When Europeans arrived in the eastern part of Canada, the inhabitants belonged to three distinct linguistic groups. The Inuit (Eskimo) were nomadic hunters, who occupied the north shore of the Gulf of St. Lawrence River and the Arctic region. Until the 19th century, they had only sporadic contact with white people. The Iroquoian population, which included the Huron-Wendat (Huron) and the Iroquois, were concentrated in the Great Lakes basin region. A semi-sedentary people, they farmed, fished and hunted. The Algonquian population, which included nations such as the Innu (Montagnais), Mi'kmaq, the Abenaki and the Algonquin, were distributed throughout the rest of the territory. The majority were nomadic and lived by hunting, fishing and gathering. The society was communal, and property was collective. Despite frequent trading, the various nations were often at war. From the start, the Aboriginal peoples of North America made themselves essential to the French as suppliers of pelts and furs, and played a key role in the economy of New France. They also took part in the conflicts between the French and English in North America. The arrival of the immigrants—with evangelization, attempts at cultural assimilation, technical progress and diseases brought from Europe—resulted in a profound upheaval in the way of life of the Aboriginal population. Because their culture was oral, it was through accounts written by missionaries and explorers, and the iconography they used to describe them, often not based in reality, that Aboriginal traditions and language were revealed.

Kleedinge Van Canada [Costumes of Canada], ca. 1650
CA ANC Peter Winkworth Collection R9266-2428
Two Aboriginal Persons in France
Languages of the Aboriginal Peoples
Iroquois Families
Iroquois Gifts
The Treaty of 1701
Letter from the Abenaki to the King
A Huron Address
Iroquois Envoys
Journal of La Vérendrye
The Inuit
The Birchbark Canoe
Aboriginal Spirituality
Letter from a Nun
The “Imaginary Indian”