Indigenous Peoples – Cultural Areas

Indigenous peoples, both historical and contemporary, in North America can be divided into 10 cultural areas: Arctic, Subarctic, Northwest Coast, Plateau, Plains, Eastern Woodlands (sometimes referred to as the Northeast), Southeast, Southwest, Great Basin, and California. Only the first six areas are found within the borders of what is now Canada. Contemporary geopolitical borders in North America do not reflect (and often overlap) traditional lands. For example, the Mohawk Nation at Akwesasne straddles both provincial (Quebec and Ontario) and international (New York State) borders, as its existence predates the establishment of the international border in 1783.

These areas are based on linguistic divisions first defined by the ethnologist and linguist Edward Sapir in 1910, while he was head of the Anthropology Division at Geological Survey of Canada, which later became the Canadian Museum of Civilization. Sapir’s geographical framework was adopted by the Smithsonian Institution’s 1978 Handbook of North American Indians, and continue to be used widely in scholarship. The Handbook states that these categories are “used in organizing and referring to information about contiguous groups that are or were similar in culture and history,” but it is important to note that these delineations are not concrete, and neighbouring peoples always share some similarities and some differences. Rather than representing ten distinct cultures, these areas reflect geographic and cultural groupings that are fluid and often intermixed. In addition, contemporary Indigenous peoples may live far from their ancestral homelands, and indeed may form new communities rooted in urban centres rather than traditional lands. These cultural areas are massive and generalized; what is true of a part is not always true of the whole. Some sources further divide the Eastern Woodlands into the Great Lakes and Northern Woodland regions, while others combine the Northeast and Southeast regions into simply Woodlands, and as such one must not assume that all peoples in a cultural area shared the same experiences.

The ethnologists, archaeologists and anthropologists on whose research these articles rely were often not Indigenous themselves . Though much of this research was done through interviews and fieldwork, it inevitably operated within a settler-colonial framework — a worldview that privileges property acquisition, European-style government and economic growth — regardless of the positive intentions of the researcher. Nevertheless, these articles remain valuable both as a historical and historiographical tools.

The articles on the six cultural areas that cover what is now Canada are general surveys that provide only some specific anthropological information. The peoples included in these areas are in some ways similar and in other ways different. What is true for the Wendat may not have been true for the Mi’kmaq, and indeed there existed variations among bands within a group. When considering contemporary situations, it is impossible to assume that one issue, set of beliefs, or cultural reference can relate to all Indigenous people in Canada, though in contemporary politics large-scale political movements like Idle No More have gained wide acceptance and mobilization.

The Indigenous peoples of Canada are considered under 6 general articles.

Indigenous People: Arctic
Indigenous People: Eastern Woodlands
Indigenous People: Northwest Coast
Indigenous People: Plains
Indigenous People: Plateau
Indigenous People: Subarctic

There are also separate entries on the following groups:

Heiltsuk (Bella Bella) Nuu-Chah-Nulth (Nootka)
Ahousaht Hesquiaht Ojibwa
Algonquin Huron Oneida
Assiniboine Iglulik Inuit Onondaga
Attikamek Innu Opetchesaht
Baffin Island Inuit Inuit Ottawa
Bearlake Iroquois Pacheenaht
Beaver Kabloona Peigan
Beothuk Kaska Petun
Blackfoot Kitamaat Sadlermiut Inuit
Blackfoot Nation Kootenay Salish, Coastal
Blood Gwich'in Salish, Interior
Caribou Inuit Kwakiutl Sarcee
Carrier Labrador Inuit Sekani
Cayuga Mackenzie Inuit Seneca
Central Coast Salish Maliseet Sheshaht
Chickliset Métis Sioux
Chilcotin Micmac Six Nations
Chipewyan Mohawk Slavey (Slave)
Clayoquot Montagnais-Naskapi Stoney
Copper Inuit Mowachaht Muchalaht Tagish
Cree Nahani Tahltan
Dakota Naskapi Tlingit, Inland
Dene Nation Netsilik Inuit Toquaht
Ditidaht Neutral Tsetsaut
Dogrib Nicola-Similkameen Tsimshian
Ehattesaht Nishga Tutchone
Gitksan Nootka Uchucklesaht
Haida Northern Georgia Strait Coast Salish Ucluelet
Han Nutchatlaht Ungava Inuit
Hare Nuxalk (Bella Coola) Yellowknife