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Plains Indigenous Peoples in Canada

The Plains cultural area is a vast territory that extends from southern Manitoba and the Mississippi River westward to the Rocky Mountains, and from the North Saskatchewan River south into Texas. The term “Plains peoples” describes a number of different and unique Indigenous nations, including the Siksika, Cree, Ojibwe, Assiniboine (Nakota) and Dakota.

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Arctic Indigenous Peoples in Canada

The term Arctic peoples in Canada generally refers to the Inuit population, descendants of the Thule people, who lived in the Arctic from 400 to 1,000 years ago. The Inuit refer to their homeland as Inuit Nunangat. In 2011, there were nearly 60,000 Inuit in Canada, 73 per cent of whom lived in Inuit Nunangat.

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Tla-o-qui-aht (Clayoquot)

The Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation (meaning the “people from Clayoqua” or the people from “Tla-o-qui”) are a member of the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council. Tla-o-qui-aht territory is located on the west coast of Vancouver Island, British Columbia. As of September 2018, the nation has a registered population of 1,147 registered members.

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Turtle Island

For some Indigenous peoples, Turtle Island refers to the continent of North America. The name comes from various Indigenous oral histories that tell stories of a turtle that holds the world on its back. For some Indigenous peoples, the turtle is therefore considered an icon of life, and the story of Turtle Island consequently speaks to various spiritual and cultural beliefs.

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Kaska Dena

The Kaska Dena or Denek’éh (often referred to simply as Kaska) are a Dene-speaking people who live in southern Yukon and northern British Columbia, primarily in the communities of Lower Post, Upper Liard (near Watson Lake), Watson Lake and Ross River in the Pelly drainage. In the 2016 census, 1,440 people reported having Kaska ancestry.

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Indigenous Peoples in Canada

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 the 2016 census by Statistics Canada, over 1.6 million people in Canada identified as Indigenous, making up 4.9 per cent of the national population. 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.

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Dane-zaa (Beaver)

Dane-zaa (also known as Dunne-za) are Dene-speaking people from the Peace River area of British Columbia and Alberta. Early explorers called them the Beaver people (named after a local group, the tsa-dunne), however the people call themselves Dane-zaa (meaning “real people” in their language). In the 2016 census, 1,705 people identified as having Dane-zaa ancestry, while 220 reported the Dane-zaa language as their mother tongue.

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Mary Two-Axe Earley

Mary Two-Axe Earley, Kanien’kehá:ka (Mohawk) elder, advocate for women and children, human rights activist (born 4 October 1911 on the Kahnawà:ke reserve, QC; died 21 August 1996 in the same place). Mary Two-Axe Earley was a pioneer and architect of the Canadian women’s movement. Her political activism helped to forge a coalition of allies to challenge Canadian laws that discriminated against Indigenous women. The great bulk of her political advocacy spanned the last three decades of her life, and she was particularly active in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s.

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Carl Ray

Carl Ray, Cree artist, illustrator, editor and art teacher (born January 1943 in Sandy Lake, ON; died 26 September 1978 in Sioux Lookout, ON). Ray was known for his innovative paintings in the Woodlands style and was a founding member of the Indian Group of Seven. Ray’s work has influenced Indigenous art in Canada and can be found in the collections of various galleries and museums across the country.

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Interior Salish

The Interior Salish peoples include the Lillooet (see Lillooet, BC), Shuswap (now Secwepemc), Thompson (now Nlaka'pamux) and Okanagan First Nations. They are the four First Nations in the interior of British Columbia (although Okanagan territory extends into the state of Washington in the United States) who speak languages belonging to the Interior Salish division of the Salishan language family. In the 2016 Census (Canada), 5620 peoples identified themselves as Salish speakers, including 1290 that speak Shuswap (Secwepemctsin). (Also, see Indigenous Languages in Canada).

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St Lawrence Iroquoians

The St Lawrence Iroquoians form a group of nations that occupied, between 1200 and 1600 CE, a vast territory stretching along the St Lawrence River from the mouth of Lake Ontario to downstream from Québec City.

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Huu-ay-aht

The Huu-ay-aht First Nation, located along the west coast of Vancouver Island, British Columbia, numbers 730 registered members, as of September 2018. The Huu-ay-aht are a Nuu-chah-nulth nation and are self-governing under the Maa-nulth Treaty.

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Cree

The Cree (Nehiyawak in the Cree language) are the most populous and widely distributed Indigenous peoples in Canada. Cree First Nations occupy territory in the Subarctic region from Alberta to Québec, as well as portions of the Plains region in Alberta and Saskatchewan. According to 2016 census data, 356,655 people identified as having Cree ancestry and 96,575 people speak the Cree language.

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Jordin Tootoo

Jordin John Kudluk (Thunder) Tootoo, hockey player (born 2 February, 1983 in Churchill, MB). Jordin Tootoo is the first Inuk hockey player to play in the National Hockey League (NHL). Jordin got the attention of the NHL as a tough, talented right-winger in his junior hockey days in Manitoba. In 2003, he received national attention when he played for Team Canada at the World Junior Hockey Championship. After playing 13 seasons in the NHL, he retired in 2018. He is known for speaking to youth and maintaining his Inuit culture.

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Jackson Beardy

Jackson Beardy (also known as Quincy Pickering Jackson Beardy), Oji-Cree artist (born 24 July 1944 at Island Lake, MB; died 8 December 1984 in Winnipeg, MB). Beardy was part of the Woodlands School of Indigenous art, and in 1973 he became part of a group of Indigenous artists popularly known as the Indian Group of Seven. His stylized artworks — sometimes painted on canvas, birch bark or beaver skins — were often concerned with the interdependence of humans and nature. They also tended to depict figures from Ojibwe and Cree oral traditions. From the late 1960s to his death in the early 1980s, Beardy promoted Indigenous art as a valid category of contemporary art. His influence as a Woodland artist has contributed to the development of contemporary Indigenous art in Canada.

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Ahousaht

Ahousaht (Ahousat) is a Nuu-chah-nulth First Nation residing on the west coast of Vancouver Island, British Columbia. The word Ahousaht means “facing opposite from the ocean” or “people living with their backs to the land and mountains” in the Nuu-chah-nulth language. It is the largest of all the Nuu-chah-nulth nations, with a population of 2,191 in 2018.

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Bertha Clark-Jones

Bertha Clark-Jones (née Houle), OC, Cree (Nehiyawak)-Métis advocate for the rights of Indigenous women and children (born 6 November 1922 in Clear Hills, AB; died 21 October 2014 in Bonnyville, AB). A veteran of the Second World War, Clark-Jones joined the Aboriginal Veterans Society and advocated for the fair treatment of Indigenous ex-service people. She was co-founder and first president of the Native Women’s Association of Canada. Clark-Jones devoted her life to seeking equality and greater power for women in Canada.

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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.