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First Nations and Inuit


In the last ice age, 80 000 to 12 000 years ago, much of North America was covered by ice. With so much of Earth's water frozen on land, the sea level went down. This exposed a small strip of land that joined North America and Asia -- a land bridge. The ancestors of Canada's First Nations and Inuit crossed this land to come to North America.

Map showing the land bridge that joined North America and Asia

Long before the Europeans ever thought of exploring North America, First Nations people and Inuit had been doing so. Once the Europeans arrived, Native people helped the Europeans on their expeditions. In fact, many would never have survived without their help. This site is about the ancestors of Canada's First Nations and Inuit and how they discovered North America.

Interesting Fact
Graphical element: spacer There is an ancient copper mine at Mamainse Point, Ontario. It was being mined by First Nations peoples 6000 years before the time of the Egyptian pharaohs.

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Land Bridge
At the end of the ice age, more than 12 000 years ago, the ancestors of Canada's First Nations travelled across the Bering land bridge. Over time they settled all the areas of North and South America that were liveable south of the ice-sheets. A few thousand years ago the glaciers retreated and some of the Native peoples were able to live in central Canada, around what is now Hudson Bay and James Bay.

The Illustrated History of Canada. Edited by Craig Brown. Toronto: Lester Pub., ©1991, 1987, p. 19.

Interesting Fact
Woodcut: Traditional maple-sugar making Maple syrup was a Native food. The best sap comes from the sugar maple, followed by the black, red, and silver maple trees. The first sap that flows is the best for making sugar, the later sap for syrup.

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Woodcut: Traditional maple-sugar making

Ancient Trade Routes
First Nations peoples traded with each other along routes that they had used for many many years -- long before the Europeans came to trade for furs. Some of the things they used to trade with each other were:

  • Obsidian (from which the sharpest-known cutting tools are made) from Northern B.C., California and Wyoming
  • Pottery from Iroquois country (Ontario and Quebec)
  • Spear points from Hudson Bay
  • Copper goods from Lake Superior and from Inuit and Dene lands on the shores of the Arctic Ocean
  • Decorative shells from the Pacific, Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico
Field Trip
Graphical element: spacer Near the main runway at Winnipeg International Airport, you can find some of the only original prairie still in existence. Scientists have studied the land and found that it contains only plants that grow naturally. Amazingly, these 30 acres have never been ploughed. It is now called the "Living Prairie Museum".

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