(Anishinaabe Means: From Whence He Was Lowered)

TRIBES - All Ojibwa groups originally came from one group that lived north of modern-day Sault Ste Marie. The Ojibwa expanded quite significantly prior to European contact, and moved all over Turtle Island. Southeast into Haudenosaunee lands in Ontario, Wisconsin, Minnesota, displacing the Lakota.

The lucrative fur trade lured many Ojibwa into northern Ontario and Manitoba; some even spread to the Plains, becoming the Plains Ojibwa (or Oji-Cree). In the beginning there were many politically autonomous groups who eventually came to be collectively called the Ojibwa.  Some tribal names still in use are: Saulteaux (French for "people of the rapids" - origins in Sault Ste. Marie; American Ojibwa and those of southern Ontario are generally known as the Chippewa; others include: the Mississauga, Nipissing, Ottawa or Odawa (Bruce Peninsula, Manitoulin Island and Georgian Bay); Potawatomi (lower Lake Michigan)

'Although there is not a completely shared identity, many Ojibwa prefer the universal term, 'Anishinaabe' meaning "person" or "first man" - the concept of an Anishinaabe Nation has emerged to link the widespread speakers of the Ojibwa language.  Variants of the term "Ojibwa" include Ojibway, Ojibwe, Ochipwe and Chippewa. 

LANGUAGES: Ojibwa, Ottawa and Algonkian are considered a single language with several dialects.

CONFEDERACY: During the historic period the Ojibwa, Potawatomi and the Odawa formed a loose confederacy known as the Council of the Three Fires.

LEADERSHIP: Numerous politically independent bands within the Anishinabe people were linked by marriage and common traditions. Each had its own chief and hunting territories.  Position of chief was usually gained by an individual's hunting, warfare or shamanic prowess.  There was no single chief, each leader could speak for only his small band.

CLAN SYSTEM: Each tribe had its own clan taken from a bird, animal, fish or reptile which was their totem or Do-daim (Ojibwa for Clan). There are some twenty-one totems, the most important being: bear, eagle, hawk, beaver,  coyote, turtle,  otter, mouse, buffalo. wolf, marten, catfish, crane and loon.  Clan membership was generally patrilineal (descended from the Father) - children, for the most part, inherited their totem animal from their fathers.  If two people shared the same totem, they could not marry even if they were not blood relatives. It was considered incest.

FOOD: Hunting (Moose, deer, bear and other game), fishing (pickerel, pike, suckers, whitefish, trout and sturgeon) and plant collecting (tapping of maple trees in spring, large stores of berries, wild rice (actually a form of cereal grass), corn, beans, squash.  By 17th century focus was on beaver because of the demands of the fur trade.

CLOTHING: Tanned hides of deer or moose using thread of nettle fibre or sinew.  Women wore moccasins, leggings and deer hide dresses belted at waist; Men wore fitted breechcloths with a flap in front and one in back, hip-high leggings and moccasins along with knee-length deer buckskin shirts worn over leggings.  Lots of quillwork was added to the shirts for decoration.  Heavy coats of moose hide were worn in winter, along with beaver caps, mittens and fur-lined moccasins.   Hair worn long by both sexes; faces often greased and painted. The switch to European clothing can be dated back to the 1700s for the Ojibwa. The Hudson's Bay Blanket replaced heavy animal hide robes for winter wear. Silver bells, buckles, beading was added.  Ojibwa women are particularly noted for their magnificent beadwork. (Photo at left shows Ojibwe men in 'traditional' 19th century garb.

WARFARE:  Alliances essential in organizing war parties.  Deadliest enemies were the Haudenosaunee and Lakota.  War parties avenged deaths, and provided young men with opportunities for glory.  They used wooden clubs, bows, arrow, spears and shields that were made from moosehide.

HOUSING/TRAVEL See Tribal Housing/Transportation




TRIBES - Siksika is translated as "Blackfoot" in English. In their language, the Siksika they are the Sao-kitapiiksi or "Plains people."  The present day Siksika Nation is located one hour's drive east of the city of Calgary, south of the Trans Canada Highway.  The Siksika Nation has a population of approximately 4,200 members. The Siksika were one of the most famous of the northern tribes, largely due to the fact that they were among the first to encounter and form relationships with European fur traders. Through this contact, the people of the Siksika nation became familiar with the objects, inventions and animals brought by these early European explorers. Where once the Siksika used dogs to carry provisions and traveled in smaller groups, the introduction of the horse allowed the Siksika a more efficient means of travel and transportation of goods. This, in turn, affected other aspects of Siksika society. For example, more time was now spent in social and religious activities and arts and it was easier to form larger bands and family groups as horses and guns expanded their ability to secure larger amounts of food.  (

LANGUAGES: Different dialects within the Blackfoot language. It basically belongs to the Algonquian family of Native languages that include: Mi'kmaq, Cree, Ojibwa, Arapaho, Shawnee, Fox, Algonquin and others.

