Celebrating Indigenous Peoples in Canada: Learning and activity guide

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Table of contents

Come celebrate National Indigenous Peoples Day

On June 21, you and all your friends are invited to a very special celebration! That date, the first day of summer, has been chosen as National Indigenous Peoples Day!

In 1996, the Governor General of Canada, Roméo LeBlanc, proclaimed it National Aboriginal Day! It's an opportunity for everyone to celebrate the cultural richness and contributions of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples. In 2017, the Prime Minister announced the day would be renamed National Indigenous Peoples Day.

Why June 21? For centuries, many of the first inhabitants would celebrate the arrival of the warm weather and the pleasures of the summer solstice. The summer solstice is the day of the year with the longest light. It is a day with spiritual significance for many people and is a good time to celebrate Indigenous peoples and cultures.

Activities for National Indigenous Peoples Day are organized across Canada every year. You can take part by getting in touch with an Indigenous community or a local Indigenous organization, or by organizing your own activities with your relatives and friends. For more information about the day's activities, you can visit Canada.ca/national-indigenouspeoples-day.

National Indigenous Peoples Day is for all Canadians, so share in the celebration.

Come Celebrate National Indigenous Peoples Day!

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Our culture: An Indigenous way of life

Did you know that there are three groups of Indigenous Peoples in Canada? They are First Nations, Inuit and Métis.

Our culture is reflected in our way of life, and we like to celebrate the heritage given to us by our ancestors. Indigenous languages are made up of several language families. If we wanted to refer to all the First Nations in Algonquian, we would use the word "anicinabec." Algonquian is one of the many Indigenous language families. Each language family includes a number of related languages. For example, the Beaver and Tahltan languages are part of the great Athabascan language family.

Today, culture is the key to our pride. Indigenous languages, history and culture are taught by our families, our Elders and our teachers. In 1999, the first Indigenous television network in the world was launched. The APTN or Aboriginal Peoples Television Network, has given Indigenous peoples like us a great opportunity to share our stories on television with the rest of the country on a regular basis. For all Canadians, this network is like a window looking out onto the incredibly diverse world of Indigenous peoples in Canada and other countries.

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From Oujé-Bougoumou to Batoche

Indigenous peoples are dynamic and creative. A great number of our achievements are a source of pride to all Canadians.

In Quebec, the Cree community of Oujé-Bougoumou received an international award from the United Nations for its circular-shaped village. This village is recognized around the world for its original design, which is exactly suited to the needs and culture of the Oujé-Bougoumou Cree.

On Vancouver Island, the village of the Cowichan First Nation is a tourist attraction that contains a world-class conference centre. The village and the centre host a series of fascinating activities all year round. This village is a beautiful, colourful place that attracts visitors for a wide variety of entertaining and educational activities.

During the Back to Batoche cultural festival held every year in Saskatchewan, the Métis celebrate their traditions with many events, including the "Métis Voyageur Games." Inspired by traditional Métis work and leisure activities, the competitions include carrying a 245 kg bag, tomahawk throwing, firing a slingshot, as well as fiddle and dance competitions.

On April 1, 1999, all of Canada celebrated the creation of Nunavut, Canada's third territory. The word Nunavut means "our land" in Inuktut.

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Medicine from nature

For thousands of years there was a natural system of medicine in our land. It was the first inhabitants who perfected that system based on their knowledge of trees and plants.

The valuable knowledge we had of plants and natural medicines enabled us to cure many illnesses. Did you know that it was First Nations people who cured the scurvy of the first Europeans to arrive here? The First Nations knew that this illness was not an infection, but the result of poor nutrition (a shortage of vitamin C in the diet).

The sarsaparilla plant, well known to the Algonquin people, has amazing properties. It nourishes and purifies the blood and strengthens the whole body. It can also be used to treat rheumatism and skin diseases.

Indigenous peoples also used witch hazel for its beneficial effects on the skin. We now find this plant used in a number of products such as creams, soaps and aftershave lotions.

The fir, pine and spruce trees that you are familiar with were used against coughs and to clear out the respiratory passages.

Indigenous peoples also made a powder from sphagnum moss to soothe skin irritations, especially the ones babies are prone to. This powder can still be found in pharmacies today; it is used to dry out wounds.

There are many other medicinal resources in nature that have not been mentioned here.

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Game: Cruncher

The cruncher is a fun activity and will help to learn more about First Nations, Metis and Inuit peoples in Canada.

Find out more about Cruncher and download it.

Story: The Great Festival of Light

The huge valleys in the land stretched as far as the eye could see. This day was a very special day. The creatures of the land, as well as the people, were getting ready to celebrate the Great Festival of Light.

