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Treaties with Indigenous Peoples in Canada (Plain-Language Summary)

Indigenous treaties in Canada are agreements made between the Crown and Indigenous people (First Nations, Métis, and Inuit). These agreements concern land. Indigenous people agree to share their land in exchange for payments of one kind or another and promises. Before Confederation, Britain controlled the treaty making process. After Confederation, the federal government took control of the treating making process.

(This article is a plain-language summary of Treaties with Indigenous Peoples in Canada. If you are interested in reading about this topic in more depth, please see our full-length entry Treaties with Indigenous Peoples in Canada).

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Gabriel Dumont

Gabriel Dumont, Métis leader (born December 1837 at Red River Settlement; died 19 May 1906 at Bellevue, SK). Dumont rose to political prominence in an age of declining buffalo herds. He fought for decades for the economic prosperity and political independence of his people. Dumont was a prominent hunt chief and warrior, but is best known for his role in the 1885 North-West Resistance as a key Métis military commander and ally of Louis Riel. Dumont remains a popular Métis folk hero, remembered for his selflessness and bravery during the conflict of 1885 and for his unrivaled skill as a Métis hunt chief.

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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 is one of Canada's most-decorated Indigenous war veterans, having been awarded a total of 11 medals in the Second World War and the Korean War. Although homeless 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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Beothuk

Beothuk (meaning “the people” or “true people” in their language) were the now-extinct inhabitants of Newfoundland. At the time of European contact, they may have numbered no more than 500 to 1,000. Their population is difficult to estimate owing to a reduction in their territories in the early contact period and the absence of surviving documentation.

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Residential Schools in Canada (Plain-Language Summary)

In the early 1600s, Catholic nuns and priests established the first residential schools in Canada. In 1883, these schools began to receive funding from the federal government. That year, the Government of Canada officially authorized the creation of the residential school system. The main goal of the system was to assimilate Indigenous children into white, Christian society. (See also Inuit Experiences at Residential School and Métis Experiences at Residential School.)

(This article is a plain-language summary of residential schools in Canada. If you are interested in reading about this topic in more depth, please see our full-length entry Residential Schools in Canada.)

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Peter Bostonais Pangman

Peter (or Pierre) Bostonais Pangman, Métis leader, bison hunter (born 20 October 1791 in the North Saskatchewan River Valley area, present-day AB; died 4 March 1850 in St. François Xavier, present-day MB). Peter Bostonais Pangman was a skilled hunter who helped provide much-needed bison meat to the Red River Colony. He was actively involved in the Pemmican Wars and events surrounding the Battle of Seven Oaks. As part of the Pembina fur trade, Pangman was a key figure who rallied and inspired the Red River Valley Métis to see and express themselves with an identity separate from surrounding Indigenous peoples. The name Bostonais is variously spelled Bastonnais and Bostonnais.

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Nebenaigoching

Nebenaigoching (also spelled Nebenaigooching, Unbenegooching, or Nabunagoging), or Joseph Sayers, Anishinaabeg Ogima or leader (born c. 1808 at Leech Island, Lake Superior, Upper Canada [ON]; died 1899 at Garden River First Nation, ON). Son of Ogima Waubejechauk (Wabechechacke) and Julia Sayer, Nebenaigoching was a hereditary Crane Clan chief, defender of Anishinaabeg (see Ojibwe) rights, and signatory to the 1850 Robinson-Huron Treaty (see Treaties with Indigenous Peoples in Canada).

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Indigenous Title and the War of 1812

In the first decade of the 19th century, relations between Great Britain and the United States deteriorated, primarily due to the widening influence of the Napoleonic Wars. At the centre of this movement, two Shawnee brothers implored Indigenous peoples to unite in order to defend their dwindling lands against the growing incursions of Anglo-American settlers and the United States government. The promise of an Indigenous state never came to fruition. After the War of 1812, the United States and Britain found it more advantageous to ignore Aboriginal title.

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Fred Loft

Frederick Ogilvie Loft (commonly known as Fred or F.O. Loft), Mohawk chief, activist, war veteran, reporter, author and lumberman (born 3 February 1861 on the Six Nations reserve, Grand River, Canada West [ON]; died 5 July 1934 in Toronto, ON). Loft founded the League of Indians of Canada, the first national Indigenous organization in Canada, in December 1918 (see Indigenous Political Organization and Activism in Canada). He fought in the First World War and is recognized as one of the most important Indigenous activists of the early 20th century. His Mohawk name was Onondeyoh, which translates as “Beautiful Mountain.”

