||Canada's First Peoples
This lesson corresponds to material found in:
Episode 1 When the World Began...
Backgrounder and Activity
This activity focuses on the chapter of Episode 1 entitled "Origins."
Aboriginal people have lived in North America for at least
12,000 years and possibly much longer. This video
excerpt recounts the rich and varied history of the first
occupants of the territory that would become Canada. It
offers viewers the commonly held theory of how the first
Amerindians came from Asia, most likely crossing the land
bridge that occasionally spanned the Bering Strait during
the Ice Ages. This land bridge emerged and disappeared
several times, opening North America to its first
inhabitants. It is believed that its most recent surfacing
came during the last Ice Age about 14,000 years ago
and that, at that time, Canada's aboriginal people
crossed this land bridge and made their way into North
Archaeologists find the land bridge theory to be the most plausible explanation for the migration of Native populations to North America. Earth's last ice age began about 80,000 years ago and ended about 12,000 years ago. During this period great ice sheets covered much of northern North America. These great ice sheets may have been almost three kilometres deep and may have held much of the oceans' water, causing ocean levels to drop.
As ocean levels went down, the ocean floor was exposed in some areas. One such area was the Bering Strait between modern day Siberia and Alaska. This dry land, called Beringia, may have acted as a land bridge between Asia and North America. Large herbivores such as caribou, muskoxen, bison, and mammoth moved across the land bridge followed by hunters from Asia in search of food.
Over thousands of years, the temperatures became warmer and the great ice sheets melted. The melt water flooded the land bridge and the hunters from Asia were trapped in North America, becoming Canada's first inhabitants.
Activity: What's in a Name?
Christopher Columbus first used the word "Indian" to describe the natives of North America because he thought that he had reached the East Indies. The word "Eskimo", first used by a French priest in the 1600s, means "eaters of raw meat." Neither group of native peoples uses those names for themselves.
Have students research the names of various native peoples and the meaning of those names. Record their work on chart paper, then ask:
- What is the most common meaning of a nation's name?
- What does this tell you about how the groups think of themselves?
CATCH (ARRANGE THE FOLLOWING INTO A 2-COLUMN CHART):
First Nations Names and Their Meanings:
Assiniboin (people who use stones to cook)
Beothuk (man or human)
Dene (the people)
Inuit (the people)
Haida (the people)
Iroquois (poisonous snake)
Kutchin (the people)
Micmac (allies or friends)
Mohawk (man eater)
Salish (the people)
Naskapi (rude people)
Next, have students research other words we use that are Aboriginal in origin. They can brainstorm such common words as "toboggan," "tobacco," "moccasin," and so on. They can also locate place names on a political map of Canada and research to learn their meanings.