Walking along the winding road that led to the great gathering, three animals were talking about the performances they were going to put on.

Gawe, an old black bear with a crusty personality, was making extravagant boasts about his immense strength. He had promised his two friends a spectacular act that would make the most of his strength and imposing bulk. As for Satiwa, the chatty fisher, he had prepared some acrobatic turns that nobody had ever seen before. In fact, he was determined to show the other animals that he was the fastest, most clever and most skillful animal in the valley. For his part, Tiyo, the silver hawk, had prepared an incredible aerial routine. With his prowess at high-level aerobatics and breathtaking spiral dives, he planned to show his friends that he was the best hunter in the land.

Our friends had prepared their performances to mark the arrival of the summer solstice on that lovely June 21. For all the forest dwellers, that day was the most important one of the year. It was the beginning of summer and the reawakening of everything that was beautiful in nature. The snow had vanished; some of the flowers were already exquisitely scented; the sun had cast its soft rays on the hills and made the enchanted rivers sparkle. All the animals were hurrying to celebrate the longest day of the year. Our friend Gawe, the bear, had been celebrating the end of his period of hibernation. After sleeping all winter, he could now finally feast on the fresh, juicy fruits of the field. For Satiwa, the fisher, it meant recovering his brown summer coat and being able to play again in the green meadows as he searched for new prey. Tiyo, the hawk, would be especially cheerful as he strutted in front of the local females in search of a partner.

Suddenly, while the friends were talking, they saw in the distance Anouk, a strongminded dog who had been living in the village with the humans. Anouk was descended from a long, proud line of sled dogs.

Anouk was also going to the celebration of the summer solstice. This year, he had the privilege of attending the event in the company of his trainer, Elisapie. After the usual greetings, Gawe asked him why people were accompanying him to their celebration. The humans, after all, had nothing to celebrate! They didn't hibernate all winter, and they certainly didn't change their fur with the arrival of summer! The three friends just couldn't understand it. They thought the human race had nothing to rejoice in. For the animals, June 21 was an opportunity to celebrate their differences as well as their special characteristics, but humans were all alike! What could those beings who walked on two legs have to celebrate?

Anouk was surprised. He told his three friends: "Humans are not all alike. There are major differences between them."

"No," answered Tiyo, "I know them well and they all seem the same to me. Humans have neither feathers, nor scales, nor antlers. They're all the same size. They cannot fly like the eagle or the swallow. They all just walk. I tell you, they're all alike."

"You're right, Tiyo," added Gawe. "I've seen quite a few in my day and they're all alike. What do they have to celebrate on this day of the summer solstice? They're not like us animals. Take, Ahona, the goose, for instance - she's just returned from a long trip to the south where she spent the winter."

"And Nultam, the fox - he's coming to show his new summer pelt."

"And Kasahu, the stag - he'll surely want to display his new antlers."

"What could humans possibly have of interest to show each other and to talk about?"

"But look here, friends!" Anouk said. "People really are very different, just as we are! Even if their bodies are quite similar, it is what they have inside that makes each one of them unique." Satiwa, who, for once, hadn't played the chatterbox, now took the opportunity to contradict Anouk. "We animals are really all alike on the inside. For us the most important thing is to survive. Aren't people just like us?" he declared.

"No," Anouk was quick to answer. "They may share some of our priorities, but they experience and learn things very differently."

"Take my trainer Elisapie, for example. She's Inuit from the Great North. She has always lived in the Arctic and she knows better than anyone how to adapt to the cold and hardships of winter."

"One day, she came across two friends - Benjamin, a young Haida boy, and Pauline, a young Métis girl. Benjamin came from the West. He knew very little of winter and snow. He lived right by the sea. The sea had brought him a different kind of knowledge from that of Elisapie. Unlike her, he had never done any ice fishing! He had never traveled by sled."

"Also, their beliefs were different, as were their customs, their traditions and their languages. As for Pauline, a Métis from the Plains, she was a young girl who was very proud of the heritage that came from her Indigenous and European ancestors. Among them were coureurs de bois, guides, interpreters, fishermen and explorers."

"The humans will also be celebrating their differences while thanking Mother Earth for bringing forth living creatures in such variety."

The friends stood there open-mouthed for a few long minutes. Then they thanked Anouk for telling them about human beings, and wished him a pleasant journey. They could never have guessed that human beings were, like themselves, alike and different at the same time.

From that day on, all the animals would know that human beings also need to come together to celebrate. And the animals felt all the joy that humans would experience in celebrating the summer solstice, also known as National Indigenous Peoples Day.

