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Indigenous History Month

21 Fascinating Facts You May Not Know about First Nations, Métis and Inuit People

Fact #20
Fact 20
Contributions (music) Tanya Tagag

Tanya Tagaq (born 5 May 1975; Inuk)
Tagaq is a residential school survivor who, in her early 20s, heard recordings of Inuit throat singing. Her debut album, Sinaa, released in 2005, blended throat singing with Western electronic, rock, and punk music. The album’s success earned her a Canadian Aboriginal Music Award (now Indigenous Music Award) as the Best Female Artist.

Tagaq went on to release more successful albums, including Animism which won the Polaris Music Prize in 2014. She also performed across Canada and the United States, helped create documentary films, and published a novel, Split Tooth (2018). Her collaborations and work with musicians as diverse as Canadian rapper Shad, Icelandic singer-writer Björk, and the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, afforded her and Inuit music international recognition.

Fact #19
Fact 19
Contributions (art) Alanis Obomsawin
A natural-born storyteller, Alanis Obomsawin is one of the most acclaimed Indigenous film directors in the world. Throughout her career, Alanis, who is Abenaki from the Odanak First Nation, has become known for her filmmaking, singing, artistry, and activism. With an extraordinary body of work (50 films and counting), including landmark documentaries like Incident at Restigouche (1984) and Kanehsatake: 270 Years of Resistance (1993), she has received numerous international honours and accolades for her groundbreaking films. As a proponent of education, Alanis believes that continuous learning is critical. 

Obomsawin relates that "the basic purpose [of her films] is for our people to have a voice [...] no matter what we're talking about whether it has to do with having our existence recognized, or whether it has to do with speaking about our values, our survival, our beliefs, that we belong to something beautiful, that it's O.K. to be an Indian, to be a native person in this country.”

Fact #18
Fact 18
Contributions (art) Moses Lunham
Moses Lunham is an Ojibway from the Kettle and Stony Point First Nation. The youngest of two sisters and three brothers, Moses began expressing his artistic abilities at a young age 

“My family attended many Pow Wows when I was growing up. At first, my parents would teach me how to make various traditional arts and crafts. Now, for over the past twenty-five years I have met many artists and people who have inspired me to be more creative with my own work and style.”

Moses, in an effort to discipline his skill and explore new challenges, has studied Graphic Arts at Fanshawe College, London. After graduating, Moses worked in the graphic arts field for over 15 years.

“My work is the breath of my people, their beauty, their spirituality, their ideology and their pride.”

WECDSB staff and students have participated in many wonderful art sessions hosted by Moses. 

Fact #17
Fact 17
Medicines (Mashkiki)

Tobacco is the first plant that Creator gave to the Anishinaabe. Three other plants, sage, cedar and sweetgrass, follow tobacco, and together they are referred to as the four sacred medicines.

The four sacred medicines are used in everyday life and in ceremonies. All of them can be used to smudge with. It is said that tobacco sits in the eastern door, sweetgrass in the southern door, sage in the west and cedar in the north.

Smudging is a tradition in many Indigenous cultures, which involves the burning of one or more of these medicines.  There are many ways to perform a smudge and different variations and protocols exist.

Smudging allows people to stop, slow down, and become mindful and centered. This allows people to remember, connect, and be grounded in the event, task, or purpose at hand.

Smudging also allows people to let go of negative feelings and thoughts. Letting go of things that inhibit a person from being balanced and focused comes from the feeling of being calm and safe while smudging.
Smudging is always voluntary. It is completely acceptable for a person to indicate that they do not want to smudge. Respect for all is the guiding principle in any Indigenous tradition.

