Aboriginal History in Canada

The history of Aboriginal peoples in Canada is rich and diverse. This history stretches long into the past before the arrival of the European newcomers with diverse interactions among different peoples, flourishing trade and fierce conflict, and competition for lands and resources. The history of First Nations, Inuit and Métis is essentially the very history of Canada as they have played, and continue to play important roles in its development and its future.

To learn more, please visit the virtual exhibit at the Canadian Museum of History and the First Nations in Canada historical e-book.

History: Crown–Aboriginal Relationships

The relationship between the Crown and Aboriginal people in Canada has been in near constant evolution since it was first established over 300 years ago. It has been affected by commercial and economic pressures, by shifting alliances and external threats, and by policies of protection and subordination. Read more about the history of Aboriginal people, the history of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada, and the treaty relationship.

Royal Proclamation of 1763

On October 7, 1763, King George III issued a Royal Proclamation for the administration of British territories in North America. The Royal Proclamation of 1763 set out the core elements of the relationship between First Nations and the Crown, established the recognition of First Nation rights in Canada, and laid the foundation of the treaty-making process and Canada's territorial evolution.

Read more about the Royal Proclamation.

Treaty-Making in Canada

The impact of treaty-making in Canada has been wide-ranging and long standing. The treaties the Crown has signed with Aboriginal peoples since the 18th century have permitted the evolution of Canada as we know it and form the basis for the ongoing treaty relationship. This treaty-making process, which has evolved over more than 300 years between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people in Canada, has its origins in the early diplomatic relationship developed between European settlers and Aboriginal people. These diplomatic proceedings were the first steps in a long process that has led to today's comprehensive claims agreements between the Crown and Aboriginal people.

Read more about Treaty-Making in Canada.

Aboriginal Contributions to the War of 1812

Throughout Canada's history, Aboriginal peoples have helped shape this land into the country we know today. During the War of 1812, First Nations warriors and Métis fighters played important roles in the defence of these British territories against invading American forces. Thousands of First Nations warriors and Métis fighters fought beside British troops and Canadian settler militias during the war. More than 10,000 First Nations warriors from the Great Lakes region and the St. Lawrence Valley participated in nearly every major battle.

Read more about Aboriginal peoples contributions during the War of 1812.

Residential Schools

For over a century Aboriginal children were removed from their families and homes, sometimes forcibly, and taken to residential schools where they were housed and educated under the authority of the Government of Canada. The establishment of Indian residential schools began in the 1870s. The Government of Canada was involved in the funding and operation of many of these schools, along with various religious organizations, including the Anglican, Presbyterian, United and Roman Catholic churches. Two primary objectives of the residential schools system were to remove and isolate children from their homes, families, traditions and cultures, and to assimilate them into the dominant culture. In all, some 150,000 First Nations, Inuit and Métis children were removed and separated from their families and communities to attend residential schools. While most Indian residential schools ceased to operate by the mid-1970s, the last federally run school closed in the late 1990s.

On June 11, 2008, Prime Minister Stephen Harper offered an historic Apology to former students of Indian residential schools and their families, and sought forgiveness for the suffering and the long-lasting impact the schools have had on First Nations, Inuit and Métis culture, heritage and language. Alongside the 2008 Apology, the successful ongoing implementation of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement is a key factor in the Government of Canada’s efforts to forge a new relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Canadians.

Read more about Indian Residential Schools.

First Canadian Arctic Expedition

The Canadian Arctic Expedition (CAE) marked a significant turning point in Canada's Arctic territorial history and helped shape Canada into a nation, strong and free. By asserting Canadian control over thousands of square kilometers and confirming Canada's modern Northern border, the Expedition and its activities laid the foundation for the future of Canada's development in the Arctic. It further defined Canada's northern boundaries and provided significant scientific and cultural knowledge of the Arctic and of Northern peoples.

Read more on the first Canadian Arctic Expedition.

Aboriginal contributions during the First World War

During the First World War, thousands of Aboriginal people voluntarily enlisted in the Canadian military. They served in every major theatre of the war and participated in all of the major battles in which Canadian troops fought. Hundreds were wounded or lost their lives on foreign battlefields. Aboriginal soldiers served valiantly; many distinguished themselves as talented and capable soldiers and at least 50 were awarded medals for bravery and heroism.

Read more on Aboriginal Contributions during the First World War.

National Aboriginal History Month

In 2009, June was declared National Aboriginal History Month, following the passing of a unanimous motion in the House of Commons. This provides an opportunity to recognize not only the historic contributions of Aboriginal peoples to the development of Canada, but also the strength of present-day Aboriginal communities and their promise for the future.

Every June, Canadians celebrate National Aboriginal History Month, which is an opportunity to honour the heritage, contributions and cultures of First Nation, Inuit and Métis communities across Canada. Canadians are also invited to celebrate National Aboriginal Day on June 21st each year.