Cultural heritage of indigenous people.
The first humans to inhabit present-day Canada, called Amerindians, probably came from somewhere around east Asia between 21,000 to 10,000 BC. At that time, the sea levels were low, exposing a large land bridge called the Bering Plain which connected both continents.
Aboriginals in Canada eventually divided into about fifty different tribes, which were then split into 600 smaller bands. This was mostly based on their geographical location. Even so, most of the tribes were similar in their hunter-gatherer lifestyles, as well as their societal values and spiritual beliefs. They used the most primitive of weapons, without advancing much in the field of science and technology. Some tribes adapted to the different geographical locations they lived in, including centering on fish in the ocean and river areas, particularly salmon, and bison hunting in the plains.
Although the Aboriginals did not have a written language, there were eleven oral languages and two sign languages, as well as more than 65 distinct dialects in total. In some provinces, some of these languages have become official languages along with the national languages of English and French.
The Aboriginals had their own diverse traditions of art, usually varying with each tribe and region. Notable ceremonial festivities include dance, storytelling and music, in which Shamans’ masks and rattles are commonly used. They had two types of music, social and ceremonial, where social music was typically a dance while ceremonial music involved vocal songs for ceremonies, usually performed in private. Both types of music had percussion accompaniments.
For millennia, the Aboriginals lived there on their own until the Europeans first migrated to North America in the 16th century. With their primitive lifestyle, the Aboriginals were seen as backwards and inferior to the Europeans, and in the way of the European conquest. Various European people had different ways to deal with the Aboriginals. In particular, the French and British colonists exploited them as cheap labor for the fur trade. The Aboriginals were also conscripted for the European armies or enslaved for their households. Some tribes were forced into unfair treaties and made to surrender their lands in exchange for unfulfilled promises of protection and safety.
Ultimately, the demise of the Aboriginal population came about from the diseases brought together with the European settlements. Since the Aboriginals had never known of diseases such as Typhoid, influenza and smallpox, they had no natural immunity and were extremely susceptible to breakouts without a cure. According to some historians, disease wiped out more than 90 percent of the Aboriginal population by the end of the 19th century. What was left of the Aboriginals was either designated to unimportant outskirts of the continent or forcefully assimilated into Western culture. The people were forbidden from practicing their cultural ceremonies and rites, and were made to attend residential schools that mistreated them, until almost none of the traditional Indian culture remained.
There are about 1.7 million Canadian Aboriginals today, numbering an approximate four percent of the Canadian population. Despite forced assimilation, Aboriginal culture made its way into everyday Canadian life. For example, activities from canoeing to lacrosse to tug of war were from the Canadian Aboriginals, as were maple syrup and tobacco. The Canadian Scouts and Girl Guides groups teach mostly Aboriginal survival knowledge. In addition, words such as barbecue, skunk, moose, caribou, chipmunk, woodchuck and hammock, as well as names of places in Canada, come from the Aboriginal languages.
It is believed that the Australian Aboriginals came from Asia, traveling through Southeast Asia, and have resided in Australia for close to 50,000 years. Although the sea levels were much lower in that period, the early Australians must have used some form of sea travel to reach the continent due to the great distances almost certainly still covered with water. If so, the Australian Aboriginals would be the first people to have traveled by sea.
There is evidence that they were involved in both agriculture and aquaculture. The Aboriginal people invented their own stone implements and used them as tools. Since they were in effect isolated from the rest of the world, they developed their own civilization over time, populating the whole continent and making use of its resources. Evidence suggests that the Aboriginals practiced cremation by 40,000 years ago and personal ornamentation by 30,000 years ago. They also started to engage in barter trades by about 8,000 BC.
Dingo fossils suggest that the animal came to Australia from Southeast Asia with seafarers around 3,500 years ago. Many of them were wild and spread across the continent, isolated from other animal groups, but they were also reportedly domesticated to some extent at least by the time of the British colonists.
The Australian Aboriginals lived there undisturbed until the Europeans sent their convicts to form a settlement on the continent in 1788. While it is not known how many Aboriginals there were at the time, it is believed that the number was somewhere between 300,000 to one million. The Aboriginals themselves were split up into many different groups as they spread throughout the continent, speaking over 250-400 different native languages in total.
In Aboriginal culture, it was customary to tell the stories of cultural traditions, beliefs and past events, called “oral tradition”. These stories were typically passed down through generations for thousands of years. For instance, the Gunditjmara oral histories tell the stories of volcanic eruptions. These stories were in fact proved true when radiometric dating showed that the Budj Bim and Tower Hill volcanoes both erupted between 34,000 to 40,000 years ago. Furthermore, an axe was unearthed from beneath the volcanic ash, proving that the area was once inhabited by humans before the volcanoes erupted.
The oral tradition often detailed the Aboriginal spiritual beliefs, including reverence for the land and the belief of Dreaming, the Aboriginal interpretation of cosmology and creation in the ancient days. Different groups of Aboriginals also have their own key historical figures and deities, such as the Rainbow Serpent, Baiame or Bunjil as the primary creator spirits and the Yowie and Bunyip as Aboriginal mythological figures.
Aboriginals held ceremonies as a vital part of their culture. The ceremonies, which are still performed by Aboriginals today, can be held for a wide variety of events and usually involve a feast, the telling of stories, and the practicing of rites at sacred places. The people often partake in dance and song, as well as putting on elaborate body decoration and costumes. In some cases, the stories, decorations and symbols are “owned” by that Aboriginal group and are meant to be circulated only within the group.
It was only in the last two centuries that the Aboriginals began to self-identify as a single group. Today, Australian Aboriginals comprise about 3.3% of the population of Australia. Some of them also live in other countries around the world. Those who live in remote areas are the last few who speak some of the Australian Aboriginal languages, and represent the last surviving links to a culture that is nearly extinct.
Author: Kelly Felder