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Enslavement of Indigenous People in Canada

To a tremendous extent, the enslavement of Indigenous peoples defines slavery in Canada. Fully two-thirds of the slaves in the colony of New France were Indigenous. After 1750, the number of Indigenous slaves brought into French Canada began to decline. When slavery was abolished in British colonies in 1834, Black slaves far outnumbered Indigenous slaves. (See also Black Enslavement in Canada.) The enslavement of Indigenous peoples is part of a dark legacy of colonization that has had implications on generations of Indigenous peoples in Canada and throughout North America.

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Jordan's Principle

Jordan’s Principle is a child-first principle that ensures First Nations children can access the same public services as other children in Canada. Jordan’s Principle is named for Jordan River Anderson, a young Cree boy who died at the age of five after waiting for home-based care that was approved when he was two but never arrived because of a financial dispute between the federal and provincial governments. Jordan’s Principle was put in place to ensure a tragedy like this never happens again.

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Treaty 9

Treaty 9 (also known as the James Bay Treaty) is one of the 11 post-Confederation Numbered Treaties negotiated with Indigenous peoples in Canada between 1871 and 1921. (See also Treaties with Indigenous Peoples in Canada.) Signed in 1905-6, Treaty 9 covers most of present-day Ontario north of the height of land dividing the Great Lakes watershed from the Hudson and James Bay drainage basins. The purpose of Treaty 9 was to purchase the interests of the resident Cree and Ojibwe peoples to lands and resources to make way for white settlement and resource development. Treaty 9, like other Numbered Treaties, contained provisions for cash treaty payments, the creation of reserves, education and hunting, fishing and trapping rights.

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Treaty 7

Treaty 7 is the last of the Numbered Treaties made between the Government of Canada and the Plains First Nations (see Indigenous Peoples: Plains). It was signed on 22 September 1877 by five First Nations: the Siksika (Blackfoot), Kainai (Blood), Piikani (Peigan), Stoney-Nakoda, and Tsuut’ina (Sarcee). Different understandings of the treaty’s purpose, combined with significant culture and language barriers and what some have argued were deliberate attempts to mislead the First Nations on the part of the government negotiators, have led to ongoing conflicts and claims.

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The White Paper, 1969

The 1969 White Paper (formally known as the “Statement of the Government of Canada on Indian Policy, 1969”) was a Canadian government policy paper that attempted to abolish previous legal documents relating to Indigenous peoples in Canada, including the Indian Act and  treaties. It also aimed to assimilate all “Indian” peoples under the Canadian state. The 1969 White Paper was proposed by Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development  Jean Chrétien and Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau to widespread criticism. The policy proposed to eliminate Indian Status, incorporate First Nations under provincial government responsibilities, and impose land decisions, notions of private property and economic agendas on Indigenous communities. The backlash to the 1969 White Paper was monumental, leading not only to its withdrawal in 1970, but to a wave of activism, academic work and court decisions over the next five decades. (See also Indigenous Political Organization and Activism in Canadaand Indigenous Peoples in Canadian Law.)

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Indigenous Peoples and Government Policy in Canada

For most of the history of political interaction between Indigenous people and the Canadian government (and its colonial predecessors) government policy has focused on First Nations. The Inuit were barely acknowledged until the 1940s, while special responsibility for Métis and Non-Status Indians was largely denied until 2016. The early history of Indigenous policy in Canada is characterized by the presence of both France and Britain as colonizing powers. British colonial policy acknowledged Indigenous peoples as sovereign nations. Post-Confederation Canadian Indigenous policy, until the 1960s, was based on a model of assimilation, with one of its main instruments being the Indian Act. Since the late 1960s, government policy has gradually shifted to a goal of self-determination for Indigenous peoples, to be achieved through modern-day treaties and self-government agreements.

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Indigenous Political Organization and Activism in Canada

Political activism among Indigenous people in Canada since the late 19th century has largely reflected attempts to organize political associations beyond the band level to pursue common interests. In the wake of persistent criticism of the federal government’s proposed “White Paper” policy (1969), major Indigenous organizations, most notably the Assembly of First Nations, gained political recognition and became established players on the national scene. These organizations were joined in 2012 by the national movement Idle No More.

This article describes Indigenous political organization as it relates to Canadian federal, provincial or territorial political bodies, not the political structures of specific Indigenous communities, which often predate interaction with Europeans and subsequent colonial infrastructure.

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Sixties Scoop

The “Sixties Scoop” refers to the large-scale removal or “scooping” of Indigenous children from their homes, communities and families of birth through the 1960s, and their subsequent adoption into predominantly non-Indigenous, middle-class families across the United States and Canada. This experience left many adoptees with a lost sense of cultural identity. The physical and emotional separation from their birth families continues to affect adult adoptees and Indigenous communities to this day.

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Territorial Government in Canada

Under Canada’s federal system, the powers of government are shared between the federal government, provincial governments and territorial governments. The territories — Northwest Territories, Nunavut and Yukon — are governed by their respective governments. They receive their legislative authority (the ability to create laws) from the federal government. Ottawa has given territorial governments authority over public education, health and social services; as well as the administration of justice and municipal government. More and more of these powers have been handed down from the federal government in a process called devolution. Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada is the federal ministry responsible for the territories.

