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First Nations of Canada

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First Nations is the current title used by Canada to describe the various societies of the indigenous peoples, called Native Americans in the U.S. They have also been known as Indians, Native Canadians, Aboriginal Americans, or Aboriginals, and are officially called Indians in the Indian Act, which defines the status of First Nations, and in the Indian Register, the official record of members of First Nations.

The First Nations people of Canada are made up of four main groups, excluding the Inuit in the North and Métis. The collective term for all three aboriginal groups is First Peoples. Each of these main groups contained many tribes, each of which had adapted to their environments which were all slightly different. The four main groups were subdivided by the following geographic areas:

  • The Pacific coast and mountains.
  • The Plains.
  • The St. Lawrence valley.
  • The North-East Woodlands (broad region, encompassing the woods near the Atlantic/maritimes to the tree-line in the Arctic).

The term is also used to designate bands of aboriginal people for whom reserves have been provided under the Canadian Indian Act. A representative body for Canadian First Nations is the Assembly of First Nations.

The use of the word "Indian" in day-to-day language is erratic in Canada, with some seeing the term as offensive while some aboriginal people prefer it to alternate terminology such as "aboriginal."


Pacific Coast Peoples

Among the largest tribes were the Haida, Nootka, and Salish . These people ate fish, primarily salmonand silvery eulachon from the ocean, as well as fish from lakes and rivers, and roots and berries. They made use of the forests of the Pacific to build dug-out canoes, and houses made of evenly-split planks of wood. They used tools made of stone and wood. The native peoples of the pacific coast also made glorious totem poles, a trait often attributed to other tribes as well.

Plains Indians

The plains included primarily the Sioux, Blackfoot, the Plains-Cree, and the Plains-Ojibwa. These people used tipis as their home, covered with skins. Their main sustenance was the buffalo, which they used as food, and for all their garments. Tribal leaders often wore large headdresses made of feathers, something which is wrongfully attributed to all first nations peoples.

First Nations of the St. Lawrence

The largest group near the St. Lawrence waterway was the Iroquois. They included the Huron peoples of central Ontario and the League of Five Nations who lived in the United States, south of Lake Ontario.

First Nations of the North-East Woodlands

These included the Algonquins, Mi'kmaqs in the Maritimes, the Innu in Quebec, and the Cree and Ojibwa in northern Ontario and Manitoba.

List of First Nations Groups

This is a list of Canada's First Nations.

Pacific Coast

Plains First Nations

Northeast Woodlands

St. Lawrence

Arctic Canada


Members of First Nations are known officially as registered Indians if they are entitled to benefits under the Indian Act; a more common term is status Indian (from treaty status), with non-status Indian designating a member of a First Nation who is not entitled to benefits. All members of First Nations who are entitled to benefits are entered in the Indian Register.

First Nations as Bands

The term First Nation is also used to designate bands for whom reserves have been designated. For example, the Moravian of the Thames First Nation is a Munsee (Lenape) band for whom Moravian No. 47 reserve has been designated. However, they do not constitute all Munsee in Canada – other Munsee groups live on Munsee-Delaware Nation and Six Nations of the Grand River reserves.

See also: Métis, Native American, Assembly of First Nations

Last updated: 02-07-2005 00:48:48
Last updated: 02-25-2005 14:42:12