Indigenous Peoples have a rich and important connection with the land that is now referred to as Canada. They are the fastest growing population in Canada and represent nearly five percent of the entire Canadian population. However, systemic discrimination, harmful government policies, and racism have created historic and modern injustices and inequalities – all of which have created generational trauma.
In 1876, the Canadian government passed the Indian Act, mandating forced assimilation of Indigenous Peoples into white culture. This included traumatic practices like the residential school system, which separated children from their families for long periods of time. Children were not allowed to speak their language and take part in their culture, which are now at risk of disappearing. They endured terrible treatment and abuse. Recent discoveries of unmarked graves further prove the gruesome environment of residential schools.
Although Canada has taken steps towards reconciliation, Indigenous Peoples are overrepresented in our prisons. Twenty-five percent of Indigenous Peoples are living in poverty. Many reserves across Canada do not have access to safe drinking water. And Indigenous woman, girls, and those part of the LGBTQ+ community go missing or are murdered at alarming rates.
Now more than ever we need to support Indigenous communities. We all play a role in truth and reconciliation. Read on to see how you can stand in solidarity with Indigenous Peoples.
The Canadian constitution recognizes three groups of Indigenous Peoples. While these groups may share some spiritual beliefs and cultural practices, there is great diversity in terms of spirituality, customs, traditions, and language. For instance, in the 2016 Census, there were over 70 Indigenous languages being spoken across Canada.
Here is a brief overview of the three Indigenous groups in Canada.
First Nations: This is the largest Indigenous group in Canada, with a population of 977,320 according to the 2016 census. Consisting of over 600 communities and speaking over 50 languages, each nation has their own culture, world views, and creation beliefs.
In 1982, the Assembly of First Nations was created, responding to the need of a collective voice to represent the First Nations in Canada. Before then, local and provincial groups existed. But a wide-reaching advocacy group on the federal level was needed. This was particularly important in the late 1970s when Canada was proposing to repatriate its constitution, transferring the authority from Britain parliament to Canada’s federal and provincial legislatures. This of course would affect the rights of First Nations as they were included in the original constitution (then called the British North America Act) and could be altered.
To date, the Assembly of First Nations represents all First Nation communities in Canada. And each Nation is given a seat, which is filled by a Chief or representative. Together, they work to “advance the collective aspirations of First Nations individuals and communities across Canada on matters of national or international nature and concern.”
Inuit: Inuit are Indigenous Peoples of the Arctic. With a population of approximately 64,235, many Inuit in Canada live in 53 communities across the northern regions of Canada called Inuit Nunangat. Inuit Nunangat comprises of four regions: Inuvialuit (Northwest Territories and Yukon), Nunavik (Northern Quebec), Nunatsiavut (Labrador), and Nunavut.
Nunavut means “Our Land” in Inuktitut and it is the newest and largest territory of Canada. The proposed boundaries of the territory were drawn in 1992 after a vote was held to decide whether or not to separate from Northwest Territories. With a majority vote in favour of the proposed boundaries, the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement (NLCA) was signed in Iqualit in May 1993. And on June 10, 1993, the NLCA and Nunavut Act (the official act that created the territory) were passed. Six years later on April 1, Nunavut was officially created.
Inuit also have varying cultures and traditions. One in particular is their traditional art and vocal games such as throat singing, which is amazing. We highly recommend listening to Tanya Tagaq!
Métis: As of 2016, the Métis population was 587,545 in Canada. They are typically referred to as Indigenous Peoples with mix ancestry, including European settlers. However, the Métis self-identify as people with a distinct heritage and culture.
The Métis historically occupied Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, and parts of British Columbia, Ontario, Northwest Territories, North Dakota, and Montana. But for years they were not recognized as Indigenous Peoples by the government. This meant their Indigenous rights were not included in Canadian legislation. When Canada decided to repatriate the constitution, Indigenous leader Harry Daniels, among others, successfully campaigned to have the Métis included in the constitution. It was made official in 1982.
