Canada's First Nations: A History of Founding Peoples from Earliest Times
The sweep of Canadian history is both broader and deeper than standard texts reveal. When Europeans first came to Canada, they did not find a wilderness; rather, they encountered a complex, rich society composed of fifty-five individual nations--the Native peoples of Canada. But because these societies were predominantly oral rather than literate, Canadian historians generally have found it easier to ignore the early existence of Native peoples. Doing so, of course, clips short Canada's history, and it clouds our view of these remarkable original cultures and their influence on the country's character. Canada's First Nations, by contrast, begins with the first appearance of humans in the Americas and, using an interdisciplinary approach, restores the full history. Although Canada's Native peoples preceded European arrival, their lives were radically altered thereafter. At first, Amerindians and Inuit cooperated with and even aided the Europeans, but the newcomers' encroachment knew no bounds. The opening of the West to fur traders and white settlers, the land-cession treaties, the Klondike gold rush, the eventual commercial exploitation of northern resources--all eroded the Native peoples' fundamental place on the land. Early trade relations were complicated by efforts to mold Amerindians to fit European cultural patterns; later Canada even inaugurated a campaign to legislate Native cultures out of existence. Far from being overwhelmed, Amerindians and Inuit from Membertou and Pontiac through to Big Bear, Abe Okpik, and Elijah Harper responded to persistent colonial pressure. Co-operative enterprises and periodic episodes of resistance characterized their early response; today they employ politically sophisticated methods to preserve territories and traditional values. The revitalization of the Native community in the continuing fight for land claims and sovereignty--dramatically expressed by the Mohawks at Oka in 1990--reminds us that an accurate perception of the past is essential to Canada's peaceful, successful future.
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