Aboriginal Peoples Of Canada History Essay

Published: Last Edited:

This essay has been submitted by a student. This is not an example of the work written by our professional essay writers.

Even though this question is most often raised in connection with the United States of America, it is just as relevant in the case of Canada. What is the role and status of those people in our modern society who inhabited a territory first? What are their rights and privileges and how are they treated? At the time of colonization and throughout many subsequent decades these people were often considered to be only a conquerable obstacle (overtly or implicitly) in the way of European nations seeping in to a - in their views - primitive and uncultured piece of land. However, due to the changing attitudes towards and the emerging self-awareness of minorities in the past decade this topic is in need of revision and reconsideration. In the first half of my essay I am going to explore what the position of native Canadians has been like over the years and in the second half I am going to analyze the relevant data from the 2001 and 2006 Census of Canada in terms of what the characteristics of these people are nowadays.

Native groups started to move into the territory what is today recognized as Canada between 30 000 and 10 000 B.C. but it was not until the very beginning of the sixteenth century that they had to face major intrusion into their lives from Europe visitors. The first peoples of Canada are usually divided into approximately fifty different cultures and twelve language groups so cultural diversity had indeed existed before Europeans arrived. [1] Aboriginal peoples mainly sustained themselves first by hunting and gathering, the development of which techniques allowed them to grow in number and eventually settle down and start farming. Two issues that were unanimously important in lives of the various aboriginal groups were religion and respect for nature.

Aboriginal peoples proved to be of great help to Europeans because of trading opportunities, their knowledge of nature and eventually their workforce. [1] Similarly to many people of African origin aboriginals also fell victim to slavery at the beginning of the eighteenth century and although their rights were somewhat protected in the so-called Code Noir, [2] they were essentially properties of European people and were much restricted in making decisions about themselves and their families. Some aboriginal people became slaves because they were captured by the Europeans but slavery was a hereditary position: someone born into a slave family automatically became the subject of the owner of that family. Slavery could also be a form of punishment. Just like any kind of goods slaves were also traded extensively. [3] 

Though aboriginal people were somewhat respected due to their assistance in fur trade, [4] they could not escape the racist and condescending attitude of white people but most importantly what they could not avoid were the illnesses transmitted by Europeans. Many native people perished due to the fact that their immune system was not accustomed to the germs carried over from Europe. Consecutive epidemics swept through the territories in which aboriginal Canadians lived. Such diseases - that are today considered to be harmless due to the beneficial effects of modern medicine and vaccination - as measles, influenza and smallpox often wiped the majority of the population of certain villages. What made matters worse was that the sick were not separated from the healthy so infections spread quickly and in a wide circle. Also, native Canadian healing practices only helped degrade the condition of the sick people on many occasions. [5] 

The period of fur trade and slavery was when the Métis emerged in Canada. They were people with mixed European and Indian heritage who were also considered to be inferior to the settlers and treated unequally. The greatest protest of the Métis people against repression and injustice occurred under the leadership of one of their most prominent figures, Louis Riel in 1885 but it did not helped the Métis cause. What is more, Riel was captured and hanged just like other important characters of the rebellion. Trying to mend some of the harm that had been done to the Métis, the Canadian Parliament passed the Manitoba Act in 1870. This document granted certain territorial, religious and language related rights to the Métis. [1] 

All throughout the years, aboriginal people remained subservient to the European settlers so much so that the Métis were not even included in the census as a distinct ethnic group until 1981. [2] The 1980s are also referred to as the era of the Métis Renaissance since it was then that more attention started to shift to this group. More and more people started to admit and to be proud of their affiliation with the Métis and their representation in the media, in literature, culture and film increased significantly. [3] 1981 was also an important year in the life of the Inuit: the Inuit Broadcasting Corporation was founded which broadcast in the Inuit's own language, Inuktitut. This was a major step for this people in maintaining their ethnical and cultural distinctness. [4] 

Finally, around the middle of the twentieth century native people started to protest vehemently due to the government trying to bring such laws into effect which would have further curtailed their rights. In hope of a better life many Indians tried their luck in bigger cities outside their reserves but most of them were unsuccessful and lived under poor circumstances. [1] Life was not undisturbed on the reserves either. Harmful chemicals from city factories ruined a great part of the natural resources, construction for gas and oil pipelines and exploitation of these areas by cutting down woods were constant threats. [2] These intrusions seem to be especially rude considering that aboriginal people - unlike Europeans - saw themselves as parts of nature rather than superior to it.