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Activity: Summer Solstice Sequel

What will our friends do next year, when they celebrate the summer solstice again? Use your imagination and write a sequel to the story you've just read.

Before you throw yourself into the creation of your story, answer these five questions. They may help you compose your sequel.

  1. Name the characters in the story.
  2. What day are the animals celebrating?
  3. Why is this the most important day of the year?
  4. Are the animals the only creatures to celebrate this day? Who else is having a celebration?
  5. What do the animals learn about people? What do we celebrate on this day?

Now make up a sequel to this story. Imagine what will happen the following year. Will any new people or animals join in the celebration?

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Activity: Secret spiral message

The numbers you see on this page are really a secret message that you must decode. To do this, you need to discover what letter each number represents and write it in the box located above the number.

You'll find the key to the mystery - in other words, the letters that correspond to the numbers, in the Mystery message quiz questions below.

You'll find the answers to these questions throughout this activity book.

When you've found the right answers to the Mystery message quiz, write the letter linked to the number in each of the appropriate boxes in the Secret spiral message.

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Activity: Mystery message

1. One of the national sports of Canada that was inspired by games played by the First Nations (6 letters)

___  
21  
___  
2  
___  
16  
___  
24  
___  
18  
___  
12  

 

2. A language of the Inuit (7 letters)

___  
22  
___  
1  
___  
8  
___  
24  
___  
7  
___  
8  
___  
7  

 

3. A language of the Métis (6 letters)

___  
26  
___  
22  
___  
16  
___  
21  
___  
22  
___  
19  

 

4. Word by which the Algonquins refer to all First Nations people (10 letters)

___  
14  
___  
1  
___  
22  
___  
16  
___  
22  
___  
1  
___  
14  
___  
15  
___  
18  
___  
16  

 

5. Languages belonging to the Athabascan language family (7 letters and 6 letters)

___  
7  
___  
14  
___  
21  
___  
25  
___  
7  
___  
14  
___  
1  
and  
   
___  
15  
___  
18  
___  
14  
___  
9  
___  
18  
___  
5  

 

6. A traditional Métis dance (11 letters)

___  
5  
___  
18  
___  
17  
-  
   
___  
5  
___  
22  
___  
9  
___  
18  
___  
5  
-  
   
___  
23  
___  
22  
___  
20  

 

7. A tree that can help cure scurvy (11 letters)

___  
10  
___  
21  
___  
22  
___  
7  
___  
18  
-  
   
___  
6  
___  
3  
___  
5  
___  
8  
___  
16  
___  
18  
Answers:
  1. Hockey
  2. Inuktut
  3. Michif
  4. Anicinabec
  5. Tahltan and Beaver
  6. Red River jig
  7. White spruce

The message is: Let’s celebrate National Indigenous Peoples Day

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Activity: Do you know the answer?

Ask a relative or a friend these questions just to see what they say. When you know the right answer, see if you can explain what the thing is or what it's used for.

  1. Can you name a game Indigenous peoples invented?
    • video games
    • puzzles
    • the cup and ball game
  2. What is "pemmican"?
    • a witch's mask
    • a product made from dried meat, dried berries and fat prepared by the Métis
    • a canned apple dessert
  3. What would the purpose of a tortoiseshell rattle be?
    • to amuse restless children
    • to beat time for songs and dances
    • to communicate in a code like morse
  4. What is "bannock"?
    • a little basket for provisions
    • a big onion that makes you cry
    • a traditional bread among Indigenous peoples
  5. Can you name a traditional dance of the Métis?
    • the Canadian salsa
    • the Red River Jig
    • the Ojibway bourrée
  6. What was the bark of white willow used for?
    • soothing fevers
    • making bird cages
    • as a kind of cardboard for handicrafts
  1. In your opinion, what is an "ulu"?
    • an Inuit hat
    • a bracelet of coloured and braided yarn
    • a knife used by Inuit women
  2. What could you do with the strips of animal skin called "babiche" in Mi'qmaq?
    • Do the lacing in the centre of snowshoes
    • Make hair for giant dolls
    • Cover the floor of tents
  3. What do we see on the national flag of the Métis that symbolizes the union of two cultures?
    • A beaver
    • Stars
    • The infinity symbol
  4. Nunavut is…
    • An Inuit territory
    • A space base
    • A violent hurricane
  5. Who does "throat singing"?
    • Inuit
    • The Métis
    • First Nations
Answers:

1 (c); 2 (b); 3 (b); 4 (c); 5 (b); 6 (a); 7 (c); 8 (a); 9 (c); 10 (a); 11(a).

