The Rich History of Canada's Indigenous People

The First Nations, Inuit, and Metis people (also known as Indigenous peoples) are the native citizens of Canada -- its original inhabitants. And despite the trials, tribulations, and hardships our people have faced over the years -- and continue to face today -- we have formed and fashioned the evolution of Canada, and continue to make cultural strides despite difficulty and misfortune.

The Indigenous People of Canada: Who Are They?

Canada has three groups of Indigenous peoples: First Nations, Metis, and Inuit. First Nations are the native citizenry of Canada, oftentimes inhabiting regions near the Arctic. The Metis people are a blend of Indigenous and European lineage and can be found in many parts of Canada, but typically reside in Ontario and the prairie provinces. And the Inuit are mainly located in the northern part of the country.

This division of categorization is further enhanced by The Indian Act (an act that the federal government uses to handle a myriad of problems related to Indigenous peoples). This statute splits indigenous peoples into sub-classifications of: Status Indians and Non-Status Indians. As it pertains to Status Indians, this group is indexed within the Indian Register and given ID cards that house important data regarding their personal information. On the other hand, Indigenous people who hold the rank of Non-Status Indians don’t have their information recorded with the government.

Under section 35 within the constitutional Act, 1982, the indigenous peoples of Canada are protected as this act preserves their indigenous rights. The departments of the federal government accountable for indigenous people’s affairs are Indigenous Services, Northern Affairs, and Crown-Indigenous Relations.

Indigenous History

The roots of the Indigenous peoples of Canada stretch back thousands of years. They have cultivated intricate social, cultural, and monetary structures before the Europeans ever set foot in North America.

Upon the arrival of European settlers, and the colonization that ensued, conventional Indigenous life was irrevocably transformed. Practices were put in place and policies were established to manipulate and wield authority over the indigenous peoples.

These regulations -- when blended with bigotry and segregation -- resulted in the Indigenous peoples losing their land, their resources, and devastated the wellbeing of their socioeconomic positioning.


Close to 1.7 million people in Canada recognize themselves as Indigenous. This represents almost 5% of Canada’s total population. With First Nations being the highest population at nearly 980,000 people, followed by the Metis with a population of close to 600,000, and then the Inuit with an approximate populace of 65,000.

This populace is growing at a consistent and balanced rate. In fact, the population of Indigenous peoples in Canada is expected to blossom up to 2.5 million people within the next 20 years. The altered population growth is a side effect of higher birth rates, longer life expectancy, and larger groups of individuals that identify as Indigenous.

The Metis people -- generally speaking -- are the Indigenous class that will most likely live in a town, borough, or inner city. When it comes to the Inuit population, about 75% can be found in what is known as the Inuit Nunangat -- an expanse of land within and surrounding the boundaries of the Arctic.

Diversity in Regions and Cultures

The Indigenous peoples of Canada are categorized into 6 regional and cultural areas. They are as follows:

  • Eastern Woodlands
  • Plains
  • Plateau
  • Northwest Coast
  • Subarctic
  • Arctic
These regions are based on rhetorical classifications that were initially interpreted in 1910 by Edward Sapir. Sapir’s work was embraced by the Smithsonian Institution (a collection of museums and research hubs), and its handbook of North American Indians.

Instead of constituting 6 unique societies or ways of life, these regions display topographic and ethnic gatherings that are free-flowing and typically blended and mixed together. Furthermore, modern Indigenous peoples have settled vast distances away from their familial fatherland. And as a result, they dug new roots in new areas instead of remaining isolated in their conventional regions.

These ethnic regions are both generalized and vast; what’s valid for a section may not carry the same merit for the whole region. For instance, certain sources will segregate regions into other areas, like blending Woodlands into the south and northern areas. And while this is taking place, others will blend these areas even further, and as a result, not everyone within a generalized region will share similar experiences.

Additionally, only a specific type of anthropological data is found within the 6 cultural regions of Canada. When it comes to the Indigenous peoples inhabiting these regions, they certainly share similarities, but there are also many differences as well. Taking into account modern circumstances, it’s not plausible to presume that a single problem, ideology, or ethnic reference can connect to every Indigenous person in the country.

The researchers who have studied and written about these ethnic areas weren’t Indigenous, so a large portion of the research was completed via field-based studies and interviews.

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