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Notable Indigenous Entrepreneurs in Canada

Indigenous economies thrived long before Europeans arrived in North America and, due to hard work and ingenuity, a growing number of Indigenous entrepreneurs are enjoying success today. Many are demonstrating a blending of traditional values and an Indigenous world view with financial success. The following are but a few of a long list of remarkable Indigenous entrepreneurs running thriving businesses in Canada. (See also Economic Conditions of Indigenous Peoples in Canada.)

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Fred Bruemmer

Friedrich Karl von Bruemmer, CM, RCA, photographer, writer, researcher (born 26 June 1929 in Riga, Latvia; died 17 December 2013 in Montreal, QC). Latvian Canadian wildlife photographer Fred Bruemmer spent much of his professional career in the Arctic. He was famous for photographing the flora and fauna of the North and the lifestyle of the Inuit. Bruemmer was a prolific writer and researcher who wrote more than 1,000 articles and 27 books. His extensive work in the circumpolar world reached an international audience. He was described in a 1980 Maclean’s article as “one of the least-known world-famous men in Canada.” He was made a Member of the Order of Canada in 1983.

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Indigenous Women Activists in Canada

An activist is someone who works to bring about social or political change. Many Indigenous people in Canada have been at the forefront of movements that concern issues like the environment, Indigenous and treaty rights, equal access to education and health care, the rights of women and children, and more. Indigenous women have taken up causes that affect their families and communities. This article names some of the many Indigenous women activists in Canada who have effectively championed important causes. (See also Indigenous Women’s Issues in Canada.)

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Innu (Montagnais-Naskapi)

Innu, which means “people” in the Innu language, is the predominant term used to describe all Innu. Some groups maintain the use of one of two older terms: Montagnais (French for “mountain people”), usually applied to groups in forested, more southern communities, and Naskapi, which refers to far northern groups who inhabit the barren lands of the subarctic. In the 2016 census, 27,755 people identified as having Innu/Montagnais ancestry, while an additional 1,085 identified as Naskapi.

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Wendat (Huron)

The Wendat (also known as Huron-Wendat) are an Iroquoian-speaking nation that have occupied the St. Lawrence Valley and estuary to the Great Lakes region. “Huron” was a nickname given to the Wendat by the French, meaning “boar’s head” from the hairstyle of Wendat men, or “lout” and “ruffian” in old French. Their confederacy name was Wendat (Ouendat) meaning “island dwellers.” During the fur trade, the Wendat were allies of the French and enemies of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois). Following a series of 17th century armed conflicts, the Wendat were dispersed by the Haudenosaunee in 1650. However, the Wendat nation (Nation Huronne-Wendat) still remains, and is located in Wendake, Quebec.

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Jeannette Corbiere Lavell

Jeannette Vivian Corbiere Lavell (called Keewednanung, “North Star” in the Anishinaabe language), CM, activist, educator and community worker (born 21 June 1942 in Wikwemikong, ON). Corbiere Lavell, an Anishinaabe (Ojibwe) woman, was one of several Indigenous women who brought increased public awareness to the gendered discrimination that First Nations women faced because of status law, namely section 12(1)(b) of the Indian Act. Her efforts were central to revising patriarchal (male-dominated) aspects of Canadian legal code.

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Afua Cooper

Afua (Ava Pamela) Cooper, educator, historian, performance artist, poet (born 8 November 1957 in the Whithorn district of Westmoreland, Jamaica), is considered one of the most influential and pioneering voices in the Canadian dub poetry and spoken word movement. Her poems are published in numerous regional, national and international journals and anthologies. Afua Cooper also has CDs of her performances that make her work well known to the global community. In addition to her renown as a performance artist, she is an internationally-ranked historian. She has taught Caribbean cultural studies, history, women's studies and Black studies at Ryerson and York universities, at the University of Toronto and at Dalhousie University.

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Irish Famine Orphans in Canada

Thousands of children became orphans during the 1847 Irish famine migration to British North America. Public authorities, private charities and religious officials all played a part in addressing this crisis. Many orphans were placed with relatives or with Irish families. A considerable number were also taken in by Francophone Catholics in Canada East, and by English-speaking Protestants in New Brunswick. Although many families took in orphans for charitable reasons, most people were motivated by the pragmatic value of an extra pair of hands on the farm or in the household.

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Generation Z in Canada

Generation Z refers to a cohort of people born roughly between 1997 and 2011 (see Population of Canada). While members of Generation Z have a wider variety of life choices available to them than previous generations, they also face increased financial instability, as well as heightened rates of anxiety, stress, and depression. Despite some negative stereotypes, Generation Z exhibits many worthy traits including an increased openness to diversity, and a desire to make a difference and have a positive impact on the world.

It is important to note that while individuals who make up generations may have similarities, no generation is uniform. 

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Marie Gérin-Lajoie

Marie Gérin-Lajoie (née Lacoste) author, educator, social activist, founder of the Fédération nationale Saint-Jean-Baptiste (born 19 October 1867 in Montréal, QC; died 1 November 1945 in Montréal). From her family base in Montréal’s Catholic francophone elite, Gérin-Lajoie advocated for improvements in women’s status, including the right to vote. (See also Catholicism in Canada.) Through her writings and public lectures, she tried to ensure that all Quebec women would understand their rights and duties as defined in what she called the droit usuel: the law of daily life.