Fact #16
Fact 16
The Drum
No two drums are the same – each is berthed, and has its own distinctive structure, spirit, and life based on both the culture in which it was made and the hands of the one who made it. The drum is not just a music-maker, but a voice for the soul within the music and a prayer to Creator. Each community used uniquely local materials to construct drums, rattles and other sound-producing instruments. Inuit drums have large, light frames, which they play by striking the rim rather than the hide.  Their drums use a variety of materials such as deer skin, caribou and mountain sheep.  Some West Coast cultures did not have the frame drum until quite recently. The reason may be purely practical; hide or leather objects do not endure or hold their tension well in the constantly humid boreal rain forest. Instead, they used red cedar to make plank, log or box drums. Cedar not only is plentiful, but Northwest Coast cultures consider it spiritually significant. The Ojibwe (Anishinaabe) and Iroquois (Haudenosaunee) traditionally use water drums in some of their ceremonial practices. They often hollowed out logs to craft these water drums. In certain instances, they also used clay pots or iron kettles. Drum protocols vary across Turtle Island. Women, usually do not sit at the Drum and beat the Drum, if women sing, they may sit in the second row behind the men singers–there are some Women Drums emerging now. Indigenous cultures center around the Drum. Without the Drum and the singers around it, the pow wow would not exist. The Drum brings the heartbeat of our Earth Mother to the pow wow for all to feel and hear. Drumming brings everyone back into balance. 

Fact #15
Fact 15
For thousands of years, First Nations on Turtle Island varied in language, tradition, belief, and dress, but still gathered socially to trade, dance, sing, compete in games and sports, see healers, feast, and hold ceremonies. Gatherings also solidified social and political ties, allowed young people to marry into other Nations, and fostered the flow of innovations and exchange traditions.

Non-Indigenous people might perceive powwow as a cultural festival where First Nation Peoples of Turtle Island come together to dance, sing, feast, shop, and trade, make new friends, and reconnect with long-time friends and family. Beneath the colourful pageantry and spectacle of the modern powwow, layers of personal significance, acts of resistance, and spiritual meaning lie hidden in plain sight. 

Pow wows originally were gatherings to celebrate a successful hunt or victorious war party and the dances seen at today’s pow wows have their roots in those events. A pow wow is a gathering where First Nations celebrate life and culture by joining together in song, dance, and prayer. Various songs and dances occur throughout the day, each with their own significance and purpose. Dancers wear regalia, expressing themselves artistically through cultural symbols and vibrant colours. 

Under the Indian Act of 1876, an act still in existence today, pow wows were forbidden unless sanctioned by the government for parades and celebrations. Their music survived, and when the pow wow reemerged in the 1920s, the First Nations people evolved their tradition as a way of not only celebrating life and culture but as a way of showing transparency and resiliency. Experience a powwow this summer.

Fact #14
Fact 14
National Indigenous Day: Summer Solstice June 21, 2023

National Indigenous Peoples Day coincides with the Summer Solstice. Not only is it the day when the sun travels its longest path through the sky, which explains why it is the longest day, but it is the day that many Indigenous peoples celebrate their culture and heritage.

When Indigenous people speak, they often pay tribute to “all their relations”. They are saluting not only their families, but their ancestors, and the more-than-humans on this planet and our universe, like the rivers, rocks, trees, animals, planets and stars. They recognize that we are all connected.

Many false narratives of the histories of Indigenous peoples on Turtle Island have contributed to the hurt and the dismissal of their place on this land. They have long known about their people and all their relations through millennia of oral history. Scholars have long argued that the presence of Indigenous peoples is situated at roughly 12,000 years BCE (Before the Common Era). This line, supposedly proving the arrival of the Indigenous from Asia over an ice bridge, is referred to as “Clovis”.

Now, Cree-Métis scholar from Whitehorse, Yukon, and Canada Research Chair on Healing and Reconciliation at Algoma University, Dr Paulette Steeves, is making the case that Indigenous peoples may have been here for 100,000 years or more. Through the use of genetics in connection with archaeological finds, Steeves argues that there are hundreds of sites on Turtle Island that predate “Clovis”. As an exercise in allyship with Indigenous people, on National Indigenous Peoples Day, we encourage you to learn more about our Indigenous relations, histories and culture.

