They called North America “Turtle Island.” It was home to millions of Aboriginal Peoples who lived in thousands of distinct societies long before the arrival of Europeans. Land was basic to their economic, social and spiritual well-being. It provided their day-to-day survival and defined who they were as peoples. Because of their traditional intimate relationship to the Earth, there was no concept of ownership. Rather, there was a sense of responsibility for care-taking of the Earth for the future.
Aboriginal cultures varied widely. In the wide prairie interior, small groups of families co-operated in hunting the migratory buffalo, which provided the meat and skins necessary for their survival. These people designed shelters to suit their nomadic existence. The tepee – a conical pole structure covered with skins – was portable, easily erected, warm, well-ventilated and strong enough to weather strong winds.
The Pacific Coast Indians developed a very different culture. The bounty of the sea – salmon, shellfish and the great whale – allowed the establishment of permanent villages and the leisure time to carve magnificent art objects from cedar and stone. That art is now housed in museums throughout the world.
Equally distinct and unique were the cultures of the nomadic Woodland people, the tribes of the British Columbia interior plateau, the Anishnawbe (Ojibway) or Mississaugan farmers of southern Ontario and the hunters of the northern barren lands.
It was in the Canadian northwest that the Métis evolved into a new and distinct Aboriginal nation. As these people of mixed ancestry increased in number and married among themselves, they developed a new culture, neither European nor Indian, but a fusion of the two. They were the ones to adapt European technology to the wilderness.
All these cultures had in common a deep spiritual relationship with the land and its life forms. Their religions saw human beings as participants in a world of inter-related spiritual forms. The people maintained a reverence and respect for the spirits of animals, trees and rocks.
Through decades of dedication and persistence, Aboriginal Peoples have succeeded in making governments and the general public aware that they were once free and self-sustaining nations. Today, in seeking their own forms of self-government, they want to assume their rightful place in Canadian society. At the same time, they want to maintain the rich diversity of their traditional cultures and values.
SOURCE: Aboriginal Rights Coalition; Métis National Council, http://vcn.bc.ca/michif/mlife.html