Facts about Indigenous culture and history you should know

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Did you know that there are more First Nations and Metis people living in Winnipeg than in any other city in Canada? Based on statistics from Manitoba Indigenous and Northern Relations, they represented 13.6% of Manitoba’s population in 2001 and 8.5% of the total population in Winnipeg. Based on the same data, Manitoba’s population includes the largest number of Metis people per capita in Canada. They are a significant and integral part of Manitoban society.

. . . newcomers are usually exposed to negative stereotypes about Indigenous people. And since they may lack a deeper understanding of the culture, history, and the challenges Indigenous people faced (and continue to face) in society, we come to believe these stereotypes… This creates a barrier. Newcomers miss out on the opportunity to commune with Indigenous Peoples.

The sad thing is that newcomers are usually exposed to negative stereotypes about Indigenous peoples upon coming to Manitoba. And since they may lack a deeper understanding of the culture, history and the challenges Indigenous Peoples faced (and continue to face) in society, they believe these stereotypes. The result is a prejudicial and negative attitude toward them. Worse, some fall into the trap of fearing what they don’t understand. This creates a barrier. Newcomers miss out on the opportunity to commune with Indigenous Peoples.

The key to changing this negativity is to be better informed. Learning more about our Indigenous brothers and sisters develops a better understanding of the Indigenous experience. This leads to respect.

Let’s start with five facts about Indigenous peoples you should know:

  1. There are three groups of Indigenous peoples in Manitoba

    Three groups reside in Manitoba: First Nations (Treaty and Status Indians); Inuit (Non-Status and other); and Métis.

    The term “First Nation” has widely replaced the term “Indian” and to some extent “band” in the name of their communities. There are 63 First Nations communities in Manitoba including Ojibway, Cree, Oji-Cree, Dakota, and Dene. Meanwhile, Inuit are Indigenous people who traditionally live in Canada’s far north or the Arctic. Métis, on the other hand, are people of mixed First Nation and European ancestry. They have a unique culture with ancestral origins such as Scottish, French, Ojibway, and Cree. Read Get to know the Indigenous Peoples of Manitoba know more about these colourful and distinct cultures.

    An important note: “Indian,” “Eskimo,” and “Native” are not appropriate to use. The politically correct terms are “Indigenous,” “First Peoples” or “First Nations.”

  2. Their culture is diverse

    One of the most common mistakes people make when dealing with Indigenous Peoples is thinking that it is a single cultural group. While they do share some traits, such as a deep connection to the land and to nature, different groups have different languages, culture, histories, beliefs, and identity.

    According to Statistics Canada, there are over 60 Indigenous languages in Canada. Among these are the Ojibway or Oji-Cree mother tongues belonging to the Algonquian language family; Michif, the traditional language of the Métis; and Inuktitut, the native language of Inuits. Aside from language, they also have diverse cultural practices, beliefs and spiritual practices.

  3. We share similar histories

    Many immigrants move to Manitoba because of oppression, displacement or human rights abuses they experience in their home countries. Indigenous peoples can relate to these themes as history will show us. From the time the very first European settlers arrived in Canada, and for many years since, they have struggled for self-determination, land entitlement, and self-government. Not only were they displaced from their land, they were also pushed into reserves and denied the right to their own culture. Many youth lost their identities as a result of being forced into residential schools. Established to assimilate Indigenous children into Canadian culture, these schools actually aimed to eradicate Indigenous culture, and
    placed countless children under physical, psychological, and sexual abuse. This caused intergenerational trauma which many Indigenous families are still dealing with until today.

  4. We celebrate many festivals celebrating Indigenous culture in Manitoba

    Aside from National Indigenous Peoples Day held on June 21st, the Manito-Ahbee International Festival is held in Winnipeg. The festival celebrates Indigenous arts, culture, and music and features various events such as the Lighting of the Sacred Fire, Indigenous Music Conference, Manito Ahbee Pow Wow, Indigenous Music Conference, Indigenous Marketplace and Trade Show, dance competitions, Art Challenge, and Youth Education Day. It is held in the western Whiteshell area of Manitoba, regarded as Manito Ahbee or “where the Creator sits” in the Ojibway language. It is considered a sacred space.

    Just last year, the first National Truth and Reconciliation Day was celebrated. This day is a great opportunity to learn more about the effects of residential schools and commemorate the survivors, their families, and their communities (learn more about this holiday from 5 things you need to know about the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation).

  5. Manito-Ahbee Festival Virtual Pow Wow 2021-1

  6. Louis Riel, founder of Manitoba, was a Métis

    Louis Riel was a teacher and a leader. He is regarded as one of the most controversial figures in Canadian history. Riel sought to preserve the culture and the rights of the Métis against the encroachment of European influence. He was also the creator of the Manitoba Act of 1870 which paved the way for Manitoba to be part of the Confederation (read 5 facts about Manitoba’s founder Louis Riel to know more about the exemplary life of this visionary and leader).

    In current history, there are hundreds of notable Indigenous people in the arts, business, government, and in most sectors of society. Learn about Elijah Harper, politician; Rosemarie Kuptana, human rights leader; Buffy Sainte-Marie, singer; Alanis Obomsawin, documentary filmmaker; Chief Dan George, actor; Daphne Odjig, artist; and many others who have had significant contributions to Canadian society thoroughout their exemplary lives.

Sources: The Canadian Encyclopedia; Aboriginal diversity spans language, culture, Bob Weber, The Canadian Press; 8 things newcomers should know about Aboriginal culture and history, Canadian Immigrant Magazine; Aboriginal Music Week site; Tourism Winnipeg.

With thanks to Bernice Pranteau, BSW, Educational Counsellor for reviewing the article.
Article updated June 2, 2022.

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Community Resources

8 things newcomers should know about Aboriginal culture and history from Canadian Immigrant Magazine is a great article for newcomers. Also a must-read is The connection between immigrants and Aboriginal people in Canada’s mosaic by Rebecca Kuropatwa from the same magazine.

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