Canadian First
An Introduction to the Indigenous People of
Canadian Culture
 Canada is a pluralistic society. This
means that our society is made up of
many groups of people, each with its own
unique identities, ideas, perspectives,
and culture.
 The resulting society has a sense of
respect for all cultures.
Focus on Culture
 Culture is a way of life or a way of being that is
shared by a group of people. Culture includes
knowledge, experience, and values that a
group shares and shape the way its members
see the world.
 Governments, relationships, languages, and
beliefs are all aspects of a groups’ cultural
Culture of the First Nations
 The First Nations peoples have lived in all parts of
the land that we now call Canada. They lived in the
frozen lands of the artic, the mountains of the west,
the prairie grasslands, eastern woodlands, and on
the islands from the north to the south.
 Each First Nation developed a unique culture suited
to its surroundings in the natural world. Their
cultures became as diverse as the Canadian
 When studying the First Nation peoples we tend to
lump these diverse groups together for ease of use;
and many groups do have similar worldviews based
on shared past experiences. However, remember
that each group has distinct histories, traditions,
language, and beliefs.
What’s in a Name?
 Why do we call them First Nations? Long story shortEuropeans tended to be ethnocentric This means that
they judged other cultures and ideas according to their
values and standards. Generally, they did not respect
perspectives that differed from their own.
 For example, when Christopher Columbus arrived on the
shores of the Americas, he was actually looking for a
trade route to India. When he saw the Natives, he
assumed he land in India and they were therefore,
Indians. Instead of asking them what they called
themselves, even after he realized his mistake, the name
Indian stuck, along with many other incorrect names for
Native tribes.
 Today we realize our mistake and, along with the input of
the First Nation peoples, have officially replaced the
European names with the original names of the First
 Some Fist Nation cultures share core values
relating to their relationships with the Creator,
the natural world, other people, and
 These beliefs were passed from generation to
generation through traditional teachings.
These teachings helped explain the
relationships among plants, animals, land,
people, and the spirit world.
The Passing on of Traditions
 The elders of the First Nation peoples
were held in high regard. They were the
keepers of knowledge, and passed on
their knowledge, histories and traditions
to the youth through oral storytelling.
 The information was memorized and
passed on orally from one generation to
the next. It did not need to be written
down. In this way, the First Nations
developed a rich oral culture.
Our Study
 For this unit we will focus on three First
Nation peoples: The Mi’kkmaq,
Haudenosaunee, and the Anishinabe.
 We will explore their worldviews and
traditional ways of life.
 The Mi’kmaq lived, and continue to live in
Eastern Canada
 They were hunters, fishers, and gathers
relying on small game animals and cod.
 They had strong spiritual beliefs centered
on nature and the interconnectedness of
all creatures of the Creator. Ass all were
believed to be equal, they treated all of
nature with respect.
 Their political structure was a hierarchy. They
had members of a Grand Council, elected from
District Chiefs (there were 7 districts), the
remaining chiefs made up the council of elders.
 Members of districts lived in family clans, with a
local leader called Sagamaw. They solved
local disputes.
 All members of council had to be good hunters
and/or fishers.
 All decisions were made with the consensus of
the council members with input from interested
 Men held the highest positions in the councils.
They were also responsible for hunting and
fishing in order to provide for the clan.
 Women held important roles in their
communities. They were in charge in
distributing the food and goods among the
clan. They gathered and prepared food, raised
the children and took care of the home.
 Women were also allowed and encouraged to
voice concerns to council. There were many
female elders who gave advice and guidance
to council and clans.
Mi’kmaq – Political Structure
Grand Council
Grand Council Leader
Seven District
Chiefs (1 from
each district)
Council of Elders
Local Chiefs
Villages of Bands
 The Haudenosaunee are a group that
includes six different First Nations:
Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga,
Seneca, and Tuscarora.
 They lived North to South of the St.
Laurence River.
