Cultural appropriation is the use of a people’s traditional dress, music, cuisine, knowledge and other aspects of their culture, without their approval, by members of a different culture. For Indigenous peoples in Canada, cultural appropriation is rooted in colonization and ongoing oppression. Indigenous peoples have seen culturally significant symbols and motifs used in non-Indigenous goods, marketing and art. They have also seen stereotypical images of “Indians” used in sports logos and the sale of various products.
Smudging is a cultural ceremony practised by a wide variety of Indigenous peoples in Canada and other parts of the world. Although practices differ, smudging is used for medicinal and practical purposes as well as for spiritual ceremonies. The practice generally involves prayer and the burning of sacred medicines, such as sweetgrass, cedar, sage and tobacco. While colonization has repressed such traditions, the practice of smudging has survived to the present day.
Regalia in Indigenous cultures refers to the traditional and often sacred clothing, accessories and artifacts worn or carried during various ceremonies, such as powwows, celebrations and pan-national gatherings. The design, type and meaning of regalia varies greatly depending on the individual who wears it, the culture from which it originates and the event where it is worn.
Hiawatha is an important figure in the precolonial history of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) of present-day southern Ontario and upper New York (ca. 1400-1450). He is known most famously for uniting the Five Nations—Seneca, Cayuga, Onondaga, Oneida and Mohawk—into a political confederacy. In 1722, the Tuscarora, a tribe from much farther south, joined the Confederacy, forming what we now know as the Six Nations. The story of Hiawatha should not be confused with the popular poem by Henry Wordsworth Longfellow, The Song of Hiawatha (1885). While Longfellow references Hiawatha, the poem’s focus is actually an Algonquian cultural hero, Nanabozho. Whether this was an intentional or accidental error, Longfellow’s poem confused the history of Hiawatha.
Chinook Jargon or Chinook Wawa — wawa meaning "talk" — is a pidgin language that was prevalent in British Columbia and the Pacific Northwest in the 1800s and early 1900s. Its small vocabulary and simplified grammar and sound system made it ideal for communication between diverse communities, especially those engaged in trade. The language is based on Lower Chinook, Nuu-chah-nulth (Nootka), French, English, with some contributions from Salishan, and other Indigenous languages. It is estimated that approximately 100,000 people could speak Chinook Wawa in 1875, and it was used widely in court testimony, newspaper advertising, missionary activity among Indigenous peoples, and everyday conversation from central British Columbia to northern California.
The Arctic Winter Games (AWG) are biennial games initiated in 1970 to provide northern athletes with opportunities for training and competition, and to promote cultural and social interchange among northern peoples. Although the Games originated in North America, they have grown to include athletes from other parts of the world, including Greenland and parts of Russia, including Magadan, Sápmi and Yamal.
The Dancers of Damelahamid are a First Nations dance collective from the Northwest coast of British Columbia, traditional territories of the Gitksan nation. Damelahamid refers to the origins of the first ancestor, Hagbegwatku, and the land granted the Gitksan when their ancestors were placed on earth. It is a geographic location near Hazelton, BC, where the 'Ksan Historical Village and Museum is found.
Indigenous peoples in Canada developed rich building traditions thousands of years before the arrival of the first Europeans. Each of the six broad cultural regions of Indigenous peoples in Canada, defined by common climatic, geographical and ecological characteristics — the Arctic, Subarctic, Northwest Coast, Plateau, Plains and Eastern Woodlands — gave rise to distinctive building forms which reflected these conditions, as well as the available building materials, means of livelihood, and social and spiritual values of the resident peoples.
First Nation, Métis and Inuit religions in Canada vary widely and consist of complex social and cultural customs for addressing the sacred and the supernatural. The influence of Christianity — through settlers, missionaries and government policy — significantly altered life for Indigenous peoples. In some communities, this resulted in hybridized religious practices; while in others, European religion replaced traditional spiritual practices entirely. Though historically suppressed by colonial administrators and missionaries, especially from the late 19th- to mid-20th centuries, many contemporary Indigenous communities have revived, or continue to practice, traditional spirituality.