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Comprehensive Land Claims: Modern Treaties

Comprehensive land claims are modern-day treaties made between Indigenous peoples and the federal government. They are based on the traditional use and occupancy of land by Indigenous peoples who did not sign treaties and were not displaced from their lands by war or other means. These claims, which are settled by negotiation, follow a process established by the federal government to enable First Nations, Inuit and Métis to obtain full recognition as the original inhabitants of what is now Canada. Settlement of these claims comprises a variety of terms including money, land, forms of local government, rights to wildlife, rights protecting language and culture, and joint management of lands and resources. Treaties are constitutionally protected, mutually binding agreements. Those signed by Indigenous peoples between 1701 and 1923 are commonly referred to as historic treaties, and modern treaties refer to those agreements negotiated since then.

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Guerin Case

The Guerin case (R. v. Guerin) resulted in a pivotal decision by the Supreme Court of Canada in 1984 about Indigenous rights. It centred on the fiduciary (guardian or trustee) responsibility of the Crown to consult openly and honestly with Indigenous peoples before making arrangements for the use of their land. (See also Duty to Consult.) For the first time, it established that the Crown has a legal responsibility to First Nations and not simply a moral one. It also recognized Aboriginal title to their land to be a sui generis (Latin for “unique”) right.

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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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Treaty 3

On 3 October 1873, some Saulteaux peoples (an Ojibwe people) and the Government of Canada signed Treaty 3, also known as the North-West Angle Treaty. This agreement provided the federal government access to Saulteaux lands in present-day northwestern Ontario and eastern  Manitobain exchange for various goods and Indigenous rights to hunting, fishing and natural resources on reserve lands. The terms and text of Treaty 3 set precedents for the eight Numbered Treaties that followed. (See also Treaties with Indigenous Peoples in Canada.)

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Charlottetown Accord

The Charlottetown Accord of 1992 was a failed attempt by Prime Minister  Brian Mulroney and all 10 provincial premiers to amend the Canadian Constitution. The goal was to obtain Quebec’s consent to the Constitution Act, 1982. The Accord would have recognized Quebec as a distinct society; decentralized many federal powers to the provinces; addressed the issue of Indigenous self-government; and reformed the Senate and the House of Commons. The Accord had the approval of the federal government and all 10 provincial governments. But it was rejected by Canadian voters in a referendum on 26 October 1992.

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Berger Commission

In 1974, the federal government formed a royal commission to consider two proposals for natural gas pipelines in the North. Thomas Berger, a judge, led the inquiry. Over the next two years, the Berger Commission assessed the potential impacts of the proposed pipelines. Berger held formal and informal hearings. These included 45 community hearings from the Northwest Territories and Yukon to Southern Canada. His 1977 report made several recommendations. He called for further study and the settlement of Indigenous land claims. He also called for a 10-year ban on pipeline construction in the Mackenzie Valley. Berger opposed building any pipeline across the sensitive caribou habitat of the northern Yukon. The Berger Commission involved the public and included Indigenous views more than any resource-related consultation had done before in Canada.

Click here for definitions of key terms used in this article.

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Truth and Reconciliation Commission

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) was officially launched in 2008 as part of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement (IRSSA). Intended to be a process that would guide Canadians through the difficult discovery of the facts behind the residential school system, the TRC was also meant to lay the foundation for lasting reconciliation across Canada.

This is the full-length entry about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. For a plain language summary, please see Truth and Reconciliation Commission (Plain Language Summary).

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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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Great Peace of Montreal, 1701

On 4 August 1701, the French concluded a peace agreement with the Five Nations Haudenosaunee (Iroquois). This brought to an end almost a century of hostilities marked by atrocities on both sides. The Haudenosaunee were permitted to trade freely and to obtain goods from the French at a reduced cost. In exchange, they pledged to allow French settlement at Detroit and to remain neutral in the event of a war between England and France. The accord assured New France superiority in dealing with issues related to the region’s First Nations. It also gave the French the freedom to expand militarily over the next half century.

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Oka Crisis

The Oka Crisis, also known as the Kanesatake Resistance or the Mohawk Resistance at Kanesatake, was a 78-day standoff (11 July–26 September 1990) between Mohawk protesters, Quebec police, the RCMP and the Canadian Army. It took place in the community of Kanesatake, near the Town of Oka, on the north shore of Montreal. Related protests and violence occurred in the Kahnawake reserve, to the south of Montreal. The crisis was sparked by the proposed expansion of a golf course and the development of townhouses on disputed land in Kanesatake that included a Mohawk burial ground. Tensions were high, particularly after the death of Corporal Marcel Lemay, a Sûreté du Québec police officer. Eventually, the army was called in and the protest ended. The golf course expansion was cancelled and the land was purchased by the federal government. However, it did not establish the land as a reserve, and there has since been no organized transfer of the land to the Mohawks of Kanesatake.