CONFEDERACY: The Siksika are members of the Blackfoot Confederacy,  a Plains Indians community composed of five distinct nations including the Blackfoot, the Blood and the Peigan nations (all of which share a common language and culture) as well as the Sarcee and the Gros Ventre. At the height of their power the Blackfoot Confederacy commanded territory from the North Saskatchewan River, south to the Missouri, and from the present Alberta - Saskatchewan border to the Rocky Mountains

LEADERSHIP: Blackfoot Nation is divided into three divisions which make up four modern day tribes, They share a historical and cultural background but have separate leadership. Canada: Siksika (which means "Black Foot"), the Bloods (also called Kainai or Akainawa), the Peigan (variously spelled Piikani, Pikani, Pikuni, Piegan, or Pikanii) in Canada. United States: Blackfoot Reservation in Montana. 

CLAN SYSTEM:  The clans are the individual tribes. There are three main ones: The Kainai (Many Leaders, also called the Blood);  The Piikani (including the Amsskaapipiikani in Montana and Apatohsipiikani in southern Alberta also called the Peigan ); The Siksika (Blackfoot, also called northern Blackfoot). They share a common language and culture. The Siksika are a unique First Nation unto themselves, with a cultural identity that is distinct from either the Kainai or the Piikani clans.

FOOD:  Wild game was plentiful. Particularly, buffalo. There was also antelope, elk, deer, wolves, coyotes.

CLOTHING:  wore hides as their clothing. Moose skins made the best moccasins and deerskin was used to make leggings and women's dresses. Blackfoot are very artistic people and so their clothing and regalia were decorated with wonderful beadwork. and nature paintings. In post-European contact, they used iron to get the red colour; various minerals yielded greens, blues, oranges, purple and from the buffalo's gall bladder, yellow. Porcupine quills, shells, bones were also used.  Once the horse arrived, horse hair also became a decoration. (Picture left: Blackfoot scalplock suit, circa 1840 - because of its elaborateness the wearer was someone of wealth and status in the community.)

WAREFARE:  Generally a peaceful people, but did not back down from a fight, particularly in cases of raids or territorial disputes. Plundering was a European invention; most Native tribes lived moreorless at the same standard of living, so to steal was frowned upon because no one had more than another.  When the gun was introduced, the Blackfoot and the Plains Cree became enemies. Counting Coup was also part of Blackfoot warfare. It was the practice of getting close enough to an enemy to touch him, but not kill him, because to dishonour him and to show the daring deed of the Warrior who got close enough. It was more important than the actual kill.




TRIBES: Term Cree came from a French word, Kristinaux, or Kiristinon.  They lived mainly on the shores of James Bay, along the western shores of Hudson Bay, north to Churchill River and perhaps as far as Lake Winnipeg in the west and Lake Nipigon in the south. During the fur trade years they expanded onto the Plains, and adapted their culture to that of the Plains. As a result they become warriors and buffalo hunters. The bands consisted of: Calling River People, Rabbit Skin People, Cree-Assiniboine, Touchwood Hills People, House People, Parklands People, Upstream People, Downstream People. Siksika is translated as "Blackfoot" in English. In their language, the Siksika they are the Sao-kitapiiksi or "Plains people."  The present day Siksika Nation is located one hour's drive east of the city of Calgary, south of the Trans Canada Highway.  The Siksika Nation has a population of approximately 4,200 members. 

LANGUAGE:  Cree.  A single language with nine dialectal differences:

  • Plains Cree (Plans and western woodlands

  • Woods Cree (central Saskatchewan and Manitoba)

  • West and East Swampy Cree (lowlands west of Hudson and James Bays)

  • Moose Cree (south of James Bay - Moossenee, Moose Factory)

  • East Cree (subarctic Quebec east of James Bay)

  • Attikamek (upper Saint-Maurice River in Quebec)

  • Naskapi and Montagnais (eastern Quebec and Labrador - these two dialects although classed as Cree are better known as Innu today)

WHERE THEY LIVED:  Broad territory that spanned the Rocky Mountains to the Atlantic Ocean.  They were powerful, warlike and nomadic hunters and archeological study has determined they have been on Turtle Island for over forty thousand years.

FOOD:  Hunters of moose, caribou, bear and beaver. Smaller game such as hare were crucial to survival, along with geese and other waterfowl.  Berry-picking in warmer weather.  Fishing and plant growth very limited.  Weather conditions, particularly in the winter were very harsh.  As was the case with all Native groups, hunting was a spiritual activity as well as a necessary one; prior to the start of the hunt, there were appropriate ceremonies that included, the laying down  of tobacco, placing small pieces of meat in a fire, drums and songs, plus the care of the bones were all observed. These practices ensured a good harvest and gave respect the 'gift' of the animal.

