Modern historians believe that Indigenous peoples arrived from Asia 30,000 years ago by way of a land bridge between Siberia and Alaska. Some of them settled in what is now called Canada, while others chose to continue to the south. When the European explorers arrived, Canada was populated by a diverse range of Indigenous peoples who, depending on the environment, lived nomadic or settled lifestyles, were hunters, fishermen, or farmers.|
They lived in every region of the country. Often their survival in Canada's harsh climate depended on cooperation, sharing, and respect for the environment. They probably migrated over the Bering Sea from Siberia after the last ice age, between 10,000 and 30,000 years ago. At the time of European contact, they had developed distinct nations throughout what is now Canada with a total population of perhaps 350,000.|
The Constitution Act, 1982 recognized three main groups of Indigenous peoples in Canada: the First Nations and the Inuit, who were the first Indigenous groups in Canada, and the Metis, who emerged after the settlement of Canada. Today, there are more than 53 distinct languages spoken by Indigenous peoples. Most of these languages are found only in Canada.
People of the First Nations lived in all areas of Canada. Those who lived on Canada's coasts depended on fishing and hunting while those who lived on the prairies moved with buffalo herds which they hunted for food, clothing, and tools. First Nations people who lived in central and eastern Canada hunted and grew vegetable crops. Today, more than half of the First Nations people live on reserves. Others live and work in cities across Canada.
The Inuit lived and settled throughout the northern regions of Canada. They adjusted to the cold northern climate and lived by hunting seals, whales, caribou, and polar bears. The majority of Inuit people live in the new territory called Nunavut and some still hunt for food and clothing.
Many of the early French fur traders and some English traders married First Nations women. Their children and descendants are the Metis people. The Metis were an important part of the fur trade and they developed their own distinct culture on the prairies.
When Europeans arrived in what is now Canada, they began to make agreements, or treaties, with Aboriginal peoples. The treaty making process meant that Aboriginal people gave up their title to lands in exchange for certain rights and benefits.
Most of the agreements included reserving pieces of land to be used only by Indigenous peoples. These pieces of land and called "reserves". Today, Indigenous groups and the Canadian government continue to negotiate new agreements for land and the recognition of other rights.
Indigenous peoples in Canada are working to keep their unique cultures and languages alive. They are trying to regain control over decisions that affect their lives - in other words, to become self-governed. Indigenous peoples continue to play an active role in building the future of Canada.