Restoring the relationship

It is commonly claimed that Canada has two founding Nations, the French and the English. However, before contact, Indigenous Peoples were living and thriving here in complex societies. The “original people” still exist and live all over Canada, from their traditional territories to urban centres. Indigenous Peoples have made, and continue to make, enormous contributions to Canadian society – politically, economically, and culturally.

Sadly, too many Canadians are unaware of this, and this lack of awareness is a barrier to improving relationships between all Canadians, whether Indigenous or non-Indigenous.

The relationship between non-Indigenous and Indigenous people has not been an easy one, as you will learn throughout this guide, but it is vital that this relationship continue to improve. The strength of a good relationship is that everyone understands and knows the truth about past and contemporary realities. This is especially important in regard to Indigenous Peoples. By learning the truth about the past, confronting it, and acknowledging its consequences, we can move toward an inclusive future.

Learning Goals

  • This guide will introduce you to the Indigenous Peoples of Canada and to the historical relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in Canada.
  • You will learn about the past and the contemporary realities of Indigenous Peoples. This is an often misunderstood history, but we believe that it is only through an understanding of the past that we can create a better future.
  • Whether you are Indigenous or non-Indigenous, we hope this guide will increase your understanding of Indigenous Peoples in Canada.

Turtle Island

Turtle Island is the name the Lenape, Iroquois, Anishinaabe, and other Woodland Nations gave to North America. The name comes from the story about Sky Woman, who fell to Earth through a hole in the sky. The earth at this time was covered with water. The animals saw her predicament and tried to help her. Muskrat swam to the bottom of the ocean to collect dirt to create land. Turtle offered to carry this dirt on his back, and the collected dirt grew into the land we call North America. The term Turtle Island is now used today for North America by many Indigenous people, Indigenous rights activists, and environmental activists.

Let’s imagine a society, maybe Canada; we’ll call it “northern Turtle Island.”

Imagine when people came off the airplane they were met by Indigenous people, not a customs person. When we look at traditional ways of entering up here on the coast, there was a whole protocol of ceremony and approach. What is your intent in coming? Are you coming for war? Are you coming for peace? If the newly arrived say, “I’m coming here for my family. My family is struggling, we need to help make money for them,” Indigenous people would welcome them. They’d help them get a job and help them get what they need. They would teach them about the real name of this continent, Turtle Island, and about the territory they’ve entered.

– Curtis Clearsky, Blackfoot and Anishnaabe First Nations, Our Roots: Stories from Grandview Woodland, Vancouver Dialogues, 2012