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ca_culture_vancouver_first nations
ca_vancouver_first nations_culture
ca_vancouver coast mountains_culture_first nations
ca_vancouver coast mountains_culture_first nations_nature
The First Nations, Métis, and Inuit peoples

History and culture

Canada, known for its breathtaking landscapes and cultural treasures, harbours a deep-rooted history that began long before the arrival of European settlers. The First Nations, Métis, and Inuit are the indigenous peoples of Canada, and have stewarded the land for thousands of years with their rich culture, traditions and knowledge. At Little America, we are particularly keen to introduce you to these authentic and often lesser-known aspects of Canada. Because only by understanding their stories can we truly experience and appreciate the true essence of this country.

A historic overview

Indigenous Canadians are made up of three main groups: the First Nations, Inuit and Métis. There are over 600 different tribes and nations that each have their own language, culture and traditions and have lived and flourished in the vast landscapes of Canada long before Europeans discovered the land. They developed sustainable ways of life that were closely connected to the nature and resources of their respective territories. Make your trip even more meaningful by visiting one of the countless museums on this fascinating culture, or listen to stories first hand from the First Nations communities themselves.

The British and French certainly left their mark during colonisation, and the United States has had an impact as well. But the most important influence comes from Canada's original inhabitants, who make up less than 5% of the population. The arrival of the Europeans in the 16th century had disastrous consequences for the First Nations, Métis, and Inuit population. Trade, missionary work and colonisation brought new opportunities as well as challenges and conflicts. Plagued by unfamiliar diseases and violently expelled from their land, the impact is still seen today. Yet, despite all of this, the culture of Indigenous Canadians is very much alive and gives incredible insight into the history of the land.

An outdoor ceremony with Indigenous people
Visit the Indigenous Festival at Trout Lake
© Tourism Vancouver/Vision Event Photography Inc

First Nations

Canada is home to a remarkable diversity of First Nations people, each with their own unique culture and traditions. Here are some of the most prominent First Nations that you can get to know better when travelling with Little America:

1. The Haida: Living on the Pacific Coast in what is now British Columbia, the Haida are known for their masterful art and wood carving, especially their impressive totem poles and canoes. The Haida Gwaii Islands are a spiritual and cultural centre that immerses visitors in the deep traditions and history of this proud people.

2. The Cree: One of the largest indigenous peoples in Canada, the Cree inhabit large parts of the prairies and forests from Alberta to Quebec. They are known for their sophisticated hunting techniques, their language and their deep spiritual beliefs. Visitors can experience their history and culture in numerous communities and cultural centres.

3. The Iroquois (Haudenosaunee): This confederation of six nations lives primarily in Ontario and Quebec and is famous for their political structure and long house, which is symbolic of their community and governance. Their traditions and influence on Canada's history are profound and are honoured in many museums and cultural events.

4. The Innu: The Innu are from the vast territory of Labrador and Quebec and are known for their nomadic culture, which is strongly centred on caribou hunting and the use of natural resources. Their traditional stories, songs, and dances maintain their oral history of their deep connection to the environment.

A First Nations cultural guide
Discover the Klahoose Indigenous Culture in British Columbia
© Michele Broadfoot
You'll be amazed by the boundless nature of the Coast Mountains

The Inuit

The Inuit are an indigenous people who live in the Arctic regions of Canada, including the territories of Nunavut, Northwest Territories, Northern Quebec (Nunavik) and Labrador (Nunatsiavut). Their culture and way of life are closely linked to the harsh but majestic Arctic environment in which they have lived for thousands of years.

The Inuit are known for their remarkable adaptability to life in one of the world's most extreme environments. Their traditional hunting and fishing culture is based on the utilisation of seals, whales, caribou and fish. These resources are not only vital sources of food, but also raw materials for clothing, tools and the construction of their famous igloos - the temporary snow houses that are perfectly adapted to winter conditions.

Inuit art and language

Inuit art, especially their stone, bone and ivory sculptures, prints and drawings, is recognised worldwide. These artworks often reflect the Inuit's deep spiritual connection to nature and their environment, and tell stories of their mythology and daily life.

Another prominent feature of Inuit culture is their language, Inuktitut, which remains vibrant and widely spoken despite the challenges of the modern world. Inuit communities are actively engaged in preserving their language and cultural practices, and cultural education and revitalisation initiatives play a central role in community life.

Combining tradition and modernity

While the Inuit were historically nomadic, they of course now live in permanent settlements equipped with modern conveniences. Nevertheless, they preserve their traditional knowledge and skills and integrate them into modern life. Their unique perspective on living in harmony with nature offers valuable lessons in sustainability and resilience.