Fact #13
Fact 13
Indigenous Change Makers: Terry Fox
Marian Gladue, Terry Fox’s grandmother, was reluctant to talk about her family’s heritage. After her death, her family researched her identity to discover she was Métis. Her descendants have embraced the once-hidden issue, with many now declaring they are also Métis. In effect, says Terry Fox's younger brother, Darrell, "Terry Fox is Métis”. Darrell Fox attended the closing ceremonies of the North American Indigenous Games in Toronto in July, 2018 and declared the Fox family "very proud" of their Métis heritage. In 2020, at the unveiling of a plaque in Terry Fox’s honour,  Darrell explained that the Gladues were buffalo hunters and fur traders and that members of their family served on the provisional government of Louis Riel.

"We are really thankful for how supportive Métis Nation B.C. has been in researching our ancestral history," he added.

"Many of the 12 core values of the Métis people are Terry's values. This history of roaming the land, leading and adhering to a set of values, was always there within Terry."

He also stressed that his brother's dream of eradicating cancer is "still very much with us and relevant." Terry Fox Runs around the world have raised more than $800 million and counting, according to the Terry Fox Research Institute.  Terry Fox became a hero in 1980 during his attempt to run across Canada to raise money for cancer research.

Fact #12
Fact 12
Indigenous Change Makers: Autumn Peltier
Autumn Peltier from Wiikwemkoong First Nation on Manitoulin Island in northern Ontario has been engaged in fighting for clean, safe water since she first came across a boil-water advisory in a nearby Anishinaabe community when she was eight years old. Since then she has been an integral part of the global climate movement and has been nominated for the 2019 International Children's Peace Prize by the David Suzuki Foundation.

"I've said it once, and I'll say it again: we can't eat money or drink oil. We must protect our water.”

Fact #11
Fact 11
Indigenous Change Makers: Lorelei Williams
Lorelei Williams, activist, and a member of the Skatin and Sts’ailes First Nations is the founder of Butterflies in Spirit, an interpretive dance group that raises awareness about Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG). She is also a leading voice in the movement behind MMIWG, including the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and the Oppal Inquiry. Lorelei also volunteers for the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Collation and works full-time as the women’s coordinator at the Vancouver Aboriginal Community Policing Center.

"Don't rush this process. Slow down. Do it right. Commit to action. Successive governments have failed and disappointed us. Don't let this happen again. "

Fact #10
Fact 10
Indigenous Change Makers:  Phyllis Webstad
Phyllis Webstad is Northern Secwpemc (Shuswap) from the Stswecem’c Xgat’tem First Nation (Canoe Creek Indian Band) B.C. She is widely known as the driver of the Orange Shirt Day, September 30th, an annual event in remembrance of the Canadian residential school system that raises awareness of the ongoing harm this system continues to inflict. Phyllis tours the country to share her truth and has published two books, the "Orange Shirt Story" and "Phyllis's Orange Shirt" and continues to advocate for residential school survivors and their families. "Every child matters, even if you are an adult. We must also remember those children that never made it and are no longer with us. Today is a day for survivors to tell their stories and for us to listen with open hearts."

Fact #9
Fact 9
Inuit Innovations
The Inuit, which means "the People" in the Inuktitut language, are a group of Indigenous people who primarily live in the northernmost regions of Canada. Archeologists have carbon-dated finds to 4,000 BC. Inuit believe they have lived on the land since time immemorial.  Surviving on the tundra and oceans, the Inuit have had many contributions and innovations. The first sunglasses or goggles, were invented consisting of a strip of hard material with small slits cut into it to see through. These "sunglasses" helped remove the glare of reflected sunlight when traversing the snow-covered landscape of the Arctic Circle. Inukshuks, or piled local stones, were constructed primarily as navigational aids for passing travellers. Often used to mark sacred places, good hunting grounds, and fishing spots, these structures can be considered art and have even graced the entrance of Pearson Airport in Toronto.  The Igloo (house) are temporary winter homes or hunting-ground shelters. The kayak (qajaq) is used to hunt on water, fashioned from a stitched sealskin, or other animal skin, stretched over a wood or whalebone-skeleton frame. The toboggan was devised to help Inuit hunters carry furs and meat over snow and ice. Made from wooden boards, like birch, fastened parallel to one another using battens that are sewed together using deerskin.  Parkas are specially designed to ensure the survival of their wearers in the harsh Arctic climate. Traditional parkas were made from either sealskin or caribou skin, and they all come with large, well-insulated hoods. All these innovations were created to help the Inuit survive and thrive for thousands of years in Canada’s most extreme cold.

