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1840-1890: 3rd Wave

Impact on Indigenous People


When Europeans arrived, the way First Nations people had been living for thousands of years began to change. The change would be irreversible.

The European settlers treated Canada as a British colony. They tried to (and eventually succeeded) in taking control of the First Nations territory and brought in their own systems of law, government, and religion. This process is called colonization.

A First Nations man is riding a horse as it jumps across a stream of water.

The way of life for First Nations people began to change when settlers arrived.

The relationships between the first settlers (fur traders mainly) and the First Nations people were generally good. Land was shared for hunting and trading. Unfortunately, this did not last. The treaties, Indian Act and other government actions that were put into place during this time were devastating to First Nations people.

Bison Herds Destroyed

The Canadian and United States governments knew how important the bison were to First Nations people. They knew that it would be hard for First Nations people to survive without the bison and they planned to exterminate the bison. They sent military groups or ‘Buffalo Hunters’ to eliminate the buffalo around First Nations territories.

The loss of the buffalo was devastating to First Nations people. 

Prior to the arrival of Europeans, it’s estimated that there were over 30 million bison roaming North America.

By the late 1800s, the number of bison remaining in North America was as low as 541.

Destroying the buffalo was one way to force First Nations people to sign treaties or agree to treaties. This strategy was very cruel and cold-hearted.

A pile of bones is shown with two men standing on it.

The bison skulls and bones were used for fertilizer and the rest of the animal was left to decay.

The disappearance of the bison was devastating and heartbreaking for the First Nations and Métis people who had relied on the bison for their main source of food and materials for many years. When the bison were mass slaughtered, the way of life for First Nations and Métis people changed forever.

illustrated tipi

Today’s tipis are made up of canvas, but back in the days when bison was abundant, the tipis were made of bison hides.

The men would have to travel far, farther than they had ever gone before to find the animals. For example, hunters from the George Gordon and Muskowekwan Reserves (near Punnichy and Raymore towns) had to travel towards Cypress Hills area to hunt as that was a prime hunting area for bigger game including elk, moose, and deer. 

One First Nations man is kneeling holding a gun and blowing into a horn, another First Nations man is standing and pointing a gun at a Moose. There are trees around.

Big game became rarer to find.

First Nations people were beginning to starve due to the disappearance of bison on the Plains. This placed a lot of pressure on them to sign or agree to treaties the newcomers presented. First Nations people also had to adopt new practices to sustain themselves. They had to trade furs for food or learn to farm European crops.

Food Challenges

Finding food was becoming very difficult. There were not as many animals to hunt and the native plants were being cultivated. It was also not easy for First Nations people to leave the reserves due to The Pass System.

The Pass System was a government-monitored and controlled system where Indigenous people would have to ask an Indian Agent for permission to leave or return to their reserve. Because of this restriction of movement, Indigenous people had less access to food.

It became very hard to find food, especially in winter.

First Nations people found it harder to hunt and gather food when they had to worry about other groups such as other tribes, newcomers, military, and illegal whiskey sellers who came from the United States. When First Nations people did get permission to leave the reserve to hunt, they often had to cross traditional hunting grounds of other First Nations or land that newcomers were now on. This resulted in disputes and fights.

An illustrated First Nation man is holding a spear.

The Cree, Assiniboine, and Saulteaux formed large hunting parties and entered enemy Blackfoot territory in force.

Before treaty agreements, some of the early settlers began to break the land. Traditional lands and plants that First Nations people depended on were destroyed due to the cultivation of soil and the building of towns. The settlers changed the environment and, in the view of First Nations people, acted with no respect for the land and the animals. Animal habitats were destroyed to make way for railways, roads, farms, towns, and logging. Wildlife became harder to find, trap, and hunt. The two worldviews were clashing.

Animal habitats were destroyed by the railway and towns. Hunting for food became much more difficult.


First Nations people had lived on the North American continent for thousands of years and had grown accustomed to the weather and the environment. Indigenous people had never come in contact with European diseases, which meant that they did not have any natural protection from the sicknesses that came with the settlers.

An illustrated Indigenous person is laying down with a bowl of food next to them inside of a tipi.

Many First Nations people died because of foreign diseases.

When the newcomers came to the Prairies, they brought sicknesses such as smallpox, sore throats, whooping cough, typhoid, colds, and influenza. Lice and bedbugs came with the newcomers as well. The First Nations people had no immunity to these foreign diseases, and they devastated their communities.

A group of Indigenous people are grouped together, wrapped tightly in blankets. Crowfoot stands in the middle with nine children around him.


Crowfoot, a Blackfoot Chief, with children in 1884. Within two years of the photo being taken, all nine children pictured, several of whom were his own, had died of tuberculosis.

Many new things had come with the Europeans. Some of the new items could benefit the First Nations people, such as certain tools. Unfortunately, it is suspected that sometimes the blankets brought from Europe and given as gifts were contaminated with contagious diseases that caused First Nations people to be ill or even die.

An Indigenous man and woman are wrapped in blankets and stand in front of a tipi.


Chief Poundmaker and his wife stand before a tipi, both wrapped in Hudson’s Bay Blankets.

Alcohol was a substance that didn’t exist in Canada naturally before the Europeans arrived. Europeans first introduced alcohol to the First Nations people during the trading era. It was an item for trade and First Nations called it ‘Fire Water’. Alcohol is not native to First Nations people and their bodies were not used to it.