First Nations people lived life with great respect for the land and all that Mother Earth provided. They had a lifestyle that was focused on survival (food, water, and shelter). They had a complex worldview that all things are interconnected. Today, many First Nations people still follow these ways of life, but many no longer do as a result of colonization.
First Nations people believe all things are filled with spirit. Humans, plants, animals, insects, rocks, the earth, the moon, and the sun all have a spirit and are sacred. Through spirit, everything is connected, and respect must be shown to other spirits. They followed ancient protocols of developing, building, and maintaining relationships with other humans, animals, the earth, and the supernatural.
First Nations people have a deep belief that the Creator placed people on earth to take care of the land and all its relations.
ART BY LEAH MARIE DORION
Land stewardship is a way of living. It means to take care of each other, take care of Mother Earth and all its relations.
Caring for the land and all its relations means respecting everything. Deep and sincere respect has to be shown and given every time life is taken during hunting and fishing adventures. Respect is shown by using everything the animal or fish provided, and never wasting or leaving things to rot or spoil. Often an offering of tobacco is also given back to Mother Earth as a sign of gratitude and respect.
To properly look at the area for the reserves, you would need a plane to view the land from the sky; but when the treaties were signed, planes were yet to be invented. Measuring tools were inaccurate and there was no way to view the land from the sky. Disagreements still exist today on actual size agreed upon in the treaties.
First Nations people recognized the land did not just belong to them. They shared the land with each other and all other creatures and there was no concept of private property or ownership. They did not own or claim anything as their own. They lived as communities and took care of each other, making sure everyone had what they needed to survive.
Hunters and Gatherers
The First Nations people lived as hunters and gathers. They understood that humans must live with Mother Earth’s creatures and its beings. They lived a sustainable lifestyle by sharing the land with the animals.
ART BY LEAH MARIE DORION
The First Nations’ worldview honours animals and plants.
First Nations communities worked together to hunt, fish, and get food from the land. They were always careful not to waste and leave the land with plenty of resources to share another day. First Nations people never hunted female animals because they were life givers. They were also careful when picking berries and vegetables to leave enough to grow for the next year.
First Nations people would leave enough berries for the plant to grow the next year.
Taking care of each other was important and no one ever went hungry. If there were people in the community who could not hunt or prepare food because they were ill or elderly, others in the community made sure they had food.
It was thought that the horses came with the Europeans, but recent evidence reveals that horses were in North America long before the settlers. Horses have always been important to the First Nations people and were used to hunt, travel, and trade.
Photo Credit: Saskatoon Public Library History Room
Chief Star Blanket is mounted on a horse in front of two tipis in 1874.
The bond between human and horse is sacred to the Nehiyawak.
Women were highly respected because they were ‘life givers’. In many First Nations communities, women held positions of power and leadership. Many communities were matriarchal. The women were responsible for the children, the tipis, the dogs, and more. While many First Nations had male chiefs, in some societies, the women selected the chiefs.
First Nations women were highly respected because they were ‘life givers’, and were given many responsibilities within their communities.
A Place for All
All people in First Nation societies belonged. There weren’t specific jobs for girls and boys. Girls could hunt and boys could prepare the meals. Elders tell of gifted people who had ‘Two-Spirits,’ both a masculine and feminine spirit. Two-Spirited people were often the visionaries, healers, and the medicine people.
ART BY LEAH MARIE DORION
All people in First Nation societies belonged. No one was left out.
In Indigenous culture, being a warrior meant completing a great deed or task. The deed or task had to be something that would result in a positive outcome. The individuals would focus on the teachings that came from the tasks. These teachings included learning how to share, communicate, and live their lives with humility and wisdom.
Nation to Nation Relationships
First Nations were aware of each other and knew who the leaders of different tribes or clans were. There were alliances, partnerships, and relationships with neighbouring tribes. They had been forming treaties for centuries before Europeans arrived.
At times, First Nations tribes had disputes with other tribes. In hard times, they would negotiate peace and share hunting grounds or trade.
While tribes had disputes over things like hunting areas or trading partners, this did not mean that they were always fighting. Sometimes disputes between tribes were settled by tasks that warriors accomplished. For example, if a person from one tribe was able to sneak into an enemy camp and touch the enemy with the palm of their hand or steal a horse without being caught, this would resolve the dispute.
Horse stealing, which required being brave and daring, were tasks that harnessed young men’s skills. These skills were demonstrated in some stories shared of First Nations soldiers who fought in WW1 or WW2.