The potlatch (from the Chinook word Patshatl) is a ceremony integral to the governing structure, culture and spiritual traditions of various First Nations living on the Northwest Coast and in parts of the interior western subarctic. It primarily functions to redistribute wealth, confer status and rank upon individuals, kin groups and clans, and to establish claims to names, powers and rights to hunting and fishing territories.
Coined by 19th century anthropologists, the term “vision quest” describes a spiritual journey in various Indigenous cultures in which participants, often adolescents, are said to receive sacred knowledge and strength from the spirit world. Practised as a rite of passage among some Indigenous cultures in North America, such as the Siksika (Blackfoot), Cree, Anishinaabe (including the Ojibwe) and Inuit, vision quests reflect the role of spirituality and contemplative thinking in Indigenous cultures, and provide an important connection between the participant, the Creator and nature. Though reduced as a practice following colonization, vision quests remain part of the cultural traditions of Indigenous populations in Canada in the modern era.
Two-Spirit, a translation of the Anishinaabeg (Ojibwe) term niizh manidoowag, refers to a person who embodies both a masculine and feminine spirit. Activist Albert McLeod developed the term in 1990 to broadly reference Indigenous peoples in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) community. Two-spirit is used by some Indigenous peoples to describe their gender, sexual and spiritual identity.
Trickster is a word used to describe a type of supernatural figure that appears in the folklore of various cultures around the world. In Canada, the word has been popularized by anthropologists studying the role of these figures in Indigenous teachings and oral histories. Indigenous peoples call tricksters by their own names, such as Glooscap or Glooskap (Algonquian), Wisakedjak or Weesageechak (Cree) and Nanabush or Nanabozho (Anishinaabe). While Indigenous nations construct tricksters in their own ways, there are some cross-cultural similarities. Often considered cultural heroes, tricksters are credited with protecting (and in some cases, creating) human life. As their name suggests however, tricksters are also associated with rule-breaking. They are curious pranksters who frequently cross and challenge boundaries, as well as ignore social harmony and order. For generations, trickster stories have been used to entertain community members as well as to transmit traditional knowledge about society, culture and morality.
A windigo is a supernatural being belonging to the spiritual traditions of Algonquian-speaking First Nations in North America. Windigos are described as powerful monsters that have a desire to kill and eat their victims. In most legends, humans transform into windigos because of their greed or weakness. Various Indigenous traditions consider windigos dangerous because of their thirst for blood and their ability to infect otherwise healthy people or communities with evil. Windigo legends are essentially cautionary tales about isolation and selfishness, and the importance of community.
Indigenous languages are spoken in all regions of Canada. There are around 60 distinct Indigenous languages in Canada, falling into 10 separate language families. While in many places there has been decreased transmission of languages from one generation to the next, recognition of this has led to efforts by Indigenous peoples to revitalize and sustain their languages. Canada, and North America more generally, represent a highly complex linguistic region, with a large number of languages and great linguistic diversity. Indigenous languages are spoken widely, and are official languages in Nunavut and the Northwest Territories, while the Yukon recognizes the significance of the Indigenous languages of the territory. On 6 December 2016, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced a plan to implement a new law to protect and preserve Indigenous languages in Canada.
Indigenous territory — also referred to as traditional territory — describes the ancestral and contemporary connections of Indigenous peoples to a geographical area. Territories may be defined by kinship ties, occupation, seasonal travel routes, trade networks, management of resources, and cultural and linguistic connections to place.
In Canada, the term Indigenous peoples (or Aboriginal peoples) refers to First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples. These are the original inhabitants of the land that is now Canada. In 2011, more than 1.4 million people in Canada identified as Indigenous. Though severely threatened — and in certain cases extinguished — by colonial forces, Indigenous culture, language and social systems have shaped the development of Canada, and continue to grow and thrive despite extreme adversity.1