Indigenous peoples in Canada

Indigenous peoples of Canada
Peuples autochtones du Canada
Total population
Indigenous languages, Canadian English and Canadian French
Christianity (mainly Roman Catholicism and Anglican), Traditional Indigenous beliefs, Inuit religion, Mythologies of the indigenous peoples of the Americas
Related ethnic groups
Native Americans in the United States, Greenlandic Inuit, Indigenous peoples of the Americas

Indigenous peoples in Canada,[2] also known as Aboriginal Canadians, are the indigenous peoples within the boundaries of present-day Canada. They comprise the First Nations,[3] Inuit[4] and Métis.[5] Although "Indian" is a term still commonly used in legal documents, the descriptors "Indian" and "Eskimo" have somewhat fallen into disuse in Canada and some consider them to be pejorative.[6][7][8] Similarly, "Aboriginal" as a collective noun is a specific term of art used in some legal documents, including the Constitution Act, 1982, though in some circles that word is also falling into disfavour.[9]

Old Crow Flats and Bluefish Caves are some of the earliest known sites of human habitation in Canada. The Paleo-Indian Clovis, Plano and Pre-Dorset cultures pre-date current indigenous peoples of the Americas. Projectile point tools, spears, pottery, bangles, chisels and scrapers mark archaeological sites, thus distinguishing cultural periods, traditions and lithic reduction styles.

The characteristics of Canadian Aboriginal culture included permanent settlements,[10] agriculture,[11] civic and ceremonial architecture,[12] complex societal hierarchies and trading networks.[13] The Métis culture of mixed blood originated in the mid-17th century when First Nation and Inuit people married Europeans.[14] The Inuit had more limited interaction with European settlers during that early period.[15] Various laws, treaties, and legislation have been enacted between European immigrants and First Nations across Canada. Aboriginal Right to Self-Government provides opportunity to manage historical, cultural, political, health care and economic control aspects within first people's communities.

As of the 2016 census, Aboriginal peoples in Canada totalled 1,673,785 people, or 4.9% of the national population, with 977,230 First Nations people, 587,545 Métis and 65,025 Inuit.[1] There are over 600 recognized First Nations governments or bands with distinctive cultures, languages, art, and music.[16][17] National Indigenous Peoples Day recognizes the cultures and contributions of Aboriginal peoples to the history of Canada.[18] First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples of all backgrounds have become prominent figures and have served as role models in the Aboriginal community and help to shape the Canadian cultural identity.[19]


In Section Thirty-five of the Constitution Act, 1982, "Aboriginal peoples of Canada" includes the Indian, Inuit and Métis peoples.[20] Aboriginal peoples is a legal term encompassing all indigenous Canadian groups.[21][22] Aboriginal peoples is beginning to be considered outdated and slowly being replaced by the term Indigenous peoples.[2] First Nations (most often used in the plural) has come into general use since the 1970s replacing "Indians" in everyday vocabulary.[21][22] However, on reserves, First Nations is being supplanted by members of various nations referring to themselves by their group or ethnical identity. In conversation this would be "I am Haida", or "we are Kwantlens", in recognition of their First Nations ethnicities.[23]

The Indian Act (R.S.C., 1985, c. I-5) sets the legal term Indian and "means a person who pursuant to this Act is registered as an Indian or is entitled to be registered as an Indian".[24] Section 5 of this act states that a registry shall be maintained "in which shall be recorded the name of every person who is entitled to be registered as an Indian under this Act".[24] No other term is legally recognized for the purpose of registration and the term Indian specifically excludes reference to Inuit as per section 4 of the Indian Act (R.S.C., 1985, c. I-5). Indian remains in place as the legal term used in the Canadian Constitution. Its usage outside such situations can be considered offensive.[7]

An Aboriginal community in Northern Ontario

The term Eskimo has pejorative connotations in Canada and Greenland. Indigenous peoples in those areas have replaced the term Eskimo with Inuit.[25][26] The Yupik of Alaska and Siberia do not consider themselves Inuit, and ethnographers agree they are a distinct people.[8][26] They prefer the terminology Yupik, Yupiit, or Eskimo. The Yupik languages are linguistically distinct from the Inuit languages.[8] Linguistic groups of Arctic people have no universal replacement term for Eskimo, inclusive of all Inuit and Yupik people across the geographical area inhabited by the Inuit and Yupik peoples.[8]

Besides these ethnic descriptors, Aboriginal peoples are often divided into legal categories based on their relationship with the Crown (i.e. the state). Section 91 (clause 24) of the Constitution Act, 1867 gives the federal government (as opposed to the provinces) the sole responsibility for "Indians, and Lands reserved for the Indians". The government inherited treaty obligations from the British colonial authorities in Eastern Canada and signed treaties itself with First Nations in Western Canada (the Numbered Treaties). It also passed the Indian Act in 1876 which governed its interactions with all treaty and non-treaty peoples. Members of First Nations bands that are subject to the Indian Act with the Crown are compiled on a list called the Indian Register, and such people are called Status Indians. Many non-treaty First Nations and all Inuit and Métis peoples are not subject to the Indian Act. However, two court cases have clarified that Inuit, Métis, and non-status First Nations people, all are covered by the term "Indians" in the Constitution Act, 1867. The first was Re Eskimos in 1939 covering the Inuit, the second being Daniels v. Canada in 2013 which applies to Métis and non-Status First Nations.[27]

Notwithstanding Canada's location within the Americas, the term "Native American" is not used in Canada as it is typically used solely to describe the indigenous peoples within the boundaries of the present-day United States.[28]