An important legal document that is worth special attention from the point of view of this paper is the Constitution Act of 1982. It is the thirty-fifth section of this document that defines who are considered to be aboriginal Canadians and what some of their rights are. This act enumerates three distinct aboriginal Canadian groups: the North American Indians, the Métis and the Inuit. Two rather significant rights that the act guarantees are that all aboriginal and treaty rights in effect at the time were recognized and that the conditions laid down in the act were applicable to male and female aboriginals alike. [3] 

To be able to find out more about the recent conditions of the aboriginal peoples of Canada it is worth to take a look at the 2001 and the 2006 Census of Canada. [4] According to these data the number of the Canadian aboriginal population in 2006 was 1.172.785 which made up 3,75% of the country's total population. Almost 60% of this group was of North American Indian origin (698.025 people), about one third was Métis (389.780 people) and only a little more than 4% belonged to the Inuit (50.480). The largest group of aboriginal people lived in Ontario while the smallest lived in Prince Edward Island. The Ontario population size was 242.495 which was approximately 2% of the number of the province's residents and over 20% of all aboriginal Canadians. A considerable number of North American Indians (over 55% of their total population) lived in three provinces: Ontario, Manitoba and British Columbia. Métis were in large number in Ontario, Manitoba, Alberta and British Columbia (18,88%, 18,42%, 21,93% and 15,25% of their population respectively). The most important area in terms of the Inuit was Nunavut, where Inuit constituted almost 99% of the aboriginal and 84% of the territory's population. Beside Nunavut Inuit could also be found in relatively large numbers in Quebec where they made up 10,1% of Quebec's aboriginal population but only 0,15% of Quebec's total population. The Canadian capital was home to over 20.000 aboriginal Canadians who made up 1,84% of Ottawa's population. The same figure for other major cities was 1,44% (Halifax), 0,57% (Quebec City), 0,5% (Montreal), 0,52% (Toronto), 2,48% (Calgary), 5,08% (Edmonton), 1,92% (Vancouver) and 3,35% (Victoria).

The size of the aboriginal population is growing rapidly. Between the years 2001 and 2006 its growth was over 20% compared to the non-aboriginal population which only grew by approximately 5%. Within the aboriginal group Métis growth was the highest (33,3%) compared to 14,6% for North American Indians and 12% for Inuit. It is also worth to mention that between 1996 and 2006 the Métis population grew by more than 90% with the growth of the other two groups being not so striking but still considerable.

If we examine the field of education, it shows that aboriginal peoples do not tend to do as well as non-aboriginals for various reasons. While only 36% of Inuit and 42% of First Nations people between the ages of 25 and 64 had completed postsecondary education by 2001, the same number for non-aboriginals was a little over 60%. Métis had the highest proportion within the aboriginal group in this respect; around 50% of them had completed some form of education above the secondary school level.

In terms of employment in 2001, over 60% of non-aboriginal people were employed while around 7% of them had no job. The same data for aboriginal people show a completely opposite trend. Less than half of the total aboriginal population was employed while almost 20% of them were without a job. Employment tended to be the lowest for North American Indians (over 44%, 22% unemployed) and highest for the Métis (almost 60%, 14% unemployed) within aboriginals (These data were calculated from single responses only!). Strongly connected to employment is income. In 2001, the average income for non-aboriginals was around 30.000 dollars. Aboriginal people earned much less on the average: North American Indians earned almost 60%, the Métis a little less than 75% and the Inuit around two-thirds of the average salaries of the non-aboriginals. Just like in all ethnicities around the world, aboriginal men earned more than women: while non-aboriginal women earned about 60% of their male counterparts' salaries, the same figures for North American Indians, the Métis and the Inuit were 80%, 68% and more than 88% respectively so gender tended to be a more significant divide within the aboriginal group.

All in all based on my research I can conclude that the aboriginal inhabitants of Canada have been treated unequally compared to the people of European origin through much of their history. Although there has been a major shift in attitude toward aboriginal people and improvement in how they are represented in social life, law, culture and the labor market, there is still a lot to do for this lagging group. It is them who inhabited the area of future Canada first so logic dictates that they should be an equally treated segment of society. The reason why they are in a more difficult position than their European counterparts lies not in biology or genetics but in history so I think that in a society that prides itself on being modern and enlightened all should be done to help the worse off layers catch up.