Traditionally, the Inuit were nomadic meaning they moved throughout the year

The Métis

The Métis are a distinct indigenous group in Canada who have a unique culture and history that differs from other First Nations. Originating from the mixing of European settlers, mainly French and Scottish fur traders, with indigenous women, the Métis developed a distinct identity in the 18th and 19th centuries. They live mainly in the prairie provinces of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta, but also in parts of Ontario, British Columbia and the Northwest Territories.

Métis culture is a lively mixture of European and indigenous traditions. Their language, Michif, combines elements of French and various indigenous languages. The Métis are known for their music, especially the violin, and their dances, such as the jig. Their elaborate beadwork and embroidery, often with floral patterns, are other distinctive cultural features.

Culture between two worlds

Historically, the Métis played an important role in the fur trade economy and fought for their rights and recognition during the Métis Rebellions led by Louis Riel. These historical events are deeply rooted in the collective memory of the Métis and characterise their strong sense of community and pride in their heritage.

The Métis are distinguished from other indigenous peoples by their mixed culture and their specific historical development. While they have both Indigenous and European roots, they are not fully integrated into either First Nations or European culture, but maintain a distinct identity that combines both traditions yet is unique.

You can best learn about Métis culture directly from an Indigenous guide

Museums that preserve history

To experience the rich heritage and culture of Canada's diverse Indigenous groups up close, there are numerous museums in Canada that present extensive collections and exhibitions on this topic:

1. The Museum of Anthropology: This museum in Vancouver, British Columbia, is known for its extensive collection of art and artefacts from the First Nations of the Pacific Northwest. The huge totem poles and detailed carvings are a particular highlight. Another major museum in the area is the Museum of Vancouver, which is the oldest museum in the city and focuses on the area’s history in connection with the First Nations.

2. The Bill Reid Gallery of Northwest Coast Art: This museum that is also in Vancouver, British Columbia, is dedicated to the life and work of the famous Haida artist Bill Reid and displays a variety of his works as well as those of other Indigenous artists of the Northwest Coast. And Vancouver's Inuit Gallery has an exhibition of Canadian Aboriginal art, ranging from sculptures to jewellery.

3. The Royal Ontario Museum (Toronto, Ontario): With an important collection of indigenous art and artefacts, the ROM offers a comprehensive insight into the various cultures in Canada, from prehistoric times to the present day.

4. Canadian Museum of History: One of the most popular is The Canadian Museum of History found in Gatineau, Quebec. The First Peoples Hall showcases the diversity of the First Nations, Inuit and Métis and their contribution to the culture and history of Canada and the rest of the world. Admire artefacts, artwork and audio-visual presentations that provide an in-depth look at the lives and culture of Canada's Indigenous peoples.

Visit the Museum of Anthropology in Vancouver, BC

Powwows and celebrations

What is a powwow?

A powwow is a traditional gathering of Indigenous peoples where they celebrate their culture, language, music, dances and community. These colourful and festive events are deeply rooted in the ancient traditions of the various tribes, and serve as both social gatherings and opportunities to share and honour cultural practices with others. At a powwow, you can experience impressive dances in elaborate traditional costumes, listen to the rhythmic sounds of drums and feel the vibrant atmosphere of Indigenous communities up close. They are not just festivals, but also an expression of the pride and vitality of Canada's diverse and vibrant Indigenous cultures.

The Manito Ahbee Festival: Canada's biggest powwow

A special highlight in the cultural calendar of the First Nations is the Manito Ahbee Festival in Winnipeg, Manitoba. This annual festival is one of the largest powwows in Canada and celebrates the First Nation's culture, art and music. Visitors can experience traditional dances, drumming competitions, arts and crafts markets and culinary delights. The Manito Ahbee Festival offers a unique opportunity to experience the vibrant and dynamic First Nations culture up close and appreciate the deep spirituality and community of Indigenous peoples.

Visit the First Nations in the Northern Rockies
© Northern BC Tourism/Ryan Dickie
Did you know that there is world championship for 'hoop dancing'?
© Northern BC Tourism/Ryan Dickie

Indigenous tours and experiences

Our tailor-made holidays to Canada are designed to give you an authentic and respectful insight into the lives and history of the First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples. By working with indigenous hosts and guides, we offer you the opportunity to learn directly from the people who have inhabited and shaped these lands for centuries. You will discover how the past and present of Indigenous Canadians are intertwined and the significant role they play in the preservation and transmission of their cultural heritage.

By understanding and appreciating the history and culture, you will experience Canada off the beaten track and gain a deeper understanding of this fascinating country. Let Little America take you on a journey that emphasises not only the well-known sights, but also the genuine and authentic side of Canada's history and culture.

Canada Canadian Rockies Icefield Parkway

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