Historical Overview

Canada's First Nations survived in a harsh environment, making everything they needed without polluting the water or air, and without destroying the land or animal populations.

The Sacred Circle of Life

Seasonal migration was a continuous pattern, with each group following the same pattern each year, according to the natural cycles of the plants and animals.

Because the regular seasonal pattern was continuous, like a circle with no beginning and no end, the circle became a sacred symbol for First Nations people.

Major Migrations

There have been many large scale migrations across North America over time because of climate changes, epidemics, changes in the migration routes of animals, one group expanding into another's territories, and victory and defeat in warfare.

Most First Nations lived mainly from hunting and fishing. They migrated seasonally to get food. They did not wander aimlessly. In one season, they would hunt large animals; in another they would fish; in the fall they would gather berries, and so on.

Complex Cultures

Canada's First Peoples developed complex cultures and lived in harmony with their environment. Everything they had was made from the land around them and its plants and animals—food, clothes, shelter, wood, tools, weapons, dyes, decoration, musical instruments, and ceremonial artifacts.


Canada's First Nations all had complex social systems, with several levels of government based on the family, the band or clan, and the nation or tribe.

In most First Nations, a council of elders advised the Chief, and decisions were made by consensus, which means that the council would discuss a matter of importance, and then would make a decision that the majority agreed on.


First Nations people were very religious, and respectful of the Great Spirit, and other spirits that they believe inhabited the land and animals all around them.

First Nations people respect and give thanks to the animals, birds, plants, and the land and water that gave them all the things that they needed to stay alive.

Oral Tradition

First Nations people did not have a writing system, but they had a strong oral tradition. There were usually specific people in the tribe who knew their whole history, and related these events to others at special gatherings. Tales of important events were told and retold around the campfire, as stories are told everywhere.

First Nations also had various ways of recording events, to trigger the memory of those relating the events. For example, wampum belts had pictures woven into them to tell a story. Drawings on bark or hide preserved the record of events.

Canada's First Peoples have stories to explain the origins of the earth and its animals and people. These stories were not written down, but were passed on through their oral tradition.

Source: Historical Overview
Copyright Goldi Productions Ltd. 2007

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