Modern Day Toronto | Image Source: www.pointnoted.com
It is First Nations protocol to acknowledge the traditional territories upon which one visits or seeks relationship with. To acknowledge Indigenous traditional territory is to recognize that ‘Canada’ has a long history dating back before european colonization and refers to the fact that First Nations have lived and occupied these lands since time immemorial. Today the practice of acknowledging Indigenous territories is growing with more non-Native people becoming aware that Indigenous history has been denied long enough. Practically all of the major cities (and towns) in Canada were built upon long established Indigenous settlements already identified as plentiful and managed for sustainable resource development and trade routes. While colonization worked to erase and re-name Indigenous histories, we see a movement taking place across ‘Kanata’* and Turtle Island to unpack and acknowledge the roots of Canada – “Our home ON Native land.”
*Canada is derived from the Huron-Iroquois word “kanata”, which means “village”.
MUSKRAT presents the following list meant to start a conversation and to encourage individuals, cities, governments and institutions to recognize the relationship they have with Indigenous Peoples and traditional and unceded territories.
1. Ottawa, ON – Algonquins of Pikwakanagan
Ottawa is derived from the the Algonquin word “Odawa” meaning “to trade”. Pikwakanagan means “a hilly place” in Algonquin. The reserve community is 1 ½ hours from Ottawa near the Bonnechere River in Golden Lake, ON. It is the origin of the largest birch bark canoe in the world. The Algonquins are known for constructing large birch bark canoes.
Toronto comes from the word tkaronto, which is Mohawk for “‘where the trees are standing in the water.” The word describes, the narrows, where Anishinabek and Hurons would congregate and create weirs with large wooden stakes to catch fish. Toronto has a rich history of being occupied by several First Nations at various times and in that sense cannot be narrowed down to just one Nation. Today The Mississaugas of the New Credit is the First Nation that is acknowledged by local governments as they had long established settlements in the territory of what is now known as Toronto at the time of contact.
3. Vancouver, BC -Coast Salish: Musqueam and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations
Musqueam means “people of the river grass”. Tsleil-Waututh means “people of the inlet” whose traditional territory is the Burrard Inlet. Both are descendants of the Coast Salish culture and speak Halkomelem. Vancouver was named after explorer John Vancouver.
4. Edmonton, AB – Treaty 6 Territory: Cree, Assiniboine, Saulteaux, and Chipewya
The Cree Nation referred to this area as “amiskowatsi-waski-gan” meaning, “beaver hills house.” Treaty 6 was signed in 1876 at Fort Carlton in Saskatchewan. The territory encompasses mid Alberta and Saskatchewan. Tribes include Cree, with some Assiniboine, Saulteaux, and Chipewyan. Edmonton was named after the birthplace of Sir James Winter Lake (HBC Governor at the time) who was from a small town in England of the same name.
5. Calgary, AB – Treaty 7 : Blackfoot Confederacy, Tsuu T’ina, Stoney
The Blackfoot called this area “moh-kíns-tsis” which meant elbow. Treaty 7 was signed in 1877 at the Blackfoot Crossing on modern day Siksika First Nation. This treaty includes the Blackfoot Confederacy, (Siksika, Piikani (Peigan) and Kainaiwa (Blood)), Tsuu T’ina (Sarcee), the Stoney (Bearspaw, Chiniki, and Wesley/Goodstoney) and encompasses the southernmost part of Alberta. Calgary is derived from the Old Norse words “kald” and “gart” meaning “cold” and “garden”. Its named after Calgary on the Isle of Mull in Scotland
6. Yellowknife, NWT – Dene First Nations
The Indigenous people would call this area “Somba K’e” which is Dogib for “money place”. Dogib is one of the many dialects spoken in that area. The term Yellowknife is acquired from the name the Dene were called by european settlers. “Yellowknives” or “Copper Indians” refers to the color of the tools they made from copper deposits. It was the Dene who helped develop mining and trading tools in the area.
7. Whitehorse – Taa’ankwachan and Kwalinin-Dun First Nations
Taa’an means “head of lake,” which is Lake Laberge and Kwalinin means “water through a narrow place” describing Miles Canyon and Whitehorse rapids. These nations are from the Southern Tutchone Tribe, a mobile tribe, whose movements followed moose, salmon runs and other fur bearing animals. Whitehorse is named after the historic Whitehorse rapids located south of the city said to produce white frothing on the water surface that resembled the manes of white horses.
8. Halifax – Mi’kmaq
The Mi’kmaq traditional territory also includes Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, the Gaspe Peninsula, southwestern Newfoundland and northern Maine. Their language is an eastern form of Algonquian. They would call this area “Jipugtug” which means “the biggest harbour”. When the city was being settled it was named after the 2nd Earl of Halifax in West Yorkshire, England, George Montagu-Dunk, who was also the Chief Lord of Trade and Plantations at the time. Halifax derives from the Old English word “halyfax” meaning “area of coarse grass in the nook of land.”
9. Winnipeg MB- Treaty 1: Chippewas, Swampy Cree
Named after Lake Winnipeg, the word transcribes from the Western Cree word “winipek” meaning “muddy, brackish water”. Treaty 1 was signed at Lower Fort Garry in 1871 and covers southern Manitoba including the city of Winnipeg. The nations included in the treaty are Chippewas and Swampy Cree Nations.
10. Iqaluit NU – Inuit
Iqaluit means ‘many fish’ in Inuktitut. This was a traditional area that the Inuit would gather to fish. Sir Martin Frobisher named this area after himself once he ‘discovered it’ on an exploration trip. In 1942 Frobisher Bay was founded as an American airbase for aircrafts to stopover and refuel, which led to a growth in population of Inuit people who were looking for job opportunities and access to healthcare. On January 1, 1987- the name Frobisher Bay was dropped and officially changed to its original name: Iqaluit. As of April 1, 1999 the Northwest Territories split in two with the creation of the Territory of Nunavut, establishing Iqaluit as it’s capital.
11. Montreal- Mohawks of Kahnawà:ke or the Kanienke’haka Mohawk Nation
The Mohawks are a component of the Iroquoian Confederacy and are considered to be “the people of the flint” and “keepers of the eastern door”. Kahnawà:ke means “on the rapids”, and is a reference to their original settlement, Caughnawaga near the rapids of the Mohawk River in New York. Once they were converted to catholic they moved their settlement north to the area where it is today. The most popular theory is that the name Montreal came from the word Mont Royal and through a succession of many translations, including Italian, became to be known as the Montreal we know today.
An interactive map of all of the Native reserves across Canada:
Another interactive map that tells you which traditional territory a city/town sits on:
The Museum of History put together this site to give more information on Indigenous names for different areas: