I had the honor to meet and listen to a young member of the Cree Nation, who spoke of her mother and grandmother’s time working at the York Factory which I will discuss in detail in a later post.. For now I will provide some background on the indigenous people of Manitoba.
There are three groups of Indigenous people in Canada: First Nations, Inuit and Métis. Manitoba is located in the traditional territories of the First Nations peoples who include Cree, Dakota, Dene, Ojibway, and Oji-Cree , as well as the Métis nation. Just over half of indigenous people in Canada live in cities. Winnipeg, the capital of Manitoba, has the largest Indigenous population of any city in Canada. Winnipeg is a Cree word meaning muddy water, in reference to the Red River.
As of the 2016 census, indigenous People in Canada totalled almost 1.7 million, or almost 5% of the national populations, with almost 1 million First Nations people, 600,000 Métis and 65,000 Inuit.
There are 634 First Nations groups in Canada, and five are found in Manitoba: Cree, Ojibway, Dakota, Ojibway-Cree and Dene.
There is not one culture for all First Nations people but most believe everything is connected – the spirit world to the mortal world, the sea to the land; the sky to the land. In First Nation spirituality the circle is everywhere – the medicine wheel, meetings and gatherings are held in circles, dances move in circles, drums are round, as are sweat lodges and tipis. The circle is the symbol of the cycle of life in all its forms.
Inuit is the Inuktitut word for “the people.” An Inuit person is known as an Inuk. In the past, Inuit people were called Eskimos. In Canada today, it is no longer respectful to use the word Eskimo to refer to Inuit people.
The Inuit have lived in the Arctic for thousands of years. The majority of Inuit in Canada continue to live in small northern communities. The largest Inuit presence is in Nunavut, followed by Northern Quebec, the Northwest Territories and Yukon. Inuit are moving in great numbers to larger cities for health care, school, to reconnect with family or to find employment. In Winnipeg there is a growing Inuit population.
The Inuit people traditionally relied on fishing, gathering nuts and berries and hunting caribou, whales and seals was essential for their livelihood. They were nomadic people and their homes were therefore easy to build and dissemble – animal skin tents in the summer and igloos in the winter. Dog sleds and canoes or kayaks were and are still used for transportation.
Inuit people also built stone structures called Inukshuks, which were used to mark good fishing sites, provided shelter from the wind, or marked a place where caribou were often seen. I purchased the Inukshuk in the above photo during a visit to Vancouver.
The Inuit do not fall under the same category as the First Nations People and have been treated differently by the Government as a result. They were never subject to the Indian Act (to be discussed in a later post) and they were blessedly ignored by the Government until 1939, when the Government began a policy of assimilation of the Inuit people, forcing many Inuit communities to be relocated.
The word Métis comes from a French term meaning “mixed” and this refers to the progeny of European/Indigenous parentage.
Métis people developed their own language called Michif, which is a mix of French and Indigenous languages such as Ojibway and Cree.
We had the great fortune to meet and spend time with Gerard Azure, who not only is the owner/operator of Bluesky Expeditions ( you’ll read about our adventures with this group in a later post) but also is a Bear Guide. Born and raised in Northern Métis Manitoba, he is the youngest of 10 children. His parents earned their living commercial trapping and fishing, and used sled dogs as their primary form of transportation until Ski-do’s hit the snow. Gerard is a man of dignity and grace and I am honored to have been able to spend time with him.
I also had the good fortune to meet and listen to a young Cree woman, Antonina Kandiurin, who spoke of her family’s life in Manitoba, particularly with their connection to the York Factory, a settlement and trading post factory run by the Hudson’s Bay Company in northeastern Manitoba. The York Factory was one of HBC’s first fur-trading posts, built in 1684 and the business flourished more than 270 years. I will discuss this in more detail in new week’s post.