The following information provides summary descriptions of the First Nations tribes that currently reside within the province of Ontario. The tribes are presented in order from those residing in the south to those living in the northern regions of the province.
- Haudenosaunee or “People of the Longhouse” are also known as Iroquois and share languages evolved from the Iroquoian language.
- Sometime prior to the 16th century five Haudenosaunee tribes (Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayauga and Seneca) formed a league known as the Iroquois Confederacy.
- The Haudenosonee formed one of the first Treaties with Europeans known as the Two Row Wampum. This historic treaty was made with the Dutch in 1613 in the region of present day New York City. It defined the relationship between the Haudenosaunee and the Europeans as brothers or equals.
- In 1722 the Tuscarora joined the Iroquois Confederacy to form the Six Nations. This confederacy was formed under the Great Law of Peace. As a united Confederacy the Haudenosaunne wielded considerable power and influence in shaping the history of Canada and the U.S.A.
- Initially residing in their homelands along the southern shores of the Great Lakes the Haudenosaunee controlled and influenced the trade from southern U.S.A. into Ontario and Quebec.
- Prior to the arrival of Europeans they hunted within the region of southern Ontario and at times waged war with the Huron’s who lived in central Ontario. They eventually dispersed the Hurons from the region which included adopting many Huron into Haudenosaunee communities.
- Upon the arrival of Europeans the Haudenosaunee attempted to establish peaceful relations with the newcomers. However, the Europeans drive for power and control over land lead to continuous warfare. The Haudenosaunee were seen as powerful allies by all Europeans and were constantly compelled to fight for different sides. Although the Haudenosaunee attempted to remain neutral they were inevitably drawn into the conflict in an effort to defend themselves and protect their homelands.
- Alliances with the British in 1753, 1783 and 1812 eventually resulted in the resettlement of many of the Haudenosaunee to lands on the north shore of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River. Some of these people began relocation into Canada to live in Jesuit mission communities as early as 1719 (Kahnawake Mohawk Territory) and with other Christian faith groups (Oneida, 1840 Methodists).
- The largest relocation occurred in 1784 when a large contingent of Haudenosaunee followed Chief Joseph Brant to establish the Six Nations territory on the Grand River in southwestern Ontario. This move followed the American War of Independence during which the Haudenosaunee allied with the British against the Americans.
- Today there are five Haudenosaunee communities in southern Ontario.
- The Anishinaabe or ‘Original People’ are a group of related First Nations tribes who share languages that have evolved from the Algonquian language.
- It is believed that these people migrated from the Atlantic coast and separated into distinct tribal groups who inhabited vast territories of central Canada and the U.S.A., extending as far west as the Rocky Mountains.
- During the 1600’s the Anishinaabe (Ojibway and Misssissauga) battled with the Haudenosaunee and drove them from the southern Ontario region. Upon the arrival of the French to this region in the early 1600’s the Anishinaabe allied with them and participated in the French fur trade. However, by the mid 1700’s the Anishinaabe allied with the British to drive the French from Upper and Lower Canada.
- The Ojibway (also known as Chippewa) are the largest group of the Anishinaabe peoples and the second largest First Nation in Ontario, next only in number to the Cree Nation.
- The Ojibway are also made up of the Saulteaux who are Ojibway people that the French initially encountered living near the outlet of Lake Superior (Sault Ste. Marie) and later migrated west to the plains. The French terms Saulteaux has been retained to identify plains Ojibway.3
- The Mississauga are yet another branch of the Ojibway who initially settled around the Mississaugi River along the shores of northern Lake Huron and Manitoulin Island. By the time of contact with French explorers the Mississauga had become a distinct tribe of Anishinaabe. It was the French who named these peoples the Mississauga. Following contact portions of these people migrated to live in the Kawartha Lakes region and along the shore of Lake Ontario between the Credit River and present day Toronto.4
- The Algonquin peoples at the time of contact with the French in the 1600’s lived in the territories connected by tributaries to the Ottawa River. These regions became some of the initial grounds that fed the French Fur Trade. As a result the Algonquin allied with the French. However, deteriorating relationships between the French and Haudenosaunee resulted in the Haudenosaunee allying with the British against the French. As allies of the French the Algonquin were attacked and dispersed from their lands in present day Ontario by the Haudenosaunee. Survivors fled to Quebec seeking protection of the French and others joined their Odawa relatives.
