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First Nations
First Nations

First Nations is the preferred term to describe the Aboriginal peoples of Canada. This term first came into common usage in the 1970s to replace the word "Indian," which many found to be offensive.

First Nations refers to both "status" and "non-status" Indians — the word "Indian" is still used as a legal definition of Aboriginal peoples. Many First Nations peoples have adopted the term "First Nation" to replace the word "band" in the name of their community.

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms recognises Aboriginal peoples are comprised of Indians, Inuit and Metis peoples.
-There are three legal definitions of Indians in Canada: 1-Status Indians:

"A Status or Registered Indian is an Indian person who is registered under the Indian Act. The act sets out the requirements for determining who is a Status Indian." (Indian and Northern Affairs Canada)

-They are represented by The Assembly of First Nations.

–> "Membership to status Indians is defined by a- admittance to a general registry in Ottawa, b- affiliation with one of 605 bands, c- entitlement to residence on band reserve lands, and d- jurisdiction under the Indian Act" (Unequal Relations, Fleras & Elliott, p.169)
–> In 1985 amendments were made to the Indian Act with Bill C-31:

-repeal discriminatory provisions of the Act, such as those related to gender, marriage and enfranchisement.
-restore status and membership to persons who lost their status under previous legislation.
-give First Nations the option of assuming control of their membership. (Indian and Northern Affairs Canada) 2-Non-Status Indians:

"A Non-Status Indian is an Indian person who is not registered as an Indian under the Indian Act. This may be because his or her ancestors were never registered, or because he or she lost Indian status under former provisions of the Indian Act." (Indian and Northern Affairs Canada) 

-They are represented by The Congress of Aboriginal Peoples 3-Treaty Indians

"A Treaty Indian is a Status Indian who belongs to a First Nation (band) that signed a treaty with the Crown." (Indian and Northern Affairs Canada)

First Nation statistics: "There are 633 First Nations bands, representing 52 Nations or cultural groups and more than 50 languages." (Assembly of First Nations)
Indian Band:

"A band is a group of First Nation people for whom lands have been set apart and money is held by the Crown. Each band has its own governing band council, usually consisting of one or more chiefs and several councillors.... Today, many bands prefer to be known as First Nations."(Indian and Northern Affairs Canada)


"First Nations in Canada have signed agreements with the Crown, called treaties. There are three groups of treaties: Pre-Confederation Treaties, Numbered Treaties, and Modern Treaties (Land Claims)." (University of Alberta) Pre-Confederation Treaties: "include King George III's Royal Proclamation of 1763 and those treaties negotiated in Canada before Confederation. Also included are The Robinson Treaty of 1850 (Treaty No.13) and the additions to The Robinson Treaty which are known as Treaty No. 12 and Treaty No. 14." (University of Alberta) Numbered Treaties: "are the Treaties numbered 1 to 11 which were negotiated between 1871 and 1877 with First Nations peoples across Canada." (University of Alberta) Modern Treaties: they "consist of land claims negotiated according to Canada's Land Claims Policy established in 1973. The Land Claims Policy recognizes two broad classes of claims -- comprehensive claims and specific claims."(University of Alberta) 1-Comprehensive land claims are "based on the concept of continuing Aboriginal rights and title which have not been dealt with by treaty or other legal means."(Indian and Northern Affairs Canada) These rights usually include:

  • -full ownership of certain lands in the area covered by the settlement;
  • -guaranteed wildlife harvesting rights;
  • -guaranteed participation in land, water, wildlife and environmental management throughout the settlement area;
  • -financial compensation;
  • -resource revenue-sharing;
  • -specific measures to stimulate economic development; and
  • -a role in the management of heritage resources and parks in the settlement area.
(University of Alberta) Since 1973, twelve comprehensive claims have come into effect:

