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Dene drummer against the sky © Terry Parker / NWTT

The indigenous Peoples of Canada

The first peoples to settle on Canadian territory were the ancestors of today’s Indigenous population of Canada. It is assumed that these peoples arrived in North America from Asia 30,000 years ago, crossing a land bridge that existed at the time in the area of the Bering Strait. These communities were nomadic living by hunting and fishing. Over thousands of years, they gradually came to inhabit the entire North American continent. Today there are three different groups of Indigenous peoples in Canada:

the "First Nations", a term which came into use in the 1970s to replace "Indians";

the "Inuit", meaning "people" in Inuktitut, who are the Arctic inhabitants of Canada, this name replacing "Eskimo", which is no longer used on account of its negative meaning (Algonquin for "eater of raw meat");

the "Métis", the descendants of Scottish and French fur traders who came to Canada in the 18th and 19th centuries and entered into relationships with First Nations women.

Together these three groups account for about 4.9 percent of the total Canadian population. At the last census (2016), 1,673,785 Canadians were registered as members of an indigenous group, including 977,230 members of the First Nations – there are 609 different First Nations in Canada in total – 65,025 Inuit and 587,545 Métis; leaving another 43,985 Canadians of mixed indigenous origin or with no clear ethnic classification.

Canada is home to eleven indigenous language families encompassing 50 regional dialects of the First Nations and numerous Inuktitut dialects. The Métis speak Michif, a mixture of Indian elements of Cree or Ojibway and French or English language elements.

Did you know that ...

... in the territory of Nunavut, the Inuit language Inuktitut is an official language; as it is in the Northwest Territories, along with 10 other aboriginal languages.


Find out more...

... about the lives, art and culture of the Canadian Aboriginal peoples. How is an Inuksuk built? The answer to this and much more can be found at the Marshall McLuhan Salon.