Search for "Indigenous Art"

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Rights of Indigenous Peoples in Canada

It is difficult to generalize about definitions of Indigenous rights because of the diversity among First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples in Canada. Broadly speaking, however, Indigenous rights are inherent, collective rights that flow from the original occupation of the land that is now Canada, and from social orders created before the arrival of Europeans to North America. For many, the concept of Indigenous rights can be summed up as the right to independence through self-determination regarding governance, land, resources and culture.

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John Baptist James “John the B” Marchand (Primary Source)

John “the B” Marchand from Okanagan Reserve #1 was a Bren gunner during the Second World War. He served in the infantry from 1943 to 1945. Learn more about Marchand’s time in the trenches during the Italian Campaign.

Please be advised that Memory Project primary sources may deal with personal testimony that reflect the speaker’s recollections and interpretations of events. Individual testimony does not necessarily reflect the views of the Memory Project and Historica Canada.

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Joseph Francis Dion

Joseph Francis Dion, Métis leader, political organizer, and teacher (born 2 July 1888 near Onion Lake, SK; died 21 December 1960 in Bonnyville, AB). Dion was central to the shaping of modern Indigenous political organizations on the Prairies. He became a farmer (1903) and teacher on the Kehewin reserve (1916-40). In the 1930s he worked with Jim Brady and  Malcolm Norris  to found what is now the Métis Nation of Alberta (1932; president, 1932-58) and the Indian Association of Alberta (1939). Serving in the executives of First Nations, Métis and Roman Catholic Church organizations, he travelled, lectured, recorded living traditions (published as  My Tribe the Crees, 1979) and managed a Métis dance troupe. A relatively conservative reformer, Dion promoted the idea of Indigenous self-help through local agricultural development and the preservation of traditional culture.

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Gertrude Guerin

Gertrude Guerin (née Ettershank; traditional name Klaw-law-we-leth; also known as “Old War Horse”), chief, politician, community advocate, elder (born 26 March 1917 on the Mission Reserve in North Vancouver, BC; died 25 January 1998). Guerin, born into the Squamish First Nation (see Central Coast Salish), was a fierce protector of Indigenous people and culture. She represented the Musqueam nation locally as an elected chief, and on the national stage in challenges to Canadian jurisdiction over traditional Musqueam territory (see Coast Salish).

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Haudenosaunee (Iroquois)

The Haudenosauneeor “people of the longhouse,” commonly referred to as Iroquois or Six Nations, are members of a confederacy of Aboriginal nations known as the Haudenosaunee Confederacy. Originally a confederacy of five nations inhabiting the northern part of New York state, the Haudenosaunee consisted of the SenecaCayugaOneidaOnondaga and Mohawk. When the Tuscarora joined the confederacy early in the 18th century, it became known as the Six Nations. Today, Haudenosaunee live on well-populated reserves — known as reservations in the United States — as well as in off-reserve communities.

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Obwandiyag (Pontiac)

Obwandiyag (Pontiac), Odawa chief (born c. 1720 along the Detroit River; died 20 April 1769 in Cahokia, Illinois Country). Obwandiyag was the leader of a loose coalition of Indigenous nations that opposed British rule in what became known as Pontiac’s War (1763–66). The uprising is regarded by many as a historical antecedent to more contemporary Indigenous rights movements.

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Coureurs des bois

Coureurs des bois were itinerant, unlicenced fur traders from New France. They were known as “wood-runners” to the English on Hudson Bay and “bush-lopers” to the Anglo-Dutch of New York. Unlike voyageurs, who were licensed to transport goods to trading posts, coureurs des bois were considered outlaws of sorts because they did not have permits from colonial authorities. The independent coureurs des bois played an important role in the European exploration of the continent. They were also vital in establishing trading contacts with Indigenous peoples.

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Métis Experiences at Residential School

Although the first residential schools in Canada were established with the intention of assimilating First Nations children into Euro-Canadian culture, Métis and Inuit children were also institutionalized in such facilities. Métis children experienced similar day-to-day conditions to those of other students in residential schools, but they were often considered “outsiders” by their peers and administrators. This perception affected their experiences within these institutions in particular ways.


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First Nations

First Nations is a term used to describe Indigenous peoples in Canada who are not Métis or  Inuit. First Nations people are original inhabitants of the land that is now Canada, and were the first to encounter sustained European contact, settlement and trade. According to the 2016 census by Statistics Canada, 977,230 people in Canada identified as being of First Nations heritage, a growth of 39.3 per cent since 2006. There are 634 First Nations in Canada, speaking more than 50 distinct languages.

For more detailed information on specific First Nations, see Indigenous Peoples in Canada.

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Racial Segregation of Indigenous Peoples in Canada

Racial segregation is the enforced separation of different racial groups in a country, community or establishment. Historically, the racial segregation of Indigenous peoples in Canada has been enforced by the Indian Act, reserve system, residential schools, and Indian hospitals, among other programs. These policies interfered with the social, economic, cultural and political systems of Indigenous peoples, while also paving the way for European settlement across the country. The segregation of Indigenous peoples in Canada must be understood within the history of contact, doctrines of discovery and conquest, and ongoing settler colonization.

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Truth and Reconciliation Commission (Plain-Language Summary)

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) started working in 2008. It was a result of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement (IRRSA). The IRRSA recognized the suffering and trauma experienced by Indigenous students at residential schools. It also provided financial compensation (money) to the students. The TRC performed many tasks. It created a national research centre. It collected documents from churches and government. It held events where students told their stories. Also, it did research about residential schools and issued a final report. (See also Reconciliation in Canada.)

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Gerald Stanley Case

On 9 February 2018, Gerald Stanley, a white farmer in rural Saskatchewan, was acquitted of murder and manslaughter in the killing of Colten Boushie, a 22-year-old Cree man. The acquittal caused great controversy but was not appealed by prosecutors. However, it led the Justin Trudeau government to abolish peremptory challenges, which allowed Stanley’s legal team to keep five Indigenous people off the all-white jury that acquitted him. In 2021, an investigation conducted by a civilian watchdog concluded that that the RCMP was insensitive and racially discriminatory toward Boushie’s mother, and that the police mishandled witnesses and evidence. A Globe and Mail investigation also found that the RCMP “destroyed records of police communications from the night Colten Boushie died.”

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Gilbert Monture

Gilbert Clarence Monture (Big Feather), OC, OBE (Order of the British Empire), Mohawk mining engineer, civil servant, army officer (born 27 August 1895 on the Six Nations of the Grand River First Nation, ON; died 19 June 1973 in Ottawa, ON). Monture was a university student during the First World War and interrupted his studies to enlist in the Canadian military. After the war, he completed university and became a world-renowned mining engineer.

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Samuel Glode

Samuel Glode (also spelled Gloade), Mi’kmaq lumberjack, hunting and fishing guide, trapper, soldier and war hero (born 20 April 1880 in Milton, NS; died 26 October 1957 in Halifax, NS) was a veteran of the First World War. He served as an engineer and was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM) for his heroic actions after the Armistice of 11 November 1918.

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Joseph Benjamin Keeper

Joseph Benjamin “Joe” Keeper, world-class athlete and war hero of the Norway House Cree Nation (born 21 January 1886 in Walker Lake, MB; died 29 September 1971 in Winnipeg, MB). Keeper competed at the 1912 Stockholm Summer Olympics, where he participated in the 5,000 and 10,000 m track events. Keeper later served in the Canadian Expeditionary Force during the First World War and received the Military Medal for his actions at the front. After his death, Keeper was inducted into the Canadian Olympic Hall of Fame in 1977 and Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame in 2015.