Fact #8
Fact 8
Canada’s official national summer sport, Lacrosse, originally called ‘stickball’, has often been dubbed “the fastest game on two feet” because of how quickly the ball can be moved across the field. The game is so fast that sometimes you may not even see where the ball is until somebody scored a goal. Lacrosse, first played by the Haudenasuane (Six Nations), has been around for millennia. But in the 1600s, missionary Jean de Brebeuf wrote about his experience seeing the game. He named it “La Crosse” after a bishop’s crosier, a replica of a shepherd’s crook. Originally considered a gift to the Haudenosaunee from Creator, lacrosse, a ceremonious game, was played to settle disputes and prevent war between nations. Played on large fields, the number of players would also vary between 100 and 2,000. The game would be played from sunup to sundown, sometimes over the span of several days. This was due to there being no regulation time for stickball, and only two rules players needed to abide by: there was no touching the ball with their hands and there were no boundaries. The wooden stick is made from nature- a piece of wood. Team members believe that the energy of that living tree then transfers to the player. 

Lacrosse has been described as being like soccer, hockey, and basketball all rolled into one. Like soccer, it’s performed on a field; like hockey, it’s played with sticks; and like basketball, lacrosse requires players to be quick on their feet and put the ball into the net. Lacrosse is a fairly moderate-risk sport, but it is the fastest-growing high school sport in the nation. Pictured is Rain Whited, former lacrosse semi-pro turned coach, instructing St. Rose students on the basic moves in the Creator’s Game: Lacrosse.

Fact #7
Fact 7
First Nation Neighours: There are 634 recognized First Nations across Canada, 133 of those are in the province of Ontario. The closest reserve to Windsor is Caldwell First Nation.  The Caldwell First Nation people have lived in what is now known as Point Pelee National Park area from before 1763. Their traditional territory encompassed a broad area all over the Ontario region, in particular the areas extending from the Detroit River along Amherstburg all the way to Long Point Ontario and the Lake Erie Islands. The heart of their ancestral territory includes the areas of Essex and Kent county area, in particular Point Pelee and Pelee Island.  

In May 1790, representatives of certain Ottawa (Odawa), Chippewa (Ojibwa), Pottawatomi (Bodéwadmi) people and the Huron (Wendat) surrendered a large tract of land in southwestern Ontario, including Point Pelee. The Caldwell First Nation neither signed nor benefited from that treaty. However, the Crown did not realize this and it was publicly acknowledged by the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada. Caldwell First Nation Council members settled the land claim that had been outstanding for more than 220 years. In March 2021, Caldwell First Nation finally received reserve status.  

Fact #6
Fact 6
The Anishinaabe are a group of culturally and linguistically related Indigenous groups that are found in Canada and the United States. Most of their land is centred around the Great Lakes, but the Anishinaabe can be found as far west as Saskatchewan. If you were to look at a map of the traditional territory of the Anishinaabe, it would stretch from Montreal to Regina.

The Anishinaabe, meaning "first people", is used most often to describe the Ojibwe people, and many other groups identify as Anishinaabe including the Chippewa, Odawa, Algonquin, Nipissing and Mississauga, along with the Oji-Cree and Métis.

The oral histories of the Anishinaabe say that they originated on the northeast coast of Canada and migrated to the west towards Lake Superior. In their histories this is called The Great Migration. The oral stories say that the homeland of the Anishinaabe was called Turtle Island.

