In Canada, there are three distinct groups of Indigenous (Aboriginal) Peoples: the First Nations, the Metis, and the Inuit people. Prior to the colonization by the Europeans, the Indigenous people were the original inhabitants of the land that is now known as Canada. Scientists have confirmed that Indigenous people are actually genetically related to people in parts of Asia. They also know that these people have lived in Canada for at least 12,000 years, because they have found bones and artifacts that date back that far. Many scientists now believe that some of the First Peoples may have been here for much longer than that.
For a long time, scientists believed that the ancestors of all North American First Nations people crossed over on foot to North America from Asia at the end of the last ice age, about 12,000 years ago. At that time Asia and North America were joined, and what is now the bottom of the Bering Sea between Russia and Alaska was dry land, (a "land bridge) because sea levels were much lower than they are now. The earliest man-made artifacts – tools or ornaments that archaeologists have found – date from that time.
According to the 2011 National Household Survey (NHS), there are currently 1.4 million Indigenous people residing in Canada. These three distinct groups of peoples each have their own language, history, and cultural practices and beliefs.
1. The Inuit People
The Inuits primarily reside in northern Canada, and their homeland (known as Inuit Nunangat) comprises of 4 regions: Inuvialuit (Northwest Territories and Yukon), Nunavut, Nunavik (Northern Quebec), and Nunatsiavut (Labrador). Approximately 43,455 Inuit peoples live in these regions.
Iniktitut is the main language of the Inuit people, and it is spoken across Inuit Nunangat; however, each regions has its own dialect.
The 2011 NHS also revealed that the Inuit people are a young group, with the median age to be only 23 years old!
2. The Métis
The Métis people were born to French settlers and their Native wives in Eastern Canada. During the height of the fur trade in the 1700s and 1800s, many French-Canadian fur traders married Native women, mainly Cree, Ojibwa, or Saulteaux women. Most of the fur traders were French and Catholic. Therefore, their children, the Métis, were exposed to both the Catholic and Native belief systems. The Native people were eager to establish strong relationships with their European allies and trading partners, so they offered wives to the traders. Native women not only provided companionship for the fur traders, they also aided in their survival. They were able to translate the language, sew new clothing for their husbands, cook food, and help resolve any cultural issues that arose.
Today, there are around 350,000-400,000 Métis in Canada, with the majority of them living in the Prairie provinces and Quebec.
3. The First Nations People
First Nations people identify themselves by the nation to which they belong, for example, Mohawk, Cree, Oneida, and so on. Almost half of these First Nations people live on reserves across Canada, with the other half living off of reserves.
There are 617 First Nation communities in Canada, with our beautiful British Columbia hosting the largest number of these communities! (There are 198 different First Nations communities in B.C. alone)!