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Canada's First Peoples (includes activity)
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LESSON 1: Canada's First Peoples
(includes activity)
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This lesson corresponds to material found in:
Episode 1 When the World Began...

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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 America.


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?



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)

  • Ottawa (traders)

  • Salish (the people)

  • Naskapi (rude people)

  • Cree

  • Dakota

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.

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    Episode 1
    When the World Began...
    Lesson 1 Canada's First Peoples
    (includes activity)
    Lesson 2 Stories of Creation
    Lesson 3 Cartier and Donnacona

    Episode 2
    Adventures and Mystics
    Lesson 4 The Beginning of the Fur Trade
    (includes activity)
    Lesson 5 The Jesuits and the Huron
    Lesson 6 Immigration to New France

    Episode 3
    Claiming the Wilderness
    Lesson 7 Expansion to the Gulf of Mexico
    (includes activity)
    Lesson 8 The Expulsion of the Acadians

    Episode 4
    Battle for a Continent
    Lesson 9 Before the Battle of the Plains of Abraham
    Lesson 10 The Battle of the Plains of Abraham
    Lesson 11 The Quebec Act
    (includes activity)

    Episode 5
    A Question of Loyalties
    Lesson 12 Conflict in Quebec, 1775
    Lesson 13 United Empire Loyalists
    (includes activity)
    Lesson 14 Sir Isaac Brock and Tecumseh

    Episode 6
    The Pathfinders
    Lesson 15 The Fur Trade in Canada
    (includes activity)
    Lesson 16 The Selkirk Settlers
    Lesson 17 The Gold Rush

    Episode 7
    Rebellion and Reform
    Lesson 18 The Rebellions of 1837
    Lesson 19 Union of the Canadas
    (includes activity)
    Lesson 20 A Land of Hope

    Episode 8
    The Great Enterprise
    Lesson 21 Newcomers to Canada
    Lesson 22 The Making of Confederation
    (includes activity)
    Lesson 23 Confederation in the Maritimes

    Episode 9
    From Sea to Sea
    Lesson 24 The Red River Resistance
    (includes activity)
    Lesson 25 The Pacific Scandal

    Episode 10
    Taking the West
    Lesson 26 The North-West Rebellion
    Lesson 27 The Trial of Louis Riel
    Lesson 28 Macdonald's National Dream

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