  1. This toy consists of a little pointed stick and a ball with a hole in it. The ball is attached to the stick by a string, and the idea is to try to catch the ball on the end of the stick.
  2. This made it possible to preserve this food much longer.
  3. It was used as a musical instrument, a little like a flute or a drum.
  4. This was based on a type of Scottish bread cooked like a pancake that was brought to Canada by fur traders.
  5. ) This dance is usually accompanied by fiddle music.
  6. The bark was boiled to make a tea.
  7. An ulu is a type of round knife used by Inuit women to prepare food and clean animal pelts.
  8. ) It was also used to tighten drum skins.
  9. ) This symbol represents two cultures joined for eternity.
  10. In area, Nunavut represents about 20 per cent of Canada's territory.
  11. ) It's a traditional game; to win, you have to be the last to laugh!

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Game: The kayak and travois game

Do you know what a travois is? It's a sledge consisting of a net or platform supported by two poles on either side. The poles are attached on one end to an animal; at the other end, the platform drags on the ground. A kayak is a light, narrow Inuit watercraft that has a closed-in deck; it is propelled by a double-bladed paddle.

In this game, you are invited to a National Indigenous Peoples Day celebration. The travois will help you get there faster but the kayak will bring you back down. When you land on a space with a true statement about Indigenous people, you ride the travois upwards to get to the celebration faster (and get to eat more bannock!). If you land on a false statement, the kayak will bring you downwards (and you might miss the Red River Jig!).

To play, you'll need a token for each player and two dice. Throw the two dice and subtract the smallest number obtained from the largest. Example: let's say you throw a 6 and a 4 (6– 4=2); you would then advance two spaces. If you get a double, a 5 and a 5 for example, you add the two dice (5+5=10). You then advance the number of spaces according to the total obtained. If you arrive on a space where a travois starts, you must read the sentence written in the space and move upwards until the travois ends. Then, wait for your next turn.

If you land on a space where a kayak starts, you must move downwards to the space where it ends and wait for your next turn.

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Activity: Spot the difference

Answers for Spot the differences

Differences in second image

  1. Elisapie’s shirt is a different colour
  2. Pauline's shirt is a different colour
  3. the green pencil is gone
  4. Elisapie's hair is different
  5. the glue stick in Benjamin's hand is longer
  6. there is a piece of paper under Pauline's hand
  7. the top sheet of paper next to Benjamin is a different colour
  8. the sun that Elisapie has drawn is gone

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Activity: A-MAZE-ing adventure

Join Pauline, Benjamin and Elisapie as they find their way to the National Indigenous Peoples Day potluck.

Benjamin will bring a wild rice casserole, three sisters soup (corn, beans, squash) and maple syrup.

Pauline has promised to bring bannock, cranberries and bullet soup (the name comes from the French word boulettes (meatballs).

Elisapie wants to share muktuk (whale blubber), arctic char and seal with her friends.

See you at the celebration!

Instructions: Help each character collect the three items that they are responsible for bringing to the potluck. Work your way through the maze beginning at each character's starting point.

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Activity: Braiding beautiful bracelets

Indigenous peoples use weaving to make many great things. For instance, the Iroquois weave corn leaves to make sacred masks and the Haida weave spruce roots to make baskets and cedar bark to make hats. Other well-known articles are also made by weaving or braiding, such as Inuit or First Nations snowshoes or the traditional Métis sash.

By using the weaving technique explained on the next page, you too could make beautiful things, such as bracelets, headbands, belts or decorations. If you persevere, you'll pick up the technique and your weaving will become increasingly beautiful.

You'll need four strands of embroidery thread in different colours, each strand about 1 metre long. Rank the colours in whatever order appeals to you. For your first attempt, however, we suggest you stay with the order in the example: yellow, blue, green and red.

Instructions:

  1. Tie the four strands together at one end.
  2. Firmly attach the knotted end to a table with sticky tape.
  3. Lay the strands out flat, side by side, in the order of colour indicated above.
  4. Take the first two strands - the yellow and the blue. Make a knot with the two strands by crossing the yellow over the blue while gently pulling up the knot just enough to tighten it (tighten it enough but not too much). Repeat this step with the next strand.
  5. Taking the yellow strand again, repeat the same step (twice) with the green strand.
  6. Still with the yellow strand, repeat the same step (twice) with the fourth strand, in this case the red one.
  7. At this stage, you'll see that the yellow strand is now at the end (on the right) of the other three strands and that the blue strand is at the beginning, on the left.
  8. Repeat steps 4–6 with the three other strands in this order: blue, green, red.
  9. When all the strands have been woven and your yellow strand is back on the left, you must go through all the steps again until you get the length you want. For example, to make a bracelet 13 cm long, you will need to repeat all the steps four times. You can make necklaces, rings, belts, etc. As you weave, you can also slip one or more pearls into the middle. To make a wider piece of weaving, simply increase the number of strands.

