It is believed that Canada’s original Aboriginal population travelled from Asia thousands of years ago. The Aboriginal peoples were well settled in Canada prior to the arrival of the first European explorers. The cultures of the First Nations centred around their intertwining relationships with the environment, humanity, and their Creator.
The Canadian Constitution guarantees the rights of Aboriginal peoples and treaties made with them. Originally, they were guaranteed certain territories in Canada by Royal Proclamation of King George III in 1763; this also set out the ways that treaties should be negotiated with Aboriginal peoples, although it didn’t always happen that way.
From the early 1800s right up to the 1980s, the Canadian government forced many children of Aboriginal peoples into residential schools to try and make them part of mainstream Canadian culture. These schools were often underfunded and students were treated badly in many cases. Generally, students were not allowed to use their original Aboriginal language or follow their culture. A formal apology was issued to these children by Ottawa in 2008.
Since then, much greater respect has been shown to the Aboriginal peoples and their culture has flowered; they are encouraged to take pride in it, and Aboriginal peoples are making significant progress in all areas of Canadian life.
There are three separate groups of Aboriginal peoples in Canada today. The Métis are a group who have a shared Aboriginal and European heritage. Most of them inhabit the Prairie provinces. Métis may speak both French and English and also their separate dialect, Michif. The Inuit (the name means “the people” in their language) inhabit the Arctic, generally living in small, isolated communities. They have a deep knowledge of the Arctic region which allows them to live in one of the world’s most challenging environments. All Aboriginal peoples who do not belong to the Inuit or Métis groupings are known as the First Nations. Around half of the First Nations people now live on reservations, with the rest chiefly living in towns and cities. The distribution of Canada’s Aboriginal people is approximately First Nations 65%, Métis 30%, Inuit 4%.