First Nations People in Canada

Who are the First Nations people in Canada? First Nations people are descendants of the original inhabitants of Canada who lived here for many thousands of years before explorers arrived from Europe.

First Nations people in Canada are the people who used to be called "Indians," but this term is now considered incorrect by some. Early European explorers thought they were in India when they landed in North America, so they called the original inhabitants "Indians." Many people who were misnamed "Indians" now prefer to be called First Nations. First Nations people identify themselves by the nation to which they belong, for example, Mohawk, Cree, Oneida, and so on.

"Aboriginal" is a term that includes First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples. In the 2011 National Household Survey, there were 1,836,035 people in Canada who reported having Aboriginal ancestry. This represents 5.6% of the Canadian population.

How many First Nations people are there in Canada?
According to the Indian RegisterFootnote 1, there are 901,053 Registered Indians Footnote 2 living in Canada. This population lives in a variety of types of communities. Almost half (47.4%) of these First Nations people live off reserve; the others (52.6%) live on reserve and in communities on Crown land.

How many First Nations communities are there?
(Read carefully – a quiz is coming!)

There are 617 First Nation communities in Canada. Here are the numbers of First Nations in each province and territory:

Newfoundland 4
Nova Scotia 13
Prince Edward Island 2
New Brunswick 15
Quebec 39
Ontario 126
Manitoba 63
Saskatchewan 70
Alberta 45
British Columbia 198
Yukon 16
Northwest Territories 26
Total 617

Canadian Place Names
(A quiz is coming about the place names listed here. Be prepared!)

Canada has many towns and cities that were given names adapted from the original Aboriginal language spoken in the area. These names help to define Canada as a land of diversity, beauty, abundance and cultural richness. Here are some of the names:

Coquitlam (British Columbia)
comes from the Salish tribal name Kawayquitlam, which can be translated as "small red salmon." The name refers to sockeye salmon common to the area.

Wetaskiwin (Alberta)
is an adaptation of the Cree word wi-ta-ski-oo-cha-ka-tin-ow, which can be translated as "place of peace" or "hill of peace."

Saskatoon (Saskatchewan)
the name comes from an edible red berry native to the area, which the Cree called mis-sask-guah-too-min.

The Pas (Manitoba)
originated with the Cree word opa meaning "a narrow place" or opaskweow meaning "narrow between high banks."

Oshawa (Ontario)
is a Seneca word that means "crossing of a stream" or "carrying place," which describes an old portage in the area.

Rimouski (Quebec)
is a word of Mi'kmaq or Maliseet origin, which has been translated as "land of moose" or "retreat of dogs," referring to its fine hunting grounds.

Oromocto (New Brunswick)
is derived from the Maliseet word welamooktook, meaning "good river."

Musquodobit (Nova Scotia)
comes from the Mi'kmaq word mooskudoboogwek, which can be translated as "rolling out in foam" or "suddenly widening out after a narrow entrance at its mouth."

Tuktoyaktuk (Northwest Territories)
is an Inuit name that can be translated as tuktu, "caribou," yaktuk, "looks like," or "reindeer that looks like caribou."

How many other First Nations place names can you find on a map of your province or territory?

Storytelling Time

Storytelling is a traditional way of transmitting information among First Nations people.

Duma and His Mi'kmaq Canoe

Hi, kids! I'm Duma. That is a Mi'kmaq name, and I paddle a Mi'kmaq canoe. Actually all Algonquin peoples used this kind of canoe. It is made of birchbark, which means that it is lightweight and easily portable. Canoes had to be easy to carry in the old days because canoe travellers had to be able to carry their canoes overland between lakes and rivers. This activity is called "portage" which means, "to carry." To make this kind of canoe you have to stitch birchbark sheets together around a wooden framework using specially prepared white spruce root as binding material. You make the canoe waterproof by putting on a coating of heated spruce gum and grease. Birchbark canoes are prepared using materials that you can easily find in the woods. You can make a temporary raincoat out of birchbark if you need one.

