Canada's Aboriginal Peoples

Algonquian Indians along Lake Huron, Ontario

When the first Europeans explored Canada they found that a diverse range of indigenous peoples already occupied all regions of North America. They called these peoples Indians because they mistakenly believed that they had reached the East Indies (the area now known as the Indian subcontinent).

Canada’s Aboriginal people lived off the land; some groups were hunters and gatherers while others raised crops. Although early Europeans called all Aboriginals “Indians”, Canada’s native population was actually made up of several different groups which were often at war with one another as they competed for land, resources and prestige.

Early First Nations: Six Main Geographical Groups

Historians tend to group First Nations in Canada according to the six main geographic areas of the country as it exists today:

Aboriginal Peoples in Canada circa 1823

First Nations Group
Geographic Region of Canada
Woodland First Nations
Dense boreal forest in the eastern part of Canada
Iroquoian First Nations
Southernmost area of Canada, fertile land suitable for planting corn,
beans and squash
Plains First Nations
Prairie grasslands
Plateau First Nations
Ranged from semi-desert conditions in the south to high mountains
and dense forest in the north
Pacific Coast First Nations
Pacific coast of Canada, had access to adundant salmon, shellfish
and giant red cedar for building huge houses
First Nations of the Mackenzie
and Yukon River Basins
Harsh environment consisting of dark forests, barren lands and the swampy
terrain known as muskeg

The arrival of Europeans

An Indian prayer meeting with Roman Catholic clergy

The arrival of Europeans in Canada changed the native way of life forever. Traders, missionaries, soldiers and
colonists influenced the native economy, religion, alliances and lands. Large numbers died of European diseases to which they lacked immunity (the ability to resist illness).

Aboriginal and Europeans formed strong economic, military and religious bonds in the first 200 years of coexistence which laid the foundations of Canada.

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Citizenship and Immigration Canada. (2011). Discover Canada: The Rights and Responsibilities of Citizenship. Ottawa (p. 14). Retrieved 11 October 2011 from

Sketches of Algonquian Indians working with a canoe and beaver trap along Lake Huron, Ontario. (n.d.). Courtesy of T.M. Martin / National Archives of Canada / C-90370. Retrieved from

Aboriginal Peoples circa 1823. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Dally, F. (ca. 1870). An Indian prayer meeting with Roman Catholic clergy. Retrieved from