CLOTHING: tanned caribou hide in winter; moose hide in summer. Both men and women wore buffalo robes all year around. The robes were historical art, in the sense the warriors often painted images of their exploits on them; some were beaded and quilled.  Quillwork was a beautiful art form developed by the Cree to decorate their clothing.  Later beadwork replaced the quills. Men wore breechcloth tied on with a belt.  Leggings were held on by a tie that looped over the belt.  Women were animal hide dresses, usually made of only two pieces of hide laced together.  Women's leggings went only to the knee and tied there.  Winter moccasins were often made from moose with the hair on the inside to act as insulation.  The moccasins were also a little larger so that grasses could be stuffed inside to act as a further heat retention source.  (Photo at left is a 19th picture showing a combination of traditional and cloth regalia).

 WARFARE: The Plains Cree were always at war with the Blackfoot and the Lakota.  Most of the time the Plains Cree warriors tried to capture horses from an enemy's camp. This way they gained respect among their own people. The Eastern Cree, however, often went to war to take lives.

SOCIAL LEVELS:  Nuclear family, hunting groups (local band); community group (regional band). Cree married young, because adulthood was not achieved unless one were married.

HOUSING/TRAVEL See Tribal Housing/Transportation



(Means: People of the Longhouse)

Terms ‘Iroquois’ and ‘Iroquoian’ are distinct terms. NOTE: There is no such thing as a tribe called Iroquois. It is simply a derogatory 'umbrella' term used to describe a number of tribes with similar lifestyles and languages. 

  • The term 'Iroquois' is also an insult and should not be used.  Like negative names of a number of tribes ('Sioux' and 'Eskimo' being two), it was a label given by their enemies and then adopted by the Europeans. The Algonquin called them the Iroqu (Irinakhoiw) "rattlesnakes." After the French added the Gallic suffix "-ois" to this insult, the name evolved into Iroquois and refers to: the League of Nations - Seneca, Cayuga, Onandaga, Oneida, Mohawk and later, Tuscarora.  Also, extinct tribes: Huron, Petun, Neutral. The correct term is HAUDENOSAUNNE meaning "People of the Longhouse."

  • ‘Iroquoian’ refers to all languages in the family, Iroqouian - Northern. 

LANGUAGES of individual tribes were closely related and, although not identical, mutually intelligible. The greatest similarities existed between the Mohawk, Oneida, Cayuga and Seneca. The Huron-Wendat and Mohawk languages are part of the Iroquoian linguistic group.

WHERE THEY LIVED: Originally lived in the Eastern Woodlands, an area that extended from the land south of Lake Ontario, along the Mohawk River, and westward to the Finger Lakes and Genessee River, in what is now New York State; The land was rich with hardwood forests, soils and climate capable of supporting the only Indigenous agricultural peoples.

The Haudenosaunee people were rooted to the land and designated each person an important function as the seasons changed. Women held a powerful place in the tribes and were the caretakers of the agricultural cycle, and responsible for the day-to-day governance of the tribe; women made baskets/clothing, cared for the children and Elders and made most of the day-to-day decisions. Men were hunters and warriors; providers and protectors of the community who executed the decisions made by women.; 

MATRIARCHAL CLAN SYSTEM. Clan Mothers, the leaders of the clan, selected the council members, or chiefs, and had veto power over the men's decisions. Women not only managed the political life of the Haudenosaunee, they, owned all property, determined kinship. Marriage: Man moved into Woman’s longhouse.


Seneca Cayuga Onondaga Tuscarora Oneida Mohawk
Wolf (Hoñnat‘haiioñ'n‘) Wolf Wolf Wolf (Θkwarì•nę) Wolf (Thayú:ni) Wolf (Okwáho)
Bear (Hodidjioiñi’'g’) Bear Bear Bear (Uhčíhręˀ) Bear (Ohkwá:li) Bear (Ohkwá:ri)
Turtle (Hadiniǎ‘'děñ‘) Turtle Turtle Turtle (Ráˀkwihs) Turtle (A'no:wál) Turtle (A'nó:wara)
Sandpiper (Hodi'ne`si'iu') Sandpiper Sandpiper Sandpiper (Tawístawis)
Deer (Hadinioñ'gwaiiu') Deer Deer
Beaver (Hodigěn’'gegā’) Beaver Beaver (Rakinęhá•ha•ˀ)
Heron Heron
Hawk Hawk
  Eel Eel (Akunęhukwatíha•ˀ)

 FOOD: Beans, corn, squash, pumpkins. Corn soup an everyday meal; fish and meat also included. A wide variety of wild berries, nuts, wild onions, mushrooms, greens, completed the diet; Hunting less importance to diet as it was to supply hide for clothing. Deer was the principal game; bear and beaver secondary.

