Things you should know before exploring the history of 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 then called, 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 so-called “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 better acquainted with the land, “discovering” Prince Edward Island, and exploring the area which is now referred to as 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 where Amerindian guides, Domagaya and Taignoagny, accompanied and introduced him to the Stadacona people. Friendly exchanges occurred between the explorers and the Native Indians, which was a positive sign for Cartier. Soonbartering relationships developed. Cartier then proceeded to explore the lands to find a safe spot to shelter. He decided to briefly camp at the junction of the Lairet and Saint-Charles Rivers, which proved to be advantageous because his ships were safe from drifting away with the tides. Furthermore, the surrounding hills created a windbreak. Today, this site is known as the “Cartier-Brébeuf National Historic Site” in English. 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 hand signs to communicate with one another.


Even after experiencing a harsh winter during this second trip/excursion, Cartier embarked on a third voyage to Canada in 1541 on a new colonizing expedition. King François I sponsored this expedition and named Jean-François de la Rocque, Sieur de Roberval, as its commander. Cartier thought he found gold and diamonds on this third voyage and was thus anxious to return to France. However, the route back to France beyond the Lachine rapids turned out to be a long, grueling journey. Commander Roberval urged Cartier not to go back. Cartier, however, was anxious to convert the “riches” he had 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 the French voyageurs were unable to settle and colonize. The “riches” that Cartier thought he had found were actually iron pyrite and quartz not gold and diamonds.


TThe Indian Act of 1876 merged all legislation regarding the First Nations people into this one act under jurisdiction of the Canadian Federal Government. It allowed the government to control many aspects of First Nations peoples’ lives with little input from them as ‘subjects.’. At this time, Inuit and Metis people were not covered under its jurisdiction. The Act was at first aimed to control Indigenous status, identity, resources, band administration, etc. It aimed to force assimilation of the First Nations’ people both culturally and legally. For example, one would lose indian status from obtaining a university degree or marrying a non-status person. In the beginning years of the Act, it restricted the use of cultural practices and traditions, as well as the wearing of 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.


TIn 1980, the term "First Nations" was used in the Declaration of First Nations, a significant milestone in First Nations autonomy and identity.Two years later, the National Indian Brotherhood became the Assembly of First Nations. Before the 1980s, Indigenous peoples were referred to as "Indians", which is neither a culturally reflective nor accurate term Officially changing the name from “Indians” to First Nations people elevates their status as it rightfully indicates that the indigenous people of Canada were on the land first and that they are at the very least equals to European immigrants . 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 stated its support for the UN declaration on ndigenous 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, the nation-states where they reside, and global organizations that interact with them, based on mutual respect and equality. Considering Canada's past history and interactions with Indigenous peoples, its announcement of full support for this declaration is significant and beneficial for its future relationship with indigenous peoples.



The Indian Act

UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigneous peoples