- In 1856 five Algonquin families petitioned the Governor General for land within their traditional homelands since all of their hunting territories had been opened for settlement and sale. Their request was initially denied but in 1873 they were granted the land which is their present day reserve/First Nations territory.
- Today only one Algonquin community remains in Ontario (Algonquins of Golden Lake).
- The Potawatomi at the time of contact with Europeans inhabited the lands within the upper Mississippi River region. They were part of a long standing alliance with their Anishinaabe cousins the Odawa and Ojibway. Together they formed an alliance called the Council of Three Fires.
- During the early 17th century the Potawatomi fled to the Green Bay area due to warfare with the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) and Neutral Nation.
- By the end of contact with the French (1763) the Potawatomi had moved to the Detroit area.
- After France was defeated by the British the Potawatomi attempted to drive the British and Europeans from their lands. Although they were generally successful in defending their lands from British expansion the end of the American Revolution was followed with aggressive U.S. expansion efforts that ended with Treaties creating reservations and the removal of the Potawatomi from their lands (1830-1840). During this period of time many Potawatomi relocated to live with their Ojibway relatives within their communities in Canada.
- The Odawa are the third member of the Three Fires Confederacy or Council. At the time of contact with the French the Odawa hunted, trapped and traded along the Ottawa River as far east as present day Ottawa. They became important partners in the French fur trade.
- Their traditional homelands are believed to be Manitoulin Island where most Odawa currently reside in Ontario. They also settled on the Bruce Peninsula and southwestern Ontario west of London.
- Initially the Odawa fought with the French against the British and after the French were defeated, attempted to resist British expansion in 1763 (Chief Pontiacs Rebellion) but were defeated. During the American Revolution the Odawa fought with the British against the Americans and again during the war of 1812. During the 1780’s the Odawa fought a series of battles with the Americans in an attempt to resist U.S. expansion into their territories and those of their Ojibway and Potawatomi cousins.
At the time of contact with Europeans the Deleware (also referred to as Lenape) inhabited a region of present day New York State between the Deleware and lower Hudson rivers. This territory included a portion of Long Island. During the 16th and 17th centuries the Deleware traded with the Haudenosaunee, Dutch and British. However, smallpox severely reduced their population by 1640. In addition conflict with the Haudenosaunee and British settlers over land eventually forced the Deleware to move to relocate to the Ohio valley. Following U.S. independence aggressive expansion policies forced the Deleware further west.
Following a massacre of their Ohio community members by U.S. troops in 1782, surviving members were lead to southwestern Canada by a Moravian missionary. They initially settled near Amherstburg, Ontario but later also attained government permission to settle on their present lands on the Thames River. In 1819 a Chippewa (Ojibway) reserve was created next to the Deleware community and in 1840 the two reached an agreement to share the land. Today there are two Deleware communities in southwestern Ontario.
Although the Deleware language is from the Algonquin language it has evolved into a distinct language separate from the other Anishinabeg language groups.
- Kraft, Herbert c. The Lenape-Deleware Indian Heritage 10,000 B.C. to A.D. 2000. Lenape Books, 2001.
- Weslager, C.A. The Deleware Indians: A History, Rutgers Un.Press, 2000.
Oji-Cree people (also known as northern Ojibway) speak a dialect that is more closely related to Ojibway derived from the Algonquian language. However, this language has been influenced by the Cree dialect. Oji-Cree communities are located in northern Ontario between Ojibway and Cree speaking communities. This language is a transitional language that has evolved due to the close proximity and relationships that have existed for many generations between the Ojibway and Cree in northern Ontario. This is one of a few North American indigenous languages that is growing in numbers of fluent speakers.