CLOTHING: Animals hides, principally, deer. Men wore short front and back breechcloths. In ceremony, a kee-length kilt was added held up with a leather belt.  Other items includes: long-sleeve hide shirts, leggings, moccasins; Women - hide dresses, moccasins. Clothing often elaborately beaded. (Foto, left is of a Gustoweh headdress). After European contact, glass beads, yarn, ribbons were used.  Men also word a black velvet cap copies somewhat from a Scottish tam.  Silver became hugely popular and arm bands, brooches and other confections were added.

WARFARE: Ruthless warriors, and very skilled. They were quiet warriors perfectly at home in their woodland environment. Without moving a leaf on a tree, or snapping a twig, warriors could move through the forest in almost total quiet; quarry would not know until the warrior was right beside them.  Mohawk warriors had an almost mystical reputation. Prior to the establishment of the League of Nations, also called Confederacy (see below), warfare was widespread. Later, their skill  was  much coveted by the British during the war with the United States in the 1700s.

GIFTED IN PEACE: The Haudennosaunne Confederacy. Five nations established a peace treaty which led to the formation of one of the world's earliest democracies. This society gave rise to great orators, like the Onondaga, Hiawatha, and noble leaders, such as the Seneca, Cornplanter, who was rewarded with a tract of land along Pennsylvania's Allegheny River for his diplomatic efforts with the fledgling government of the American Colonies. Benjamin Franklin was so impressed that he based the Declaration of Independence on the Confederacy's principles.


English name Haudenosaunne Meaning Keeper Notables
Seneca Onondowahgah "People of the Great Hill" Left - Western Door Cornplanter, Handsome Lake, Guayasuta
Cayuga Guyohkohnyoh "People of the Great Swamp" Right Inner - Southern Door Jake Thomas, Gary Farmer
Onondaga Onöñda'gega' "People of the Hills" Centre - Central Fire Tom Longboat, Oren Lyons
Oneida Onayotekaono "People of Standing Stone" Right inner - Northern Door Joanna Shenandoah,  Chief Shenandoah
Mohawk Kanien'kehá:ka "People of the Great Flint" Right - Eastern Door Deganawidah, Kateri, Robbie Robertson, Murray Porter
Tuscarora Ska-Ruh-Reh "Hemp Gatherers"    

WOMEN: A woman of the clan owned the Longhouse. It was passed down to her from her mother and traced back to the woman who originally started the clan. The women were powerful figures of the clans for they not only owned the Longhouse, they were in control of the land, property and were the decision-makers,  which included choosing choose the tribal chief and deposing said chief if the job was not being done to their satisfaction. be.

HOUSING/TRAVEL:  See Tribal Housing/Transportation




"Eskimo" which is no longer used because it is an Algonquian derogatory word meaning 'eaters of raw meat'. Inuit in their language, InuktItuk, means "Many people", Inuk means "One Person". and is the correct term. Until the beginning of the 19th century, the Inuit believed themselves the only people in the world. 


  • When it is winter, above the Arctic Circle, the sun never rises for 3 months, light is by stars, moon, or the brilliance of Aurora Borealis.

  • Canada's newest territory, called Nunuvut (proclaimed, April 1, 1999), consists of central and eastern portions of the Northwest Territories and represents the majority of Inuit citizens (some 25,000 people).

  • The province of Newfoundland and Labrador is home to four peoples of Indigenous ancestry: the Inuit, the Innu, the Mi'Kmaq and the Métis. The Inuit are the descendants of the Thule people who migrated to Labrador from the Canadian arctic 700 to 800 years ago. The primary Inuit settlements are Nain, Hopedale, Postville, Makkovik and Rigolet on the north coast of Labrador.

BELIEFS: The Inuit are closely connected to nature. Their tradition believes that every being has a spirit and must be treated with respect, and, therefore, they try to live in complete harmony with the land and the sea because the environment has a language of its own; Like all Indigenous cultures, Storytelling is an important part of the culture because it preserves past history. Inuit look to the past to plan their future.

HUNTING GEAR: The Inuit used several kinds of harpoons and spears. Large harpoons were used to hunt the walrus. Smaller spears were used for hunting other animals, such as seal and birds. All spear throwers were individually made for the hunter. 

LANGUAGE:  Inuktitut - there are many dialects. 'Aput' is the word for snow. Inuktitut means "to sound like an Inuk".

FOOD:  Caribou, seal, walrus, whales, dried fish, blackberry bush, berries, seaweed.

TOOLS:  A Panak (knife) was a special knife used for the cutting of snow blocks to create igloo housing; 

CLOTHING: Clothes were made from the skins of caribou, seal, eider ducks, dogs and other animals.  The fur was worn 'inside' the garment for added warmth and insulation from the bitter cold. An Atiqik is a Inuit parka made with goose down.  It is in the springtime that goose feathers are collected to use as the 'down' for the parkas.

