Framing the global effects of colonialism, Canadian scholar David MacDonald states that “Indigenous peoples have undergone profound hardship and destruction during centuries of western colonialism. Currently, forty percent of the world’s countries contain Indigenous nations, who collectively comprise 370 million people or 5% of the world’s population, divided among over 70 states.”
This guide attempts to engage learners in key processes that catastrophically impacted the Indigenous Peoples of Canada.
— the official and legal term for the Indigenous populations in Canada, including
—have lived in what is now North America for many millennia. In Canada the legal term for these nations is Aboriginal Peoples, although some prefer the term Indigenous Peoples. The term
is considered offensive and incorrect by many members of this group. There were no “Indians” before contact with Europe. When Europeans arrived, they believed that they had landed in what is present-day India and began to use this name to describe the local communities: nations of people that lived in both migratory and in permanent, self-sufficient societies. At the start of the sixteenth century, Europeans began to settle the east shores of North America. But more intrusive interactions with the inhabiting nations and colonial efforts to fully settle Canada began two centuries later. Along the way, the term Indians came into widespread use among the settlers, alongside thousands of terms and names that forever altered the social and natural landscape of North America. Ultimately, the name served to differentiate between Indigenous Peoples and the settlers, who referred to themselves as Europeans, whites, and, finally, Canadians. It lumped together the entire local population, disregarding its extraordinary diversity (there are, for example, more than 60 distinct Indigenous languages today).
As you will see in this guide, the loaded term Indian was employed in the spread of disparaging and degrading images of Indigenous Peoples that have contributed to the discrimination against them. To this day, Hollywood films, public figures, and other media routinely exploit false notions of who the Indigenous Peoples are and circulate harmful prejudice and stereotypes that are rooted in this experience.