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1640-1840: 2nd wave

First Nations

Traditional Territory

For thousands of years, First Nations peoples were the caretakers of the land. They respected the land very much and lived in careful balance with the environment, taking only what they needed. When settlers began arriving on the Plains (in Western Canada), life began to change for First Nations people.

A mosaic showing Indigenous people moving items from a boat to a tipi.


For centuries, First Nations people were caretakers of the land.

Many First Nations people were forced off their traditional territories and some moved into other Nation’s territories. The First Nations groups living in Saskatchewan today are not all the same as they were when the settlers began to arrive.

A First Nations woman and two children are tanning a moose hide in a forest. All are facing away from the camera.

Tanning a Hide

First Nations people relied on the land and animals for hunting, trapping and fishing.

Not in India

When European explorers first arrived in North America, they mistakenly thought they were in India. When they saw the Indigenous people who were the original inhabitants of the land, the colonists called them ‘Indians’. This term is not used anymore because it was incorrect and is offensive to many.

Indigenous people are believed to have come to the Plains approximately 11,000 years ago.


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 very important to the First Nations people because horses helped them to hunt, travel, and trade.

Image of a Nehiyaw man stands beside a horse while holding its reins. The man wears ceremonial dress called regalia and an ornate blanket hangs around the horse's neck.

The bond between human and horse is sacred to the Nehiyawak.

Anishinaabe (Saulteaux)

Some Anishinaabe (Saulteaux) began to move west with the fur trade in the 1700s. The Anishinaabe were often middlemen in the fur trade, trading with the English and French and other Indigenous groups. The Anishinaabe came from the Woodland area in Eastern Canada and slowly adopted a mixed culture of Woodlands and Plains Indigenous customs and traditions.

An illustrated man is sitting next to a canoe in the water, while a First Nations man pets a horse in the background.

First Nations people used canoes and horses to travel.

Siksika and Blood Nations

The Siksika and Blood Nations (now part of Blackfoot Confederacy) traditionally occupied a vast area of land from the Rocky Mountains east to the North Saskatchewan River and down into the United States. They resisted the settlers and often fought over hunting territory with other First Nations. When their traditional way of life could not be maintained they eventually signed treaties and were pushed onto reserves in southern Alberta.

A Chief, his wife, and children are dressed in traditional Blackfoot clothing and posing for a photo.

Photo Credit: University of Saskatchewan Archives

Portrait of a Blackfoot chief, his wife, and child dressed in regalia.

Nehiyaw (Cree)

The Nehiyaw (Cree) are one people but there are many different regional groups that have their own customs, traditions, and different languages. Swampy Cree, Oji-Cree, and Plains Cree primarily hunted bison on the grassy plains of Saskatchewan and the Bush (Woods) Cree lived in the forest area.

A Cree man in traditional Plains Cree regalia sits facing parallel to the camera.

Photo Credit: Saskatchewan archives board

There are many different Cree groups in Saskatchewan.

During the fur trade, the Nehiyaw expanded their territory and the Blackfoot were pushed westward towards the mountains and southern Alberta. Today, the Cree are the Indigenous group with the highest population in Saskatchewan.

Language Groups

European contact resulted in the common use of First Nations names that were different from the way they referred to themselves. The proper self-ascribed names of the First Nations of Saskatchewan are as follows:


  • Nêhiyawak (Cree)
  • Nahkawininiwak (Saulteaux)
  • Nakota (Assiniboine)
  • Dakota and Lakota (Sioux Language Group) 
  • Denesuline (Dene/Chipewyan)

5 Nêhiyawak Words

Thank you in Nahkawininiwak

Hello in Nakota

Hello in Dakota

Hello in Lakota