My canoe is special because it takes you on an unusual journey. Welcome aboard! Come along with me into the past!

There were no highways in the early days of Canadian history. The original inhabitants of our wonderful country used the rivers and lakes as highways. That's why we are in a canoe. On this trip we will see two of the kinds of dwellings the original inhabitants of our country lived in.

Look ahead! We are approaching the Mi'kmaq village of Whycocomagh on the Bras d'Or Lakes in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. Mi'kmaq people and other Algonquin peoples lived in cone-shaped wigwams like these. Wigwams are simple to make, and are easily portable. People who know how can erect a wigwam in an hour. Here's how you do it. First you make a coneshaped framework of poles and cover this framework with birchbark, caribou skins, or woven rush mats. (Rushes are sturdy, grass-like plants.) Then you place evergreen boughs on the floor to keep the dampness out, but leave space for a hearth, the place where the fire is made for cooking and heating. Next you cover the sweet-smelling boughs with rush mats or fur rugs. You store your belongings around the edges under the poles, high off the ground to keep them dry. Then you make a hole in the roof to let fresh air in, and even more important, to let smoke out! There's nothing worse than a wigwam full of smoke!

Now we are moving very, very quickly along the surface of the sparkling water. Journeying westward along the St. Lawrence River we come to the Iroquoian village of Hochelaga. (This is where the city of Montreal stands today.)

Hochelaga is full of longhouses. You can see that these dwellings are quite different from the Algonquin wigwams. Several men are required to erect one of these dwellings. Longhouses were big because large families lived in them. Here's how the Iroquois erected a longhouse. First they erected parallel lines of poles, and then bent these towards each other to form a frame in the shape of an upside-down U. More poles were added to form a roof. Then the roof was covered with elm or cedar bark. A row of hearths ran the length of the house. Sleeping platforms were built off the ground to avoid dampness. Smoke holes in the roof were made smaller in the winter to retain heat, and larger in the summer to let cool air in. All they had to do was move around the bark on the roof.

We are moving quickly over the shining water again. Now we are back at a familiar shore, and it is time to go. I enjoyed exploring with you in my special, time-travelling, Mi'kmaq canoe. 'Bye.

Activities for Grades 5-6

Quiz 1: First Nation Communities

(a) Which province or territory has the greatest number of First Nation communities?
(b) Which province or territory has the second greatest number of First Nation communities?
(c) Which province or territory has the fewest First Nation communities?
(d) How many communities does your province or territory have?

Answer to Quiz 1

Quiz 2: Canadian Places with Aboriginal Names

Match these place names (from 1 to 6) with their description (from a to f).

  1. Coquitlam (British Columbia)
  2. Wetaskiwin (Alberta)
  3. Musquodobit (Nova Scotia)
  4. Tuktoyaktuk (Northwest Territories)
  5. Oshawa (Ontario)
  6. Rimouski (Quebec)
  1. This word comes from the Mi'kmaq word, which can be translated as "rolling out in foam" or "suddenly widening out after a narrow entrance at its mouth."
  2. This is an Inuit name: tuktu means "caribou" and yaktuk means "looks like," or "reindeer that looks like caribou."
  3. The name refers to sockeye salmon, which are common to the area.
  4. This is a Seneca word that means "crossing the stream," or "carrying place".
  5. This is a word of Mi'kmaq or Maliseet origin, which has been translated as "land of moose" or "retreat of dogs," perhaps referring to its fine hunting grounds.
  6. This word comes from the Cree word wi-ta-ski-oo-cha-ka-tin-ow, which can be translated as "place of peace" or "hill of peace."

Answer to Quiz 2


Quiz 1: First Nation Communities

  1. British Columbia
  2. Ontario
  3. Prince Edward Island
  4. Search the web to see if your answer is correct!

(Return to Quiz 1)

Quiz 2: Canadian Places with Aboriginal Names

1c, 2f, 3a, 4b, 5d, 6e.

(Return to Quiz 2)

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