CLOTHING: Artists: Kenojuak Ashewak, Anne Pootoogook, Andrew Qappik

HOUSING/TRAVEL See Tribal Housing/Transportation




TRIBES:  Three main tribes: Munsee, Unami, Unalachtigo. Prior to European contact the Lenape lived in a  area they referred to as Lenapehoking between the Lower Hudson and Delaware** rivers. They are also called Lenni Lenape ("True People").  

**The Delaware River was named by English settlers after  Lord De La Warr, the Governor of the Jamestown Settlement. In the beginning the Lenape were reluctant to accept their new name, but it was soon absorbed into the cultural lexicon on the tribes.

LANGUAGES - Munsee and Unami belong to the Algonquian family of languages.

CLAN SYSTEM Tribal communities were organized into clans determined by Matrilineal descent.

FOOD SOURCE The Lenape were agriculturally-based, much like the Haudenosaunee, and therefore, were sedentary for the most part moving to pre-established encampment according to the seasons. They were also hunter/gatherers (Elk, deer, turkey, small game) and harvested seafood. Their crop was primarily  maize, corn, squash, beans.  Traditional preparation included: soup, cornbread, dumplings, and salads.

CLOTHING: Women women wore knee-length skirts. Men wore breechcloths and leggings. Shirts were not often worn, but deerskin mantles were worn if the weather was cold. Both men and women wore earrings, moccasins. Eventually, as was the case with other tribes, European clothing made of cloth were adopted that were often beaded.  Traditional headdresses were relatively simple, beaded headbands. The mean followed Haudenosaunne traditions, by shaving their heads completed except for a scalplock in the middle.

TOOLS: Lenape are known for their gorgeous beadwork, pottery and basketry. As well, they crafted wampum out of white and purple shell beads.  Wampum was traded as a kind of currency but had a more cultural importance because the designs often depicted symbols of a family. 

WARFARE: Not so much. They were called "Grandfather" by many other tribes because of their gentleness and ability to resolve disputes by acting as Peacemakers.  However, when forced into battle there were no fiercer in defends of family and territory.  They used heavy wooden war clubs and wore "body armour" made of layers of moosehide and wood. The preferred method was to walk the path of peace before and after European contact.

HOUSING/TRAVEL See Tribal Housing/Transportation




"Metis" means in French, "Mixed Blood or Half Blood". Métis  were the first new cultural group introduced to Turtle Island. They were the mixed race offspring of First Nations and fur traders/early European settlers of the North West Territories and the Prairies, and their descendants. Originally the term referred specifically to children born to Woodland Cree women, sired by French fur traders. It was expanded to include Ojibwa, Algonquin, Menominee and Saulteau unions. It was further expanded to include unions between a person from any Native tribe and a non-Native person. Métis  were also known as Bois Brûlé,  which is an interesting term in and of itself. It literally means, 'burnt wood' and in the case of Métis refers to their skin colour. The Chippwayan term for the Métis is, "bèpa redhkkpayn; Ojibwa term, wi:ssakkote:w-inini, both when loosely translated mean, "half burnt wood". (from, "A Language of Their Own", Peter Bakker, pg. 64). 

The term, Métis, continually undergoes debates to broaden the definition. Métis do not have Native status under the Indian Act but are recognized in the Canadian Constitution as a distinct group.  Some Métis like those in Alberta have a form of self-government (Communities) with free title to their land. Many First Nations people considered that Métis (prior to 1985), regained their right to be "Status" Indians as a result of Bill C31. In 1982, the Métis were included as a recognized Indigenous group in the amended Canadian Constitution - Section 35(2) - In this Act, "aboriginal peoples of Canada" includes the Indian, Inuit and Métis peoples of Canada

TERRITORY Distinct territories emerged out of the demands of the Fur Trade from the Great Lakes to the Northwest as far as the McKenzie River. The communities were connected through a vast network of mobility because of the hunt for furs. Their power base is primarily in Western Canada, in particular the three Prairie Provinces, Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan.

BELIEFSWere a combination of both the Christian Father and First Nations Mother. It was a complex dance and in some respects was a good thing because children were raised moreorless in two worlds, which would hold them in good stead as the world of First Nations changed.  In a spiritual renewal that is taking place all across First Nations, the Métis have incorporated the sweatlodge, medicine wheel teachings, sacred pipe and longhouse traditions into their world.

MUSIC:  Fiddle-playing is a Métis art form which many skilled players. Some of the more lively tunes were borne out of playing the fiddle while exercising their horses. Often, the horses would 'square dance', and intricate patterns were created through very skill riding. It has been claimed that the the R.C.M.P musical ride came out of watching the Métis exercise their horses. The hand drum, harmonica are also dominant instruments. (Photo: John Arcand, the most famous and prolific of the Metis Fiddlers, has written over three hundred tunes)

LANGUAGE: The Métis still speak their own form of French or their own special language called Métif which is a variation of Métis and consisted of French nouns and Cree verbs. However, today, they speak primarily English with French following close behind.

