An Aboriginal Presence

We Are the Land

We find the experience of our ancestors in:

the furs traded to Europeans for guns;

Inuit woman with Naskapi snowshoes and hunting costume, carrying rifle, 1921-1922, photograph by Frederick W. Waugh
Canadian Museum of Civilization, 54654
Inuit woman - 54654

the gun case made of dressed buckskin;

Gun Case
Gwich'in (Kutchin)
Northwest Territories
About 1888-1892
Animal hide, wool yarn, porcupine quills, cloth, thread and sinew
Canadian Museum of Civilization, VI-I-78, CD95-074-058

Gun Case - VI-I-78 - CD95-074-058

the baskets made for sale to settlers;

Mi'kmaq (Micmac)
Before 1911
Ash splints and sweet grass
Canadian Museum of Civilization, III-F-70 a,b,
Basket - III-F-70 a,b - CD97-142-023

the harpoons and spears used to hunt Arctic seals;

(top) Harpoon
Netsilingmiut (Netsilik Inuit)
Before 1959
Bone or antler, animal hide and sinew
Canadian Museum of Civilization, IV-C-3348 a-d

(bottom) Spear
Nunavimiut (Quebec Inuit)
Before 1958
Wood, bone, metal, animal hide and sinew
Canadian Museum of Civilization, IV-B-697
Harpoon - IV-C-3348 a-d - Spear - IV-B-697 -

the spoon made of mountain goat horn, steamed into shape and carved with the emblems of a family's history;

Feast Spoon
British Columbia
Before 1900
Mountain sheep horn and abalone shell
Canadian Museum of Civilization, VII-B-1509,
Feast Spoon - VII-B-1509 - CD94-618-024

the hat made of woolen cloth and the hat made of dressed skins and feathers;

West Main Cree (Swampy Cree)
Probably 1840-1865
Wool, ribbon, glass beads, silk embroidery thread, caribou skin, cotton thread and sinew
Canadian Museum of Civilization, III-D-606, CD95-074-097
Hood - III-D-606 - CD95-074-097

the hat, woven of spruce root into a fine, waterproof fabric;

British Columbia
Before 1884
Spruce root
Canadian Museum of Civilization, VII-B-890,
Hat - VII-B-890 - CD96-006-030

the packsaddle decorated with beadwork;

Anishnaabe (Plains Ojibwa / Saulteaux)
Late 1800s
Animal hide, glass beads, wool and cotton
Canadian Museum of Civilization, V-F-164

Saddle - V-F-164 -

the canoe made of birch bark;

About 1900
Canadian Museum of Civilization, III-L-228,
Canoe - III-L-228 - CD96-129-031

the corn (maize) raised by Aboriginal farmers for thousands of years, the wild rice harvested from the shallows of lakes, the maple syrup processed for centuries before it met pancakes.

Braids of corn at Emily Generals' home on the Grand River Iroquois Reserve at Grand River, Ontario, 1949, photograph by Marius Barbeau
Canadian Museum of Civilization, J3003,
Corn - J3003 - CD96-1179-001

The first European visitors survived with our ancestors' knowledge, experience and help.

In 1535-36 men traveling with the French explorer, Jacques Cartier, were treated for scurvy by Aboriginal people living near present-day Montreal.

Cartier wrote,

"...after drinking [Annedda - a tea made from the bark and/or needles of coniferous trees] two or three times, they recovered health and strength and were cured of all the diseases they had ever had."


Our lives have always depended on our understanding of the land, of what it had to give, and of what we were obliged to give to it. It would be impossible for us to recount our histories without telling about the land.

Many of us still depend on the land for our livelihood. Even those who live and work in cities often return to hunt or dry fish. In this way, venison and moose meat, dried and canned fish, seaweed and dried Saskatoon berries, find their way to city kitchens.

We speak of our knowledge of the land in 53 languages, plus English and French. Fifty of these languages are spoken now by very few people. If these languages die, they will take with them the words that express precisely the foundations of our knowledge and our relationship with the land.

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