Contact with Europeans began in 1670 when the British crown granted a charter to the Hudson’s Bay Company to establish fur trading posts along the shores of Hudson’s and James Bay. For over one hundred years the British and the French fought for control of the fur trade throughout northern Ontario. This became the primary industry for First Nations people up until 1990 when the Hudson’s Bay Company ceased to buy furs. It was through the relationships that formed between First Nations and European fur traders that the Métis Nation was born. It was not until 1905 and 1930 that treaties were signed with the Ojibway and Cree peoples of northern Ontario.
- Carlos, Ann and Lewis, Frank. Fur Trade (1670-1870) E.H. Net Encyclopedia, ed.R.Whaples, 2008.
- Rhodes, Richard and Evelyn Todd, Subarctic Algonquian Languages, June Helm ed. The Handbook of North American Indian col.6 Subarctic. 1981
The Cree people represent the largest population of First Nations people in Ontario. They also have the most fluent speakers of their language. Cree is the first language of most Cree people. Located in northern Ontario most of their communities are accessible by air only. The Cree language is a distinct language group that has evolved from the Algonquian base. Like their Anishinaabe cousins the Cree have migrated from the Atlantic coast to the Rocky mountains.
Different versions of the Cree dialect can be identified by the different territories they inhabit. Within northern Ontario there are the Moose or Moose Factory Cree in the east and the Swampy Cree in the west. Once again these people have been the backbone of the North American fur trade since the Hudson Bay Company established trading posts on the shores of Hudson and James Bays beginning in 1670. Aside from the battles between the English and French over the fur trade during the first 100 years, the Cree have remained relatively sheltered from European conflict over North America. Until recent times Cree contact with Europeans was mainly limited to hunting, trapping and guiding. It has only been since the treaties (1905 and 1930) were signed that the provincial government has begun to exploit the natural resources of this region. Since then new forms of contact and relationships with Canadians have emerged. This process of contact has resulted in the First Nations communities of northern Ontario experiencing some of the worst health conditions of all groups in Canada.
The recent hunger strike by Attawapiskat Cree Chief Spence is her attempt to draw the attention of Canadians to the deplorable conditions that her people live under. Some people equate the current living conditions of most northern First Nations people to that of third world communities.
- Grant, Bruce The Concise Encyclopedia of The American Indian. New York : Wings Books (2000) ISBN 0-517-69310-0.The Health Council of Canada
- A background paper to accompany Health Care Renewal in Canada : Accelerating Change. The Health Status of Canada’s First Nations, Métis and Inuit Peoples. January, 2005.
Prior to Canada’s crystallization as a nation, a new Aboriginal people emerged out of the relations of Indian women and European men. While the initial offspring of these Indian and European unions were individuals who simply possessed mixed ancestry, subsequent intermarriages between these mixed ancestry children resulted in the genesis of a new Aboriginal people with a distinct identity, culture and consciousness in west central North America – the Métis Nation.
The Métis people were connected through the highly mobile fur trade network, seasonal rounds, extensive kinship connections and a collective identity (i.e., common culture, language, way of life, etc.). Distinct Métis settlements emerged throughout what was then called “the Northwest”. In Ontario, historic Métis settlements emerged along the rivers and watersheds of the province, surrounding the Great Lakes and throughout to the northwest of the province. These settlements formed regional Metis communities in Ontario that are an indivisible part of the Metis Nation.
The Metis Nation of Ontario About the Metis Nation of Ontario www.metisnation.org
- 1Fenton, W. N. (1988). The Great Law and the Longhouse: A Political History of the Iroquois Confederacy. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.
- 1Graymont, B. (2005). The Iroquois. Chelsea House Publishers.
- 2Anthony, D. (2007). The Horse, the Wheels and Language. Princeton University Press.
- 3Warren, W. W. (1984). History of the Ojibway People.
- 4En.wikipedia.org/wiki/Algonquins_of_Pikwakanagan First Nation.
- 5Edmunds, R. D. (1988). The Potwatomis:Keepers of the Fire, Norman. OK: University of Oklahoma Press (Civilization of the American Indian Series).
- 6Wolff, G. W. and Cash, J. H. (1976). The Ottawa People, Phoenix, Arizona. Indian Tribal Series.