FOOD:  Buffalo meat, bannock. Pemmican a staple: Large pieces of dried buffalo meat pounded into a "flour."   This "meat flour" was mixed with buffalo fat and dried or crushed berries.

CLOTHING:  Ceinture Fléchée (means arrow sash) or Métis sash. The wool sash had a very practical use by being tried tightly around winter coats (capote) to keep out the cold. Now the sash is the traditional dress of the Métis. In the beginning it was a long, involved process in weaving the sash and required hundreds of hours. Foto at right, is a Métis sash given to me as an Elder gift).

HOUSING/TRAVEL See Tribal Housing/Transportation




The Mi'maq called themselves L'nu'k, meaning "The People".  The term Mi'kmaq comes from the word nikmak, meaning "my kin friends" or "Allies".

The Mi'kmaq of eastern Canada and the northeastern corner of the United States first appeared in their homeland approximately ten thousand years ago. They call the region Mi'kma'ki. Archaeological evidence indicates that these first inhabitants arrived from the west and lived as hunters and gatherers attuned to the shifting, seasonal resources of the area. During the summer months they hunted and fished, sometimes venturing out to sea to hunt whales and porpoises. Their winter camps were inland, built along rivers and lakes so that they could augment their hunting by spearing and trapping eels and other water creatures.

WHERE THEY LIVED: included all of what is now Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, the Gaspé Peninsula of Quebec, the north shore of New Brunswick and inland to the Saint John River watershed, eastern Maine, and part of Newfoundland, including the islands in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence as well as St. Pierre and Miquelon; Mi'kmaq neighbors recognized their territory and rarely violated its borders.

TRIBES: Mi'kmaq people thought of their homeland as containing seven districts: Kespukwitk, Sikepne'katik, Eski'kewaq, Unama'kik, Piktuk aqq Epekwitk, Sikniktewaq, and Kespe'kewaq.

HOUSING: Wigwams, usually constructed by women in a day. 

LANGUAGE: The Mi'kmaq language is part of the Algonquian language family, and its ancestral language is Proto-Algonquian. Early forms of communication among the Mi'kmaq included an elaborate system of runners who went from village to village relaying messages about recent or future events, treaties, and even calls to war.

CLOTHING: Men: loin cloth. Winter: loose robe of furs, or skins of mammals, birds or fish  worn with leggings and moccasins. Women: Similar loose robe that extended below knees.  Skins were tanned using animal brains, bird livers and oil.  Bone awls were used to make holes in the leather for sewing. Animal sinew, separated into fine strands, served as thread. Decorated with porcupine quills, paintings. Oiled hair and painted faces. By the 18th century, cloth had replaced furs and hides. Beads, ribbons and embroidery replaced quills.   (Picture at left is of a peaked female headdress; Left Mi'Kmaq family)

FOOD: The Mi'kmaq took advantage of the wealth of food available all along the sea coast of the Maritimes. Fish  and ocean mammals of all kinds, including salmon and sturgeon, plus porpoises, whales, walrus, seals, lobster, squid, shellfish, eels and seabirds with their eggs made up the bulk of their diet. They also ate moose, caribou, beaver and porcupine, as well as smaller animals, like squirrels. Berries, roots and edible plants were gathered during the summer. Meat and fish were dried and smoked to preserve them. As a result, of this varied diet, the Mi'kmaq were very healthy people.

TOOLS: Mi'kmaq people had mastered techniques which enabled them to make tools and equipment from animal bone, ivory, teeth, claws, hair, feathers, fur, leather, quills, shells, clay, native copper, stone, wood, roots and bark. Axes, adzes and gouges were made by pecking and grinding stone to a sharp edge and smooth surface. In turn, these tools were used to cut and carve wood. Fine carving was done with sharp beaver teeth. For killing game and butchering meat, they used spears, knives, arrow points and scrapers, all made from special stones like chalcedony.

WARFARE: Given some of the blame for the eventual extinction of the Bealthuk people of the east coast.  The rivalry over the French fur trade enhanced earlier tensions between the Mi'kmaq and the Abenaki, which led to the Tarrateen War between the two and their allies. The fighting continued for eight years and although the French were not pleased with the warfare, they continued trading with both sides. The Mi'Kmaq were victorious. Mi'Kmaq took on all comers to protect their lucrative fur trading deals.  They had traded for powerful firearms which made them formidable foes.

HOUSING/TRAVEL See Tribal Housing/Transportation




TRIBES: There are a large number of regional names including: Blackfoot Confederacy (Blackfoot, Blood, Peigan, Athapaskan Sarcee); Gros Ventre (or Atsina); Plains Cree, Sioux*, Plains Ojibwa, Siouan Assiniboine (or ‘Stoney’).