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Maria Campbell

Maria Campbell, O.C., Cree-Métis writer, playwright, filmmaker, scholar, teacher and elder (born 26 April 1940 in Park Valley, SK). Campbell’s memoir Halfbreed (1973) is regarded as a foundational piece of Indigenous literature in Canada for its attention to the discrimination, oppression and poverty that some Métis women (and Indigenous people, in general) experience in Canada. Campbell has authored several other books and plays, and has directed and written scripts for a number of films. As an artist, Campbell has worked with Indigenous youth in community theatre and advocated for the hiring and recognition of Indigenous people in the arts. She has mentored many Indigenous artists during her career.

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Tommy Prince

Thomas George Prince, war hero, Indigenous advocate (born 25 October 1915 in Petersfield, MB; died 25 November 1977 in Winnipeg, MB). Tommy Prince of the Brokenhead Ojibway Nation is one of the most-decorated Indigenous war veterans in Canada, having been awarded a total of 11 medals for his service in the Second World War and the Korean War. When he died, he was honoured at his funeral by his First Nation, the province of Manitoba, Canada and the governments of France, Italy and the United States. ( See also Indigenous Peoples and the World Wars.)

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Terry Fox

Terrance Stanley Fox, CC, Order of the Dogwood, athlete, humanitarian, cancer research activist (born 28 July 1958 in WinnipegMB; died 28 June 1981 in New WestminsterBC). After losing his right leg to cancer at age 18, Terry Fox decided to run across Canada to raise awareness and money for cancer research. With the use of a customized running prosthesis, he set out from St. John’s, Newfoundland, on 12 April 1980 and covered 5,373 km in 143 days — an average of 42 km (26 miles) per day. He was forced to stop his Marathon of Hope in Thunder Bay, Ontario, on 1 September 1980, when cancer had invaded his lungs. He died shortly before his 23rd birthday. The youngest person to be made a Companion of the Order of Canada, he was awarded the 1980 Lou Marsh Trophy as Canada’s athlete of the year and was named a Person of National Historic Significance by the Government of Canada. He was inducted into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame and has had many schools, institutions and landmarks named in his honour. The annual Terry Fox Run has raised more than $800 million for cancer research. The Marathon of Hope raised $24 million by February 1981.  

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Indian Act

The Indian Act is the primary law the federal government uses to administer Indian status, local First Nations governments and the management of reserve land. It also outlines governmental obligations to First Nations peoples. The Indian Act pertains to people with Indian Status; it does not directly reference non-status First Nations people, the Métis or Inuit. First introduced in 1876, the Act subsumed a number of colonial laws that aimed to eliminate First Nations culture in favour of assimilation into Euro-Canadian society. A new version of the Act was passed in 1951, and since then, has been amended several times, most significantly in 1985, with changes mainly focusing on the removal of discriminatory sections. It is an evolving, paradoxical document that has enabled trauma, human rights violations and social and cultural disruption for generations of Indigenous peoples.

This is the full-length entry about the Indian Act. For a plain language summary, please see Indian Act (Plain Language Summary).

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Northwest Coast Indigenous Art

More than 3,000 years ago, Indigenous peoples of the coast of British Columbia (and adjacent areas of Washington State and southeastern Alaska) such as the Haida and Kwakwaka'wakw developed artistic traditions that are heralded throughout the world for their imaginative and stylistic qualities.

Macleans

Marion Woodman (Profile)

This article was originally published in Maclean’s magazine on May 13, 1996. Partner content is not updated.

In the 17 years since she began popularizing the dream theories of Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung, Woodman has become one of the biggest names in the continent's human potential circles.

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Kanyen'kehà:ka (Mohawk)

Kanyen'kehà:ka or Kanien'kehá:ka (“People of the Chert”), commonly known as Mohawk by non-Kanyen'kehà:ka, are Indigenous peoples in North America. They are the easternmost member of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, also referred to as the Iroquois or Six Nations Confederacy. In the early years of the 17th century, they resided on the banks of the Mohawk River in what is now upstate New York. They became intensely involved in the fur trade and in the colonial conflicts of the next two centuries. Many had moved to the St. Lawrence River before 1700 and following the American Revolution, the remainder moved to Canada to reside in territories controlled by their ally, Great Britain. Here, the Kanyen'kehà:ka have garnered a reputation of militancy in maintaining their language and culture, and for defending their rights.

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Blackfoot Confederacy

The Blackfoot Confederacy, sometimes referred to as the Blackfoot Nation or Siksikaitsitapi, is comprised of three Indigenous nations, the Kainai, Piikani and Siksika. People of the Blackfoot Nation refer to themselves as Niitsitapi, meaning “the real people,” a generic term for all Indigenous people, or Siksikaitsitapi, meaning “Blackfoot-speaking real people.” The Confederacy’s traditional territory spans parts of southern Alberta and Saskatchewan, as well as northern Montana. In the 2016 census, 22,490 people identified as having Blackfoot ancestry.

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Dinjii Zhuh (Gwich'in)

Dinjii Zhuh (also Gwich’in, formerly Kutchin), meaning “one who dwells (in)” or “the inhabitant of,” are Dene (Athabaskan)-speaking Indigenous peoples who live in northwestern North America. These communities are often referred to collectively as Dinjii Zhuh, although some First Nations and the Gwich’in Tribal Council retain the Gwich’in name. There are thought to be between 7,000 and 9,000 Dinjii Zhuh living in communities in Alaska, Yukon and the Northwest Territories.