A changing way of life

The ways of life of Indigenous Peoples continued to change—diseases, including a smallpox epidemic from 1818 to 1821, impacted many Nations. Indigenous Peoples did not have the necessary antibodies to protect themselves from new sicknesses brought by Europeans, and were therefore more vulnerable to infection.

Indigenous Peoples fought to retain their ways of life. As more and more people immigrated to Lower and Upper Canada, new customs were sometimes infused with Indigenous customs or enforced on members of Indigenous Nations. For example, some Nations shifted from traditional nomadic lifestyles and traditional shelters to more ‘Canadian-style’ homes and lifestyles.

New economic activities

The fur trade, which had been an important economic activity for Indigenous Peoples, was now in decline. Furs no longer sold well, and intensive hunting led to declining animal populations. It became increasingly difficult for Indigenous People to make a living from the fur trade. Those who depended on hunting and fishing now had to make do with smaller hunting lands because the government had given more and more of the land to colonization and logging (for the timber trade).

For example, the Mauricie, Outaouais and Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean regions had forests that were ideal for logging. Woodland caribou, a traditional food source for many Nations like the Atikamekw, were disappearing from these areas due to an increase in settlers and loggers. The Atikamekw of Haute-Mauricie became a minority of the total population of Nitaskinan (“Our land” in the Atikamekw language) around the second half of the 19th century.

Indigenous People adapted to new situations and economic realities. Many became forest or agricultural workers. Others became employees of businesses like the Hudson’s Bay Company or started making handicrafts to sell at the market.

Residential schools open

In 1831, the first residential school opened in Canada. The last school only closed in 1996. The goal of the residential and day school systems was to assimilate and eliminate Indigenous cultures in Canada. These schools had intergenerational impacts on First Nations, Métis and Inuit. Around 2020, many Indigenous communities are working to revitalize and reclaim their languages, traditional practices and beliefs that these schools tried to eradicate. Since 2021, Sept. 30 has been known as the National Day of Truth and Reconciliation to honour the children, families, and communities that were impacted by residential schools in Canada.

Author: Alexandre Lanoix; text updated by the Service national du RÉCIT en univers social and LEARN

See also – Traces of the past:

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