Sociology Index

Aboriginal Peoples of Canada

Books On Customs And Traditions

Contrary to the belief of Europeans, that the "state of nature" can and should be improved through the labour of man, "Aboriginals view the natural world as perfect."

In the variety of Aboriginal cultural traditions in Canada today commonalities can be found even though these commonalities are most often manifest in varying environmental or behaviourial contexts. It is not that there is only one Aboriginal culture that is generally applicable to all of Canada's Aboriginal people or that Aboriginal culture can be understood as a form of Pan-Indianism making all Aboriginal people in Canada behave in the same fashion. It is actually quite the opposite.

The cultural traditions of the various Aboriginal peoples in Canada are very different one from the other. In order to understand and appreciate the various cultural traditions practised by the Aboriginal peoples in Canada today a brief look must be taken at the path these cultures have had to follow since coming into contact with the many influences presented to them by Europeans as European migration progressed across the lands of the Aboriginal peoples of Canada. Aboriginal people are often told by the Elders that we cannot know where we are today or where we are going unless we know where we have come from.

Earlier cultural traditions of Aboriginal people can be seen by looking at what the first meetings between Aboriginal people and Europeans were like. This can be done by reading the descriptions left to us by European people who experienced these interactions first hand.

For example, in his Letter to the Sovereigns (in 1492), which was promptly printed at Barcelona and widely distributed throughout Europe in a Latin translation, [Christopher] Columbus stresses the gentleness and generosity of the Aboriginal people:

Aboriginal people are so ingenuous and free with all they have, that no one would believe it who has not seen it; of anything that they possess, if it be asked of them, they never say no; on the contrary, they invite you to share it and show as much love as if their hearts went with it, and they are content with whatever trifle be given them, whether it be a thing of value or of petty worth. I forbade that they be given things so worthless of broken crockery and of green glass and lace-points, although when they could get them, they thought they had the best jewel in the world.

Aboriginal people never close the door upon a Stranger, and, once having received him into their houses, they share with him the best they have; they never send him away, and when he goes away of his own accord, he repays them by a simple "thank you."
In their respective reports of their first encounters with the Aboriginal people of America by both Christopher Columbus and Father Le Jeune, they speak about the similar values displayed in the cultural behaviours of the Aboriginal people they came into contact with. Values very different from those of the European reporters. In their reports they describe Aboriginal people who are caring, loving, and sharing amongst themselves and with others. Over two hundred years later, and about three thousand miles west of where Father Le Jeune had his first experiences, these same values are displayed again on the far distant prairies of what is now Canada.

Father Le Jeune writes:

We see shining among Aboriginal people some rather noble moral virtues. You note, in the first place, a great love and union, which Aboriginal people are careful to cultivate by means of their marriages, of their presents, of their feasts, and of their frequent visits. On returning from their fishing, their hunting, and their trading, Aboriginal people exchange many gifts; even if they have thus obtained something unusually good, even if they have bought it, or if it has been given to them, they make a feast to the whole village with it. The hospitality of Aboriginal people towards all sorts of strangers is remarkable; Aboriginal people present to them, in their feasts, the best of what they have prepared, and, as I have already said, I do not know if anything similar, in this regard, is to be found anywhere.