Chapter 5. Indigenous Canada in the Era of Contact

5.1 Introduction

Drawing of a man and a woman wearing loose clothing, pointy hats, and blankets worn like capes.
Figure 5.1 An 18th century Abenaki couple (artist unknown).

For the first 300 years of contact between Europe and Canada, Indigenous communities’ autonomy remained more or less intact. Displacement had occurred in some places, but the limited ambitions of New France as a settlement colony mitigated wholesale loss of lands and power. That is not to say that Indigenous life was not under threat. The proto-contact period, the contact period, and the post-contact period all witnessed changes in Indigenous peoples’ life and authority that were profound. Indigenous people and societies were not, however, being acted upon. There were many Indigenous agendas: economic, political, military, and territorial. What were the priorities driving Indigenous people at a time when territory was being lost in increments to newcomers, long-time neighbours were squeezing westward and colliding with others, and epidemics were cutting a swath through populations? How did Indigenous people perceive what was taking place, and what future did they seek to create for themselves under changing circumstances?

Historians on Video

European accounts of Indigenous societies at the time of contact are marked by the perceptual blinkers worn by the first visitors. Peter Cook, a historian at the University of Victoria, describes how misunderstandings were as good as hardwired into the contact experience. Here is a link to the transcript of the video titled How were Aboriginal peoples depicted in early English and French travel writing? [PDF].

Learning Objectives

  • Describe the ways in which Indigenous people perceived the newcomers.
  • Analyze the impact of the European intrusion on the traditional patterns of Indigenous life.
  • Describe the Columbian Exchange and its ramifications for Indigenous societies.
  • Enumerate some of the major Indigenous political responses to invasion.
  • Account for Indigenous engagement in the fur trade.

Video Attributions

Media Attributions


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5.1 Introduction Copyright © 2020 by John Douglas Belshaw is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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