Fact #5
Fact 5
Six Nations of the Grand River also called the Iroquois, The Haudenosaunee (the People of the Long House). 
It is the largest First Nations reserve in Canada by population and the second largest in size. It is where six Iroquois nations live – the Mohawk, Cayuga, Onondaga, Oneida, Seneca, and Tuscarora. The reserve is located between Hamilton, Brantford and Simcoe, Ontario. Six Nations has been home to many well-known figures, among them poet Tekahionewake (E. Pauline Johnson), Boston Marathon winner Tom Longboat, actor Jay Silverheels (The Lone Ranger), and Academy award nominee Graham Greene (Dances with Wolves) and singer/writer/actor Robbie Roberson best known for his work as lead guitarist and songwriter for the Band.

The Great Law of Peace which governs the Grand River Six Nations, is one of the earliest examples of a formal democratic governance structure. In 1988, the U.S. Senate paid tribute with a resolution that said, "The confederation of the original 13 colonies into one republic was influenced by the political system developed by the Iroquois Confederacy, as were many of the democratic principles which were incorporated into the constitution itself." The Haudenosaunee Grand Council is the oldest governmental institution still maintaining its original form in North America.

Fact #4
Fact 4
Métis: The Métis Nation are descendants of fur traders who settled in present-day Manitoba. There's a shared culture, traditions and language among those who trace their family roots back to the Red River colony. In French, the word métis is an adjective referring to someone of mixed ancestry. Since the 18th century, the word has been used to describe individuals with mixed Indigenous and European ancestry. But it's generally recognized that being Métis is more than having mixed Indigenous and European heritage. Métis have a distinct collective identity, customs and way of life, unique from Indigenous or European roots. The flag shows a white infinity symbol on a field of either blue or red. There are many interpretations of what the colours and symbols mean.

Fact #3
Fact 3
Not Eskimos: "Inuit" which means "the people", are traditionally hunters who fish and hunt whale, walrus, and seal by kayak or by boat or by waiting at airholes the seals make in the ice. They use igloos as hunting or emergency shelters. Inuit traditionally make use of animal skins in their clothing (e.g. anorak). Inuit are not considered First Nations, however, they, the Indians, are collectively recognized by the Canadian Constitution Act, 1982.  Linguists believe the word Eskimo actually came from the French word esquimaux, meaning one who nets snowshoes. Netting snowshoes is the highly-precise way that Arctic peoples built winter footwear by tightly weaving, or netting, sinew from caribou or other animals across a wooden frame.

Fact #2
Fact 2
Since Time Immemorial:  Indigenous People have lived on Turtle Island (North America) since time immemorial. At European contact, Indigenous people were already self-governing and had formed complex social, political, economic and cultural systems. Arrowheads or “points” have been found on what is now known as Pelee Island and have been carbon-dated to 7000 BC.

Fact #1

Fact 1Indigenous Population in Canada: There are more than 634 distinct First Nations communities across Canada, with over 60 Indigenous languages spoken.  They are not a homogeneous group.  According to the 2021 Census: 1.8 million people (or 5.0% of the population) self-identified as Indigenous people: First Nations: 1,048,405; Métis: 624,220; Inuit: 70,545 Inuit  Indigenous people represent the fasting growing segment of Canada’s population.

Dates to Remember

September 30: National Day for Truth and Reconciliation
October 4: Sisters in Spirit Day (Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Awareness)
October 17: Secret Path Week (Downie-Wenjack Fund: Legacy Schools)
October 20-25: ImagiNative Film Festival
November 5-11: Treaty Recognition Week
November 8: National Indigenous Veteran’s Day
November 16: Louis Riel Day
December 21: Quviasukvik: Inuit Winter Solstice Feast (Chivaree)
January 15: Return of the Sun Nunavut Festival
February: Maple Syrup (Sweetwater) all month
February 14: Have a Heart Day (Youth-led reconciliation event)
March 22: World Water Day
April 22: Earth Day
May: Water Walks (all month)
May 5: REDress (MMIWG awareness day)
May 10: Bear Witness (Jordan's Principle)
May 11: Moose Hide Campaign Day
June: National Indigenous History Month; Strawberry Feast (all month)
June 21: National Indigenous Peoples Day
July 9: Nunavut Day
July: Blueberry Celebrations (all month)
July 14: St. Kateri Tekakwitha’s Feast Day
July 24: Métis Day
August 9: International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples 

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