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Game: The miming game

Instructions:

  1. Cut out the little squares containing the words and put them in a bag. These are the things you have to mime.
  2. Set up two teams of two to five people each. Toss a coin to determine which team will go first. (Each of the players will take a turn miming according to the alphabetic order of the team members' first names.)
  3. The starting player must pull a word out of the bag and act it out in front of the two teams. The object of the game is to figure out the word as quickly as possible. When a player figures out a word, his or her team gets a point.
  4. Continue with the first player from the other team (according to the alphabetical order of first names). The first team to total 10 points wins the match.

You can use other words from this book, if you like. Just add them to the ones that haven't been acted out yet, and start another match.

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Choose your way to celebrate!

You and your family and friends can celebrate National Indigenous Peoples Day with either traditional or contemporary activities. When planning your activities, we strongly suggest you get some advice from a person who is knowledgeable about Indigenous traditions.

Here are some ideas:

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Activity: Word search for Indigenous Peoples

Anicinabec (Algonquian): All First Nations people
Chiniskumitin (Cree): thank you
Gitwinksihlkw (Nisga'a): people of the place of the lizard
Ikajurtaul (Inuktut): help me
Kinauviit (Inuktut): What's your name?
Kishnamawachik (Michif): youth
Laxkwalaams (Tsimshian): place of the wild roses
Lustagooch (Mi'qmaq): five-branched river
Mani-Utenam (Montagnais): Mary's village
Matimekush (Montagnais): little trout
Mooskudoboogwek (Mi'qmaq): that which makes foam
Natashkuan (Montagnais): where we hunt bear
Nawsyoon (Michif): nation
Onitariio (Huron): magnificent lake
Rimouski (Mi'qmaq or Malecite): land of the moose
Sandakwa (Huron): eagle
Sohkiciwahsipî (Cree): fast-flowing river
Sunaunaa (Inuktut): What is it?
Wahdobekaung (Ojibway): where the alders grow

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Activity: Dot to dot image

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Activity: Coloring image

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Activity: Cooking Indigenous style

For more than 4,000 years, we have cultivated many different kinds of corn! For example, by the 1500s, the Iroquois were already growing 150 varieties of corn, which were used for food and trade. This grain that we find so frequently on our plates was the very basis of the First Nations diet for a very long time.

Pumpkins, squash and beans have also been grown for a very long time in our country. We also collect small fruits such as raspberries, blueberries and wild cherries.

Indigenous peoples also use dried berries to mix in with dried meat and fat to make pemmican, a food that could be stored for a long time.

All these foodstuffs enabled Indigenous peoples to prepare some delicious dishes. Here are some recipes you can make with adult's help:

Coureur des bois casserole

Four to six servings

Ingredients:
11/2 to 2 lbs (700 g – 1 kg) of wild game suitable for roasting - caribou, moose, deer or hare. (Beef may be substituted for game meat.)
1/4 lb (125 g) salted fatty lard
2 medium onions cut in pieces
2 cups (500 ml) of cold water

Make some grandfather's dough based on the bannock recipe.

Method:
Preheat the oven to 325°F (165°C).
On the stove, in an ovenproof casserole:

  1. Melt thin slices of the salted lard.
  2. Add the pieces of onion and brown them slightly.
  3. Add the piece of meat.
  4. Add the water - it should be very cold so that the meat retains its juice.

Cover the casserole and put in the oven. Cook at 325°F (165°C) for half an hour, then lower the temperature to 225°F (110°C) and cook for between 3 to 6 hours, depending on the meat chosen. Half an hour before the end of the cooking time, add some sliced potatoes and spoonfuls of dough (see the bannock recipe) to the cooking broth all around the meat.

Fried bread

Six servings

Ingredients:

3 cups (750 ml) sifted flour
1 tsp (5 ml) salt
1–2 tbsp (15–30 ml) baking powder
Water
Vegetable oil or lard

Method:

  1. Mix half of the flour with the remaining dry ingredients.
  2. Add water until the mixture becomes thick, like paper maché paste. Add more flour until the dough feels like a soft earlobe.
  3. Heat the oil over medium-high heat until very hot but not smoking.
  4. Break off small pieces of the dough, and flatten each to the size of your palm
  5. Place the pieces in the hot oil.
  6. Turn over after 3–4 minutes, or when golden brown.
  7. Place the bannock on a paper towel to soak up the excess grease.
  8. Serve plain or with maple syrup or blueberry jam.

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