It’s always important to remember that when the French and the English settled in Canada, they were not alone. The land was inhabited.
Aboriginal people in Canada are recognized in the Canadian Constitution respectively as Indians, Metis, and Inuit.
- The Indians (or First Nations) live throughout most of Canada. There are 614 First Nations communities, most of them in British Columbia, Ontario, Manitoba and Saskatchewan.
- The Métis (1% of the Canadian population) are descendants of marriages of Cree, Ojibway, Saulteaux, and Menominee to French Canadians, Scots and English (“métis” means “mixed” in French). They live in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and Ontario, and in the the Northwest Territories.
- The Inuits (about 150 000 people) live throughout most of the Canadian Arctic and subarctic: in Nunavut (“our land“); in Northern Quebec, Nunavik (“place to live“); in Labrador in Nunatsiavut (“Our Beautiful Land“); and in the Northwest Territories (Arctic Ocean and Yukon).
The course of Aboriginal history has been deeply altered since the settlers came to Canada. Indeed, the laws (like the Indian Act) they imposed would affect the relationship between the two parts.
When the Europeans arrived, they brought their own way of life and methods to a land that Aboriginals had owned for ever. However, after an initial period of wars and conflicts, treaties were signed and the relationship stabilized around the 18th century. But between 1763 and 1791, two acts would call for land cession negotiations. For the first time, the Aboriginal were expected to give up their rights to the land in order for large-scale colonial settlement to take place. Eventually, the balance of power began to shift as the British consolidated their empire and that gave way to a policy of assimilation of Aboriginals — as well as the attitude that they were not equal to British, but subjects.
Throughout the years, the federal government continued to pursue a policy of assimilation of Aboriginals. A dark page in Canadian history was when the government started placing Aboriginal children into Western Canadian residential schools during the late 1800s. Many Natives resisted with these moves to destroy their culture.
When Canada signed the Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, it was forced to re-examine its treatment of Aboriginals for the first time. Aboriginal civil rights became an ongoing concern in the 1970s, and they would make significant gains during this period. For example, the territory of Nunavut was created in 1999 following land claim.
Aboriginal people still face a number of issue in today’s Canada. A very high unemployment rate, substance abuse, crime, violence are not to be underestimated. Meanwhile,there are also claim to receive inadequate funding for education, and allege their rights have been overlooked.
Canada has now adopted some of the Inuit culture as a national identity: symbols are used (such as the inukshuk for the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Games), Inuit and First Nations’ art is displayed in the best galleries throughout the country and organizations promote and defend Aboriginals’ rights. The culture is still alive… and vibrant.