*Sioux is an insult, given to them by their enemy, the Crow (it means 'rattlesnake'). The correct terms are: Lakota (Dakota, Nakota). Also within the Lakota people, the Teton, Oglala, Hunkpapa.

LANGUAGES - Pre-contact, spoke Algonkian languages; later languages such as Lakota were used. Note: The Lakota call themselves, "Ikche-Wichasha" – meaning the ‘Real Natural Human Beings’.

CLAN SYSTEM Each clan identified with a symbol or totem: crane, bear, catfish, martin, wolf, loon. Clan membership was patrilineal; tribes headed by a series of Chiefs (War Chief, Tribal Chief). Also a Medicine Man (or Woman); Elders.

HIGHLY NOMADIC, ranging hundreds of miles to hunt, trade, war with their enemies. There were no clearly defined boundaries. They were also following their spiritual basis, the migratory paths of Tatanka (Buffalo). Portable housing in the form of A tipi came in handy!

FOOD SOURCE Hunter-Gatherers: Buffalo main source, but also pronghorn antelope, mule deer, elk, prairie chickens. Pemmican a staple: Large pieces of dried buffalo meat pounded into a "flour."   This "meat flour" was mixed with buffalo fat and dried or crushed berries.

BUFFALO:  (Tatanka in Lakota) is the mental, spiritual, emotional and physical sustenance of the Plains People; White Buffalo Calf Woman came some nineteen generations ago; She brought with her a sacred pipe; She said she would provide them with all they would need to live safe, peaceful, bounteous lives. For thousands of years vast herds provided the basis for all Plains Life. There was once so many, they "darkened" the landscape.

CLOTHING: Clothing is made beautiful with bead work and designs  meant to honour the spirit world.  Traditionally they were made of buckskin, deer and elk skins.  Women wore dresses, belts and leggings and men wore shirts,d breechcloths and hip-high leggings.   In cold weather, they wore buffalo robes.  Infants were placed in   cradleboards for protection

(Picture left:

HORSE: First horses introduced to southern Plains around 1640 - really proliferated by mid-18th Century. Therefore, the notion of a 'noble savage' galloping across the Plains is a relatively recent stereotype. Plains Natives were extremely skilled riders. Horses allowed for a much wider range for hunting; but also brought them into conflict with other groups, wars, raids and other skirmishes increased as a result.

WARFARE: Extremely skilled and ruthless warriors. The horse (arrived around 1650) making warfare easier. War Parties were led by War Chiefs and accompanied by a Medicine Man who used supernatural powers to weaken the enemy. Weapons: Spears, bows, arrows, knives, war clubs.  The great Oglala Lakota Warrior Leader, Crazy Horse is the stuff of legends. He was such a brilliant strategist and so impressed the American military of the time, that some of his war strategies are still taught at West Point. Other warriors such as Nez Perce, Olikut (brother to Chief Joseph), Shawnee Leader, Tecumseh, and many, many more have made their mark in Indigenous history in terms of leadership and military skills. 

COUNTING COUP: A warrior who was able to ride up and simply strike an enemy without killing him was extremely honoured (the rock stars of their time). Such action showed great courage as well as disdain for the enemy as not being worthy of killing; it was a huge disgrace to the warrior on the receiving end of being only touched.  To die in battle was the ultimate honour and what warriors 'lived' for.

HOUSING/TRAVEL See Tribal Housing/Transportation





Like all well-established cultures, First Nations tribal societies had well-developed and established infrastructures founded on a circular-based spirituality that was thousands of years in the making.  No-one was considered to be superior to another, it was simply understood that each person did what she/h was good at. In others, as long as each person's talents were recognized and celebrated, the tribes would hum for another day. 

In other words, the name of the game was survival, and it was incumbent upon each tribal member to know their strengths (and their weaknesses) and to contribute what they could so that the tribe would live and flourish for another day in an often harsh and unforgiving land.

Most historical research on the social structures of Native peoples are post-colonialist and show a strong paternal bias and reluctance to recognize the power of the matriarch. As a result, colonialism and paternalistic religions were largely responsible for devaluing matrilineal Native societies. 

As paternalistic religions started acquiring power through the acquisition of land, and the undermining of the strong female role in the tribes, men were then able to make and change laws. The new religions when coupled with the evolution of the written word primarily emphasized male deities. As a result, the degeneration of female power was rapidly underway, even though the tribes well understood that before there were Gods there were Goddesses!

In pre-contact tribal histories, the theme was 'Equal' not 'Dominant'.




Family was the cornerstone of the tribes.  Mothers, Fathers, Aunts, Uncles, Grandparents, Sons, Daughters, Nieces, Nephews, Brothers, Sisters, Cousins, Friends and Ancestors. The extended family included the other three colours of human as well, because the wise ones knew that the Red People would not be living alone on Turtle Island forever. Many stories speak of the coming of the others and the Red People were told to prepare for this inevitability. They were told to greet the visitors as they would any other family member - with an honour song, their best food, best blankets, and best places to rest.  

