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Topic – Names of Indigenous Peoples

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Names of Indigenous Peoples

There are many Indigenous groups across the country. Many of their names mean “the people” in their languages, including Beothuk (pronounced Bee-oh-thuk), Haida (pronounced High-dah), Innu (pronounced In-noo), Inuit (pronounced In-noo-it), and Salish (pronounced Say-lish). Here are some of the other well-known Indigenous groups in Canada and what their names mean.

Indigenous peoples in North America at the time of European contact

Peoples of the West Coast and Plains 

The Indigenous peoples known by English speakers as Tlingit (pronounced Kling-kit) call themselves Lingit (pronounced Ling-kit), which means “people of the tides.” This group depended on the ocean and its plants and animals for survival. The Lingit word Naas, which means “food depot,” was given to the Nass River in northern British Columbia. The name refers to the great number of fish they could catch there in the spring, which fed a great many people. The Indigenous name Nisga’a (pronounced Niss-gaah) means “people of the Nass River.”

Lillooet (pronounced Li-low-wet) means “wild onion” and is a name given to an Indigenous group that lived where this plant grew well. The name Shuswap (pronounced Shoo-swop) was created by fur traders who could not pronounce the group’s name, Secwepemc (pronounced sheh-whep-m), which means “downriver.”

Peoples of the Plains

Pair of Blackfoot moccasins, Honolulu Museum of Art

The Siksika (pronounced Sik-sikah) are also known as the Blackfoot. Siksika means “black foot.” The name refers to the dark moccasins that these Indigenous peoples wore.

Chipewyan (pronounced Chip-ah-why-an) is a name that means “pointed skins.” It comes from the way these peoples dried beaver skins, which created points on the parkas made from them. The Chipewyans call themselves Dene (pronounced Deh-nay), which means “people.”

People of the Woodlands

Huron (pronounced Hyer-on) was the name French explorers gave to the Wendat, or Wyandot (pronounced Why-an-dot) Indigenous peoples. Huron means “wild boar” in French. Wyandot means “peninsula people,” and they originally lived in the St. Lawrence Valley.

Marguerite Vincent Lawinonkié, famous Huron-Wendat craftswoman

The name Iroquois (pronounced Ear-oh-kwah)) comes from a word meaning “real snakes.” It was an insulting name given to the people by their enemies and was used by the English and French settlers. These Indigenous peoples called themselves Haudenosaunee (pronounced Ho-dee-no-show-nee), which means “people of the longhouse” and refers to the style of homes they lived in. Today, they are one of six Indigenous groups that joined together to form the Six Nations.

In the Maritimes and Eastern Woodlands, the name Mi’kmaq (pronounced mee-gmakh) came from a word that means “my friends.” The Ojibway or Ojibwe (both pronounced Oh-jib-way) people got their name from a word meaning “puckered.” It refers to the puckered moccasins they wore. The Ojibway call themselves Anishinabe (pronounced A-nish-shin-aw-bay), which means “original people.”


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