 They shared a similar language
(Algonquin) and similar core values.
However each group has a distinct
 The Haudenosaunee depended on
hunting, fishing and gathering. They are
accredited as being Canada’s first
farming peoples. Their main crops, the
“Three Sisters” were corn, beans, and
squash. They believed the crops came
from the Spirit World.
 The Haudenosaunee had similar beliefs
surrounding the importance of Nature
and the interconnectedness of human,
animal, and spirit world.
 The Haudenosaunee government system
relied on alliances, or agreements
between the different tribes to woek
together. According to oral history, a
peacemaker arrived in the land of the
Haudenosaunee who were at the time, at
war with each other. The peacemaker
created the Law of Peace; a set of laws
that explain how the government would
work and how people should behave.
This is not unlike how the constitution
works within the Canadian and US
 In the Haudenosaunee community, men were
expected to hunt and fish. They also were the
leaders. However, it was a matrilineal societyheaded by women.
 Families were organized in Longhouses,
similar to Mi’kmaq clans. Women were the
head of longhouses and called Clan Mother.
Male leaders were elected by the women.
 They tended the crops, raised the children, and
were responsible for distributing food and other
goods. The first to receive resources were
children, then Elders, women, then finally the
 Women were well respected for their
ability to create life. They were the
decision makers and controlled many
aspects of Haudenosaunee daily life
Location of villages
What crops to plant and where
Whether men should go to war or make peace
Taught the children
Preformed ceremonies and rituals
 The Anishinabe lived  The Anishinabe lived
according to seven
in the wooded
main principles:
country of Northern
Ontario, central
 Wisdom
Ontario, and Sothern
 Love
Manitoba. Later they
 Respect
moved Westward
 Bravery
onto the Plains
 Honesty
where they live
 Humility
 Truth
 The Anishinabe were hunters and
gathers. However, they had an additional
food source that set them apart from
other First nations: wild rice.
 They focused on the seasons and
created a life cycle based on when to
grow, when to harvest, when to hunt and
when to fish.
 Nature dictated their lives, therefore they
too showed respect to Mother Nature.
 Like the Mi’kmaq and the Haudenosaunee, the
Anishinabe created a clan system to resolve
local issues and organize education, medicine,
food and goods, etc.
 Each clan was named after an animal, and each
clan had duties to carry out for the good of the
entire nation.
 Each clan had a leader who was chosen based
on their courage, skills, and character.
 The clans worked together to create a balanced
Anishinabe – The
governing system
Bird – Spiritual leaders;
Responsible for well-being
and spiritual development of
the community.
Deer – Poets, pacificists;
Responsible for creating
And maintaining shelter
Anishinabe Clan System
Marten – Hunters, food
gathers, and warriors
Bear – Strong and steady;
responsible for patrolling
and policing the community
Loon and Crane – Leadership
Clans; responsible for providing
Fish – Teachers and scholars;
Responsible for teaching
young people and solving
 The Anishinabe believed in equality and
balance. Men and Women were equal
partners and preformed specific roles.
 Men hunted, fished, and held leadership
roles in the clan system.
 Women raised children and looked after
the home. They also did some hunting.
They were primarily responsible for
planting and harvesting. They too divided
the food and other goods among the clans.
Economies of First Nations
 An important part of every culture is the economy.
This is the way people meet their basic needs.
 The First Nations were based on food supply.
Growing, gathering, hunting, and fishing. They
needed to gain as much in the summer and
preserve as much in the winter.
 The people had to have an excellent knowledge
of the land, climate, and cycles of nature in order
for this economy to work.
Trading Networks
 The First Nations traded goods with one
another long before European traders arrived.
 For example, the Haudenosaunee traded corn
and other crops in return for copper from the
Anishinabe, and seashells from the Mi’kmaq.
 All across North America, First Nations traded
with eachother for goods they did not have.
When the Europeans arrived, they joined their
trading network.

Canadian First Nations