Native people more often than not, will greet people using the term "Cousin".  This recognizes that the person is part of the human family, but not close.  "Brother" and "Sister" are reserved for close friends and family.

- We are one family -

It seems only natural, therefore, that we should be living in harmony, peace and cooperation, working and caring for all our relations. This, Hiamovi understood when he spoke the following words which I set to music and included in my musical 'Daughter of the Copper Shield':

Hiamovi, Cheyenne Chief, 1890

There are birds of many colours - red, green, blue, yellow - yet all is one bird.
There are horses of many colours - brown, black, yellow, white -yet it is all one horse.
So all living things - animals, flowers  trees.
So people, in this land where once were only First Nations people are now people of every colour - white, black, yellow red -yet all are one people.
That this should come to pass was in the heart of the Great Mystery. It is right. And everywhere there shall be peace.



Traditional teachings are as relevant today as they were in the time of my Ancestors. They are blueprints for human behaviour - they connect us to the teachers of the natural and supernatural worlds, celestial beings, plants, animals, earth, air, fire, water -- respected equals, in other words,  whose unique traits provide models for living in a "good way." There are lessons to be learned from both the secular and supernatural worlds -- to be passed down from generation to generation through songs, stories, sharing, caring, medicine wheel teachings and ceremony. 


The Grandmothers and Grandfathers were among the most respected members of their communities.  They were highly valued as a direct link to their people's heritage and tradition. Elders were usually the principle decision-makers in a community because of wisdom earned through long lives and ability to create continuity by tying the past to the present and the future.  Without a written language, until the arrival of the Europeans, the Elders became the principle 'chroniclers' of their cultures, and as such carried most of the traditional teachings, memories and language, songs, ceremonies, and lifestyle.

In today's world, not all elderly Native people are considered Elders, because the trauma of pre-European contact history rendered many Native people unable to carry on their traditional knowledge and language.  There was a time when ALL would have been admitted to the Elder ranks, but with the intrusion of racist and oppressive laws and other conquering methods such as cultural genocide, residential schools, and disease, subsequent substance abuse, Native people lost the continuity of their culture, and many of the old ones tragically passed to the spirit world unable to communicate their knowledge.  (see residential schools)

Today, most Indigenous cultures have only a partial understanding of who they are and where they come from.  As a result, the abuse of what it is to be an Elder has become fairly widespread, as some so-called Elders set themselves up in this sacred and responsible position without having done their own healing work, but who have their own ideas of how Native nations should work which usually includes a rewriting of history which includes bogus rules particularly when it comes to the role of women.

For instructions on how to behave with an Elder 
or Traditional Teacher


Grandmother Teaching

"Our people respect our Elders. We value their wisdom and guidance. We provide for them as they provided for us, their children. Our grandparents strengthen our nation. We help them remain strong. for they can tell us about our past.  They can tell us who we are."








Men made an enormous contribution to the safety and welfare of tribal communities. More often they were also leaders with some consensual decisionmaking power:

a) Warriors were highly valued in the tribes and given the onerous responsibilities of defense and protection. Their intimate knowledge of their physical surroundings, finely honed physical, teamwork  and logical skills made them naturals at defending the community;
b) Their main task was to defend the
inner circle (women, children, elders)in particular, the 'giver of life' by all means necessary,
c) Wherein women made the decisions, the men executed them.  Women never said how it was to be done, but, simply that it had to be done.

d) They were builders, and where women created the stories, men told them.
e) Their ability to move silently and comfortably in their world was in the DNA. 

It was understood back in the day that Men's bodies were powerful, complex, external physiologies.  Their physicality was also a metaphor for describing their territory, the outer-circle of tribal societies.  As a result, Men commanded the outer circle and handled the day-to-day protection and security of the tribes.  In this way, they were able to use their physical prowess, hunting skills, battle strategies and deep knowledge of the terrain to defend the community and to decide HOW  and WHERE that defense was going to take place. The tribes hummed as  result of this cohesive and respectful teamwork between the male and the female. In other words, men were doing what they were good at.

Grandmother Teaching
It is said that in every man has a bit of his mother, absorbed from her womb. So he has a bit of woman in him. But a man’s nature is to be a hunter and warrior, to achieve goals he sets for himself, and to possess what he desires. He fears the mother part of him because he thinks it weakens him. But that is the part which makes him a man rather than merely a predator.

We must encourage him not to be afraid of the bit of woman inside him. A man who is gentle proves he is strong enough to afford gentleness. A strong man, a warrior, a hunter, cannot have babies but he can create beautiful things. And he can protect us and make us love him.

Time is a great circle; there is no beginning, no end. All returns again and again, forever.