead to policy, rules, and regulations to guide that group.
Indian Peoples are one of three peoples recognized as Aboriginal in the Constitution Act, 1982 along with Inuit and Metis. This term collectively describes all Indigenous People in Canada who are not Inuit or Metis. Three categories apply to Indians in Canada: Status Indians, Non-Status Indians and Treaty Indians.
There is no official definition of Indigenous peoples. In part, Indigenous communities, peoples and nations can be described as those which, having a historical continuity with pre-invasion and pre-colonial societies that developed on their territories, consider themselves distinct from other sectors of the societies now prevailing on those territories. Other terms include Aboriginal Peoples, Natives Peoples, Original Peoples, or First Peoples. It is often used to refer to Indigenous peoples in Canada and internationally.
When an individual or a group of people experience violence, abuse or some other form of trauma, the negative impacts of these experiences are felt by their children and grandchildren. The trauma inherited by future generations can show itself in many ways including destructive behaviours and health problems.
The Potlatch is a sacred traditional social ceremony held by many of coastal First Nations groups. It involved hosting a feast and giving gifts to build community spirit, honour a member of a nation, and to mark historic events. It was outlawed, as most First nations culture in Canada for many years, but is once again openly practiced.
The Potlatch signifies the value of generosity as a mark of social stature. Traditionally, those who lived in abundance shared their material belongings with others openly and publicly. Most First Nations throughout Canada practice some form of gift giving or give-away during feasts, celebrations, and ceremonies.
Indian Residential Schools (IRS) were boarding schools for Indigenous (First Nations, Inuit and Metis) children and youth, financed by the federal government but staffed and run by several Christian religious institutions. They had the nominal objective of educating First Nations children but also the more damaging objectives to indoctrinating them into Euro-Canadian and Christian ways of living and assimilating them into mainstream Canadian society.
Children were forcibly removed from their families for extended periods of time and forbidden from acknowledging their Indigenous heritage and culture or to speak their own languages. Children were severely punished if these strict rules were broken. Former students of residential schools have spoken of horrendous abuse at the hands of residential school staff: physical, sexual, emotional, and psychological.
Residential schools provided Indigenous students with an inferior education, often only up to grade five, that focused on training students for manual labour in agriculture, light industry such as woodworking, and domestic work such as sewing, cooking, and laundry work.
A stereotype is a widely held but fixed and oversimplified image or idea of a particular type of person or thing. Canada is a country whose citizens pride themselves on our diversity and promotion of multiculturalism yet turn a blind eye to the continued stereotypical views and depictions of First Nations people represented in textbooks, education systems, media, sports, and industry.
A sweat lodge is usually a dome-shaped structure made of tree saplings and covered with tarps and blankets. This is a place for spiritual, mental and physical renewal. People enter a Sweat Lodge according to certain rituals and customs. Inside, water is poured on hot rocks to produce steam and high temperatures, and additional prayers and rituals are performed for purification and cleansing.
The Indian Act
This is the Canadian federal legislation, first passed in 1876, which sets out certain federal government obligations, and regulated the management of Indian reserve lands.
The Canadian government used the Indian Act to attack the identify of First Nations peoples. It limited hunting and fishing and made spiritual ceremonies like the Potlatch, Pow-wow and Sun Dance against the law. This didn’t change until the 1950s.The act has been amended several times, most recently in 1985.
To this day, the Indian Act still controls many aspect of First Nations peoples’ lives. There is much discussion about dismantling the Indian Act, but leaders are reluctant to do so until there is a viable alternative in place.
Treaties are internationally building agreements between sovereign nations. Hundreds of treaties of peace and friendship were concluded between the European settlers and First Nations during the period prior to confederation.
These treaties promoted peaceful coexistence and the sharing of resources. After Confederation, the European settlers pursued treaty making as a tool to acquire vast tracts of land. The numbered treaties 1 through 11 were concluded between First Nations and the Crown, after Confederation. Modern Treaties take the form of Comprehensive and Specific Land Claims.
United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
In 2010 Canada endorsed the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The declaration addresses both individual and collective rights, cultural rights and identity, rights to education, health, employment, language, and others. The declaration was over 25 years in the making with input from working groups with global reach and participation. Around the world, 144 states have signed on to the declaration.