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A Dish with One Spoon

The term a dish with one spoon refers to a concept developed by the Indigenous peoples of the Great Lakes region and northeastern North America. It was used to describe how land can be shared to the mutual benefit of all its inhabitants. According to the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois), the concept originated many hundreds of years ago and contributed greatly to the creation of the “Great League of Peace” — the Iroquois Confederacy made up of the Seneca, Cayuga, Oneida, Onondaga, and Mohawk nations. The Anishinaabeg (the Ojibwe, Odawa, Potawatomi, Mississauga, Saulteaux and Algonquin nations) refer to “a dish with one spoon” or “our dish” as “Gdoo – naaganinaa.”

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Ounanguissé

Ounanguissé (“Shimmering Light of the Sun,” also spelled Onangizes, Onanguisset and Onanguicé) was wkama (leader) of the Potawatomi ca. 1660s–1701. He was an important figure in the alliance between the French and Indigenous people of the Great Lakes region during the late 17th and early 18th centuries. He is most well known for a speech he gave regarding this alliance during a meeting he had with the governor general of New France, Louis de Buade de Frontenac in 1697. He also made an important contribution to the establishment of the Great Peace of Montreal in 1701.

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Chanie Wenjack

Chanie “Charlie” Wenjack (born 19 January 1954; died 23 October 1966 near Redditt, ON). Chanie Wenjack, an Anishinaabe boy from Ontario, ran away from his residential school near Kenora at age 12, and subsequently died from hunger and exposure to the harsh weather. His death in 1966 sparked national attention and the first inquest into the treatment of Indigenous children in Canadian residential schools.

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Thunderchild (Peyasiw-Awasis)

Thunderchild (also known as Peyasiw-Awasis or Kapitikow, Cree for “one who makes the sound”), Plains Cree chief (born 1849, likely along the South Saskatchewan River; died 29 June 1927 on the Thunderchild Reserve in Saskatchewan). Chief Thunderchild was a signatory to Treaty 6 in 1879. He was a strong defender of treaty rights and Indigenous land as well as traditional Cree lifeways. Thunderchild supported the right of every reserve on the Canadian Plains to have its own school.

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Mary Brant (Konwatsi'tsiaiénni)

Mary Brant, Kanyen'kehà:ka (Mohawk), Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) leader, Loyalist, diplomat, political activist (generally known as Molly Brant and as Konwatsi'tsiaiénni in the Mohawk language, meaning “someone lends her a flower”) (born circa 1736; died 16 April 1796 in Kingston, ON). Brant was one of the most important Indigenous women in Canadian history. From her influential position as head of a society of Six Nations matrons, she enjoyed a much greater status within the Mohawk nation than her more colourful, younger brother, Mohawk leader Joseph Brant. Consulted by Indigenous people on matters of importance, she was a powerful ally to the British forces and served as their highly effective intermediary with the Iroquois in the American Revolutionary War (1775–1783).

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Shawnadithit

Shawnadithit (also known as Nance or Nancy April), the last Beothuk (born circa 1800-6 in what is now NL; died 6 June 1829 in St. John’s, NL). Shawnadithit’s record of Beothuk culture continues to shape modern understandings of her people. In 2007, the federal government announced the unveiling of a Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada (See Historic Site) plaque recognizing Shawnadithit’s importance to Canadian history.

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Tina Fontaine

Tina Michelle Fontaine (born 1 January 1999 in Winnipeg, MB; died between 9 and 17 August 2014 in Winnipeg). Tina Fontaine’s murder highlighted systemic problems in Canada’s treatment of Indigenous women and girls and galvanized calls for government reforms in Manitoba’s care of youth. Combined with the acquittal of Fontaine’s accused killer, Raymond Cormier, her death led to demands for a federal inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. This resulted in the formation of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) on 1 September 2016.

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Sitting Bull

Sitting Bull (Tatanka Iyotake in the Lakota language, meaning literally “Buffalo Bull Who Sits Down”), Hunkpapa Lakota Sioux chief (born in 1831; died 15 December 1890 at Standing Rock, South Dakota). Sitting Bull led the Dakota (Sioux) resistance against US incursion into traditional territory. After the most famous battle at Little Big Horn, in which General George Custer’s forces were completely annihilated, Sitting Bull left the United States for the Cypress Hills in Saskatchewan. Sitting Bull symbolized the conflict between settlers and Indigenous culture over lifestyles, land and resources.

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Demasduwit

Demasduwit (also known as Shendoreth, Waunathoake, Mary March), one of the last of the Beothuk (born 1796; died 8 January 1820 at Bay of Exploits, Newfoundland). Demasduwit helped to preserve the Beothuk language and culture. In 2007, the Canadian government recognized her as a person of national historic significance.