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Up to 1640: 1st Wave
Indigenous Peoples


Indigenous people lived on the Plains for thousands of years before European settlers arrived.

Most of the area we now call Saskatchewan was the traditional territory of the Cree, Dakota, Nakoda, Lakota, Siksika, and Blood First Nations. The Dene people occupied northern Saskatchewan.

An illustrated group of Indigenous people sit inside a tipi and are all looking at a young child.

Canada is the homeland of many Indigenous people.

Within each nation, there were individual communities (or clans) that were independent and often had their own unique customs and traditions. Clans had unique roles, talents, and responsibilities that contributed to the overall health of the entire Nation.

For example, the Anishinaabe Bear Clan were plant-based and were very knowledgeable about wild medicines and herbs, while the Anishinaabe Crane Clan were great orators, planners, and negotiators.

An illustrated Indigenous woman and child are planting seeds and picking plants.

Each clan had their own strengths and talents.

Often clans and groups would meet during the summer months for spiritual ceremonies, dances, feasts, and communal hunts.

A hand-painted mosaic with a group of Indigenous people stand together, embracing each other with dancers in the sky.


Each clan had their own strengths and talents.

There were no borders on maps like we have today, instead, a tribe’s territory was marked by the area that they settled in. At times, there were fights among Nations (such as the Cree and Siksika) over territory. During the summer months and in times of hardship, territory was shared for hunting and ceremonies.

Learn what the word ‘Indigenous’ means.

Living in Rounds

The Plains First Nations people lived in rounds. They had different camps for spring, summer, fall, and winter. They followed the migrating animals, like bison, for food. The animals followed the same pattern year after year, and so did the First Nations people.

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


First Nations women working together to move the load of supplies and items.

They chose permanent sites to camp in that were good for hunting, fishing, picking berries, harvesting plants, and were protected from harsh weather. The camps were sometimes far away from each other. A tribe could have a winter camp in Buffalo Pound and then move to Cypress Hills for spring camp where the berries were ready and the hunting good.

An illustrated group of tipis are shown at night with a few campfires burning.

Areas to camp in were chosen very carefully.

The term nomadic is sometimes used to describe the way First Nations people lived but this description is not very accurate. It is important to know that they did not just wander about with no plan. They had permanent sites that they returned to year after year. Archeologists have proven that for hundreds of years, groups returned to the same place.

An illustrated man holding a small child, woman and child are walking. A dog is in the background.

The permanent sites to camp were carefully chosen and people returned year after year to the same site.


Bison were very important to First Nations people as bison provided food, shelter, clothing and other important tools. In the Parkland region (Northern Saskatchewan), they hunted caribou, moose, and elk.

An illustrated Indigenous man is holding a spear and pointing it at a buffalo.

Bison were very important to the First Nations people.

First Nations people collected many different plants that they used for food, medicines, ceremonies, and construction material. They collected wild berries and root vegetables wherever they could.

A group of illustrated vegetables are shown including wild onions, carrots, and turnips.

Wild onions, wild carrots, and wild turnips were important root vegetables for the First Nations people.

Corn, beans and squash were commonly grown in Eastern Canada but were not as common on the Prairies. The Nakota people living in Southern Saskatchewan grew beans and tobacco.

Corn, beans, and squash grown together are often called the ‘Three Sisters.’

The earliest European settlers found that the Blackfoot people grew tobacco. Each Spring a tobacco-planting ceremony was conducted and the Blackfoot had over 200 songs related to this ceremony.


The First Nations people had their own systems for education, justice, trade, and healthcare. First Nation cultures are based on the belief that all plants, animals, people, and objects are connected. The settlers considered objects like water, stones, and land to be ‘inanimate’ (not alive), but the First Nations people believe that all things have a spirit and are part of the ‘Circle of Life’.

A hand-painted mosaic featuring a large circle is surrounded by tipis.


First Nations people believe that all things have a spirit and are part of the ‘Circle of Life’.

The traditions, systems, and cultures of the First Nations were very different from the European practices. When the newcomers arrived, they did not understand or respect the First Nations’ ways of life.