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The Basics of Peoplehood of Indigenous People of Canada


Studying the cross-cultural dynamics of indigenous populations is exceptionally important if people want to achieve true equality and find the most appropriate ways to minimize the effects of centuries-long oppression. It is crucial to learn about the cross-cultural concepts, which dictate the daily lives of the Native people in order to get a better understanding of the issues they face. One of the most efficient academic frameworks to examine the identities of indigenous tribes is the peoplehood matrix developed by Tom Holm, Diane Pearson, and Ben Chavis. The authors argue that a group “united by a common language and having a particular ceremonial cycle, a unique sacred history, and knowledge of a territory, necessarily possess inherent sovereignty” (Holm et al. 17). All of the aforementioned factors are interdependent and vital for an in-depth understanding of Aboriginal populations. The purpose of this paper is to explore the connections between such aspects of the Native Canadian identity as language, sacred history, worldview, and ceremony in order to compare indigenous people’s real stories with their portrayal in the media.

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The Context of Language

Linguistics often serves as the foundation of any basic explanation of Native identity. Due to the sense of relatedness it brings, a common language helps populations to bond. In addition, it infuses rituals, ceremonies, and other elements of indigenous people’s sacred history with meaning. According to Statistics Canada, over 60 languages attributed to 12 families are spoken among Aboriginal populations of Canada, which reflects the diversity of the region. Despite such a linguistic variety, only Inuktitut, Ojibway, and the Cree languages are in frequent use by almost two-thirds of the Native Canadian population (Statistics Canada). Survival of the remaining languages and dialects, as well as the revitalization of the lost ones, is undeniably important to get a better glimpse of an immense variety of Native identities in Canada.

It is important to understand that even when a dominant language changes, certain distinctive linguistic elements can be attributed to Native populations. Unfortunately, indigenous people of Canada lost their original languages and are forced to communicate in English, at least in public. Statistics Canada report that “among the population reporting an Aboriginal mother tongue, 82.2% also reported speaking it at home: 58.1% spoke it most often and 24.1% spoke it on a regular basis.” However, they incorporate slang words and colloquialisms to set themselves apart. As a result, Native groups always find a way to use certain phrases, dialects, or speech patterns to reinforce a common sense of kinship and solidarity.

The Sacred History

Another crucial element of the peoplehood matrix is sacred history, which contributes to the formation of shared memories among indigenous groups. The term “sacred” is used due to the fact that Native populations often consider history not just a recollection of past events but a vital aspect of their identity, which includes folklore and mythology. Such fables, legends, and creation stories shed light on Aboriginal people’s perceptions of the world in the context of their own place in it.

Nowadays, Canada is truly a multi-cultural country that prides itself in ethnic, racial, and cultural diversity. However, before the arrival and settlement of Europeans in the 16th and 17th centuries, the only residents of what is now Canada have been First Nations of Woodland, Plateau, Pacific Coast, Plains, Mackenzie, and Yukon River Basins, as well as Iroquoian First Nations (Government of Canada). Some of the aforementioned groups, including First Nations of the Plains, Woodland, and Mackenzie and Yukon River Basins, migrated on a regular basis. They all built homes, which “were either portable or easily erected from materials found in their immediate environments” (Government of Canada). Unlike their nomadic neighbors, the Plateau and Iroquoian First Nations built homes from bark or dugout pits (Government of Canada). The aforementioned differences in shelter constitute only a small portion of all the unique features attributed to each of the First Nations, including clothes, modes of transportation, and food resources.

Despite the significance of historical research on the origins and lifestyles of Aboriginal populations, it is crucial to examine how First Nation children learned about the creation of the world. The sacred history of the Native Canadian people would not be complete without an exploration of their mythical narratives. Stories about Sky Woman, Raven, Glooscap, Nanabush, and Sedna carried immense knowledge and raised generations of indigenous children (Canadian Museum of History). Today, these legends and creation myths remain important in the study of the Native identity since they are often reimagined by writers and actors and shared among Aboriginal populations.

The Meaning of Worldview

In order to achieve cultural harmony and find ways to support diversity, it is essential to look at the key elements of Native tribes’ worldviews and compare them with the established Western philosophy. The government of Canada notes that, among Aboriginal populations, “one of the most important and most common teachings was that people should live in harmony with the natural world and all it contained.” Hence, people were used to expressing gratitude to nature in an effort to survive and establish themselves as respected members of their communities. This explains why members of indigenous communities continue to treat the environment with the utmost respect even in the 21st century. The government of Canada also reports that strict value systems were common among aboriginal tribes, stressing “Wisdom, Love, Respect, Bravery, Honesty, Humility and Truth as the values that enable people to live in a way that promotes harmony” (Government of Canada). Nowadays, these teachings remain a part of indigenous households and guide the daily lives of the Native Canadians.

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The Importance of Ceremony

Ceremonies and rituals allow non-members of Aboriginal populations to learn about the ways in which indigenous people interacted with their environment and rich history. For instance, the First Nations of Canada cultivated a deep respect for nature, which was translated into songs, festivals, and other celebrations. The government of Canada mentions that “a hunter would talk or sing to a bear before it died, thanking the animal for providing the hunter and his family with much-needed food.” In addition, it is important to acknowledge that there was a certain cycle of ceremonies, which reflected the patterns of annual cultivating of the soil, planting the crops, and harvesting them.

The Role of Media Portrayal

For centuries, Western media has shaped the public’s perception of indigenous populations. Although Canada is a relatively young country, the roots of misrepresenting and romanticizing Native people originate in Europe and the United States. Nowadays, the media, including books and movies, is full of token indigenous characters who are romanticized or stereotyped (Mohamed). Apart from the ignorant portrayal of members of Aboriginal populations as simple-minded and aggressive, the recent culture of political correctness did little to contribute to the realistic representation of such people.


The Native people have a rich history, a unique view of the world, and an abundance of fascinating stories to tell. All of these elements paint the bigger picture and allow outsiders to connect with indigenous populations. The simplistic characterization of such groups in media for the sake of diversity, which is often accompanied by numerous historical inaccuracies, is extremely harmful. People need to make a bigger effort in educating themselves about indigenous populations. Most importantly, media executives have a responsibility to hire more Native producers and content creators to ensure accurate representation.


Canadian Museum of History. “An Aboriginal Presence: Origin Stories.” History Museum. n.d. Web.

Government of Canada. “First Nations in Canada.” RCAANC, 2017. Web.

Holm, Tom, et al.Peoplehood: A Model for the Extension of Sovereignty in American Indian Studies.” Wicazo Sa Review, vol. 18, no. 1, 2003, pp. 7-24. Project MUSE. Web.

Mohamed, Zahra. “Indigenous Representation in Media.” ArcGIS StoryMaps, 2019. Web.

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Statistics Canada. “Aboriginal Languages in Canada.” StatCan, 2018. Web.

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