One of the best ways to stand in solidarity with Indigenous Peoples is to support Indigenous artists and listen to Indigenous voices. Books, movies, music, and podcasts made by Indigenous Peoples capture not just their thoughts, but often their feelings and core values. If you want to experience journalism from an Indigenous perspective, buy a copy of Seven Fallen Feathers: Racism, Death and Hard Truths in a Northern City by investigative journalist, Tanya Talaga, who is of Anishinaabe descent. The book explores the death of seven First Nations youth in Ontario and examines “Canada’s long struggle with human rights violations against Indigenous communities.”
If you want to understand Indigenous traditions and learn how they can improve your own life, check out One Drum by Richard Wagamese, a journalist from the Wabaseemoong Independent Nations. This book draws on the teachings of the Ojibway tradition and outlines ceremonies that anyone can do to find a sense of peace in their lives. Other Indigenous authors that you can explore include Francine Cunningham, Cherie Dimaline, Lee Maracle, Eden Robinson, Thomas King, and Wayne Arthurson.
If you are not much of a reader, go the film route. You can start with The Angry Inuk, which explains the impact that seal-hunting has on Inuit communities in Canada. If music is a huge part of your life, you could watch Rumble: The Indians Who Have Rocked the World. As the title suggests, it is a documentary about the ways in which Indigenous artists have shaped North American rock music. After watching it, you’ll gain a better understanding of how much we owe to Indigenous culture. If you watch We Will Stand Up, you will learn about the circumstances surrounding the death of a young Indigenous man and how Indigenous communities continue to face discrimination.
Maybe you want to go for a walk and listen to a podcast. Why not check out one that includes Indigenous voices? Unreserved from CBC Radio is hosted by Rosanna Deerchild. She interviews Indigenous culture makers and storytellers from across Canada. There is also Coffee With My Ma, where the host interviews her mother Kahentinetha Horn, a Mohawk political activist, about the twists and turns of her career.
You can also support Indigenous communities every year on September 30 — National Day of Truth and Reconciliation and Orange Shirt Day. This is a time for us to reflect and acknowledge the atrocities endured by Indigenous Peoples due to residential schools. It’s an opportunity to pay tribute to those who survived and those who never made it home. Additionally, it’s part of the healing journey and commitment to reconciliation in Canada.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was created in 2007 as part of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement. The Commission’s goal was to provide those who were directly or indirectly affected by the residential school system with an opportunity to share their experience. For six years, TRC staff travelled across Canada and interviewed over 6,000 Indigenous Peoples who shared their stories about residential schooling and its long-term impact. The commission summarized their findings in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report, which was published as a multi-volume document in 2015. By reading it, you will gain knowledge about the widespread devastating effects of residential schools and the actions we all need to take to support truth and reconciliation.
The Indigenous Peoples Solidarity Fund supports over 40 Indigenous-led organizations that deliver critical services to foster growth, healing, and truth and reconciliation. These organizations help heal the physical and emotional traumas of colonialism, the Indian Act, and residential schools. They are also essential in rebuilding traditional culture and language that was passed from generation-to-generation but was lost or damaged due to government-led assimilation practices.
Wanda Brascoupé, member of the Bear Clan, Kanien’keha, Skarù Rę’, and Anishinabe and curator of the fund puts it perfectly: “The average story shared about Indigenous communities is that they are deficient somehow; this is furthest from the truth. The only deficiency is the surrounding system that limits what is capable. Indigenous-led organizations show up daily across this land to do necessary and needed work that allows those they serve to seed, grow and thrive no matter the circumstance.”
Support these organizations by donating to or learning more about the Indigenous Peoples Solidarity Fund.
Residential schools, forced relocations, the giving and extinguishing of rights, and more have all had a hand in endangering Northern Indigenous cultures and languages. Some are at risk of disappearing forever.
Thankfully, we are in a period of Indigenous cultural and political resurgence in the North. And leading the charge are community-led organizations. You can help support these organizations by donating to the Indigenous Culture and Language Resurgence in the Canadian North Fund. Your donation will assist in amplifying Indigenous leadership, accelerating Indigenous culture, and furthering Indigenous governance and stewardship of homelands.
Learn more or donate to the Fund today.