The Origins of Canada’s Natives
Canada and the entire northern part of North America used to be covered with ice thousands of years ago and there’s no clear documentation to unravel the mystery about when the first inhabitants of the region could have arrived in Canada and North America at large.
However by the time the Europeans began explorations to the region which culminated eventually to colonization as their interests in the area increased, this happening as early as the 10th century, the continent was already inhabited.
Though the exact date of the arrival of indigenous peoples in Canada is largely unknown, archaeological finding suggests that parts of eastern Canada were already inhabited for almost 12,000 years, while other parts of North America such as Yukon, were inhabited over 30,000 years ago.
Languages Used by the Natives:
Most of the early Canadian inhabitants were hunters and gatherers who were constantly on the move in search for greener pastures whenever the resources they were relying on got depleted. However, the Pacific Coast (present day British Columbia) and parts of southern Ontario around the Great Lakes, had more sedentary societies.
Pacific Coast which had abundant resources from fishing activities in the Pacific Ocean and also with a rain forest for hunters was more populated and is the home of almost half the of the native population in Canada. Southern Ontario had fertile soils and favorable climate, hence home to farmers who mainly relied on agriculture.
The seven main native inhabitants of Canada include the Inuit, Beothuk, Algonquin, Iroquois, Sioux, Pacific Coast Indians, and Cordillera Indians.
Before the coming of the Europeans these groups didn’t occupy the entire territory of present-day Canada. They lived in specific territories for instance, that the Inuit inhabited the coastal regions of the Far North, particularly around Hudson Bay and James Bay; the Algonquin seemed to have been scattered throughout the territory that they occupied.
Canada’s natives spoke almost fifty different languages, with British Columbia having the greatest number of different language-speaking groups. These different languages all stemmed from 12 linguistic families, primarily the Iroquoian, Algonquian, Na-Dene and Eskimo-Aleut.
The Iroquoian family included at least ten different languages which were mainly spoken on the southern shores of Lake Ontario, regions around Lake Erie, and also on the south of the St. Lawrence River Valley. The languages included Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca, Susquehannock, Huron (or Wyandot), Erie, and Cherokee and were all related and hence mutually comprehensible among the whole group.
The Algonquian family languages included at least twenty languages used across a wide area which includes Blackfoot (Prairies), Cree (James Bay), Attikamek (St. Maurice River Basin), Naskapi (south part of Ungava Bay), Montagnais or Innu (north shore of the St. Lawrence River), Ojibway (around the Great Lakes), Potawatomi (west of Lake Huron), Micmac (Chaleur Bay), Malecite (Saint John River Valley in New Brunswick), Abnaki (south of the St. Lawrence River and in Maine and Vermont), and Beothuk in Newfoundland.
The Na-Dene family languages included almost fifty languages across the three main linguistic groups which includes Haida, Athapaskan, and Tlingit. However, most of their languages were spoken in the United States where there was a considerable settlement of the family, but some twenty or so were used in British Columbia’s region particularly in the Pacific Coast and in the Prairies (Alberta and the Northwest Territories).
The Eskimo-Aleut family had two language groups-Aleut and Eskimo who used some twenty languages which were completely different from other native languages and the languages were grouped together with other Inuit dialects.