The James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement (Nov.11, 1975)
The Northeastern Quebec Agreement (Jan. 31, 1978)
The Inuvialuit Final Agreement (June 5, 1984)
The Gwich’in Agreement (April 22, 1992)
The Nunavut Land Claims Agreement (May 25, 1993)
The Sahtu Dene and Metis Agreement (May 29, 1993)
The Vuntut Gwich’in First Nation (May 29, 1993) 
The Teslin Tlingit Council (May 29, 1993)
The Champagn and Aishihik First Nations (May 29, 1993)
Nacho Nyak Dun (May 29, 1993)
The Little Salmon/Carmacks First Nation (July 21, 1997)
The Selkirk First Nation (July 21, 1997)

(University of Alberta) *For more information on these twelve claims go to

2-Specific land claims arise from "alleged non-fulfilment of Indian treaties and other lawful obligations or from the alleged improper administration of lands and other assets under the Indian Act." (Indian and Northern Affairs Canada) "Since 1973, Canada has settled 207 specific claims. At present, some 120 specific claims are in negotiation." (INAC)


According to the 2001 Census there are:
608,850 North American Indians
292,310 Metis
45,070 Inuit
30,075 Aboriginals with multiple responses

Registered Indian: 558,175
Band Membership: 554,860

In 2000-2001, 148,236 Registered Indians were receipients of monthly social assistance, a drop of 5% from 1997-1998. However, on-reserve monthly social assistance receipents rose by 20 per cent from 1990-1991 to 2000-2001.
(Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, Basic Departmental Data 2001)|

There is an over-representation of Aboriginal peoples in Canada's adult prisons and penitentiary system. Within the federal system, Aboriginal inmate representation ranged from about 4% to just over 44% in the prairies.
(Correctional Service Canada, Aboriginal People in Corrections, PDF Link)|

• There are 2,597 reserves across Canada (Fleras & Elliott, p. 170)
• "Earned income per employed Aboriginal person in 1991 was $14,561 compared to $24,001 for all Canadians, and declined by $1,000 over the decade 1981 to 1991." (Assembly of First Nations)
• Saskatchewan: "The unemployment rate among urban Aboriginals stands at 30%, compared with a provincial rate of 5.1%. Urban Aboriginals comprise 37% of the province's welfare caseload, but only 15% of the population." (Fleras & Elliott, p. 175)
• "19% of inmates in federal penal institutions are Aboriginal people." (Assembly of First Nations)
• "Nearly 3/4 of aboriginal males will have been incarcerated in a correctional centre at some point in their lives by the age of 25." (Fleras & Elliott, p. 172)
• "Aboriginal inmates occupy 64% of the federal penitentiary population in Western Canada, but only about 12% of the Prairie population." (Fleras & Elliott, p.172)

Prominent Figures

Matthew Coon Come
• National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations
• Worked on the development of the Cree-Naskapi Act (the first legislation on Aboriginal government in Canada)

Graham Greene (Actor)
• Film credits include: "Dances with Wolves," "Maverick," and "The Green Mile"
• TV credits include: "Northern Exposure," "The Red Green Show" and an appearance on "L.A. Law"

Elijah Harper (Politician)
• First treaty Indian to be elected as a provincial MP (1981-1992)
• Elected to the House of Commons in 1993
• Known for key role in blocking the Meech Lake Accord

Tom Jackson (Singer/Actor)
• As an actor, is best known for starring role in North of 60
• Founded Huron Carole Benefit Series Tour for food banks

Robbie Robertson (Singer)
• Guitarist for legendary rock group The Band
• In 1987, Robbie released his first solo album which featured the hit singles "Somewhere Down the Crazy River" and "Showdown at Big Sky"

Buffy Sainte-Marie (Singer)
• Wrote pop hit "Up Where We Belong"
• Recorded over 12 albums.
• Appeared on "Sesame Street" from 1976 to 1980.
• Helped create the Juno Award for "Music of Aboriginal Canada"


Assembly of First Nations

Department of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada
Statistics Canada: 2001 Census: Aboriginal peoples of Canada
University of Alberta (Aboriginal treaties and land claims info)
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