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How immigrants can learn more about Indigenous people in Canada

By CIC News 

June 21 is National Indigenous Peoples Day, an occasion to celebrate Indigenous people and cultures in Canada. Although immigrants oftentimes come to Canada not knowing much about Indigenous people, a recent Environics Institute survey suggests that immigrants generally want to support them, and one of the ways to do so is through learning.

Since white European settlers colonized the land we now know as North America, negative narratives of Indigenous peoples have been spread in the media, leading to harmful stereotypes. Canadians and immigrants alike may be influenced by these narratives.

Canada is now in a period of seeking reconciliation for its violent crimes against Indigenous people. The Canadian government’s attempts to erase Indigenous culture led to the creation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which put forth recommendations on how Canada can reconcile with Indigenous people.

The Environics Institute survey suggests that, despite their lack of exposure to Indigenous people, immigrants are mostly supportive of reconciliation.

“This is reassuring in terms of the process of reconciliation—the presence of so many immigrants in Canadian society is not in and of itself an impediment to making progress on reconciliation,” the survey results say. “When newcomers arrive here, they engage with Canadian issues and feel some responsibility for helping to move things forward.”

However, the knowledge gap suggests that newcomers to Canada are still lacking information about Indigenous people. In this article, we go over a brief history of European colonization in Canada, and offer resources for further learning.

The differences between terms

When we talk about Indigenous people in Canada, we’re referring to the collective name for the original peoples of North America. There are more than 1.6 million people who identify as Indigenous in Canada alone. Therefore, it is important to remember that being Indigenous is not a singular experience, but a collection of many experiences unique to each nation, group, community, family and individual.

The Canadian government recognizes three broad groups of Indigenous people: First Nations, Inuit, and Métis. Each group represents a diversity of cultures, histories, and ethnicities. First Nations refer to the people who belong to more than 630 communities across the country, representing more than 50 nations and languages. Inuit refers to the collective cultures of the people of the Arctic. Métis refers to the diverse cultures of people who were descended from European and Indigenous unions.

The term “Indian” when used to describe Indigenous people is said to come from Christopher Columbus, a European explorer who wrongly thought he had reached India in 1492. It is still used in Canadian law to this day, although it is considered offensive, especially when non-Indigenous people use it to describe Indigenous people.

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