Aboriginal Perspectives


Background information for the 2011 grade 6 workshop

Vanessa Halas and Alexandra Poetker


Beading has been an important part of First Nations culture for approximately 8000 years prior to European contact. Beads were made of shell, pearl, bone, teeth, stone, and fossil stems. When Europeans first came to Canada they made an effort to develop good relations with the First Nations and beads played a significant role in these relationships. The beads that the Europeans gave and/or traded were large ceramic pony beads, glass beads, chevron bead and tiny seed beads. The pony bead was around 1/8th inch diameter and was used for bone chokers and breastplates. The chevron bead was also called the star, patermoster (our father’s), or sun bead. It was a colorful bead and was more of an oval shaped bead. The tiny seed beads were called Manido-min-esah, which means little spirit seeds, gift of the Manido. The first thing that First Nations began making when receiving these beads were necklaces. When smaller beads came around the beads were incorporated into loom weaving, Beads were then used in ceremonies, decorate clothing, baskets, dolls, which were then used to trade at the trading post.

For more information:


Chekutnak- Stick Dice

Origin Plains Cree (Piapot Reserve)
History   Like many of the others, this game involved gambling. Women would gather in groups of ten and sit in a circle on a hide. Before the game began, each player must place an equal value stake in the middle of the circle.
Materials: 4 large sticks (2” x 12”) – dice; sticks or reeds – tally sticks (14 per person)
Players 2-10
Setup:  The dice should be plain on one side and painted on the other as shown. Each player gets four-10 point tallies (smaller) and ten-1 point tallies (larger).


Each person takes a turn throwing one die. The person who gets the blank side up will start the game. If there is a tie, then those people keep on throwing. The starting player throws the dice into the air and tries to score points according to the patterns that the dice land in. If the player scores points, they collect that many tally sticks from all of the opposing players. If this person doesn’t score anything, then the stick dice are passed to the next player. The object is to collect all of the tally sticks from the other players. If a player loses all of his/her tally sticks, they still have one more chance to score before they are out of the game.

There are two differently painted stick dice, each worth different point values. There are the dice with the crossed (C) patterns, and the other dice with the straight (S) patterns.



All painted sides up


All 4 blank sides up


2 blank and 2 C painted


2 blank and 2 S painted


*Any other combination scores 0 points*

stick dice


Fur Trade and Trading Posts 

Before European contact, the Indigenous peoples of North America survived by using the resources off of the land. During this time, the system of government and culture were respected and celebrated.  In the early 1600’s, European ships sailed the coasts of the Americas, looking for a way to cross the land between Europe and China. In 1610, Captain Henry Hudson sailed his ship into a northern strait, which led into a wide bay. The next time Europeans came into the Hudson Bay, nearly fifty years later, the sailors were looking for fur, not China. King Charles of England asked the Frenchmen Radisson and Groseillier, as well as a number of wealthy Englishmen, to sail ships into the bay. They were hoping to bring back many furs, however storms and ice turned the first ship back to England. In September 1668, a second ship named the Nosuch reached the bay safely with Groseillier on board. The crew from the Nonsuch built a small fort where they lived for the winter, and in the spring, Indigenous people came to trade their furs. In June of 1669, the Nonsuch sailed back to England, arriving in October. The owners of the Nonsuch were so pleased with the furs that they decided to form a company that would send ships every year to trade on the bay. The king gave the newly formed company a monopoly of trade in the area. This meant that no one else would be allowed to trade there, and all of the collected furs must only be sold to the Hudson’s Bay Company. At first, the Europeans returned to England with the ships each year. However, soon the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) built trading posts that allowed the Europeans to live at the post all year round. Many of the European men developed relationships with the First Nations women and the resulting children would come to be known as Métis. Métis people were valuable during the fur trade as they could speak the languages of the Indigenous people and were reliable and resourceful.

Fur Trader’s at the Hudson’s Bay Trading Post

Trading was not a foreign concept to Indigenous people, as they traded everything from copper tools to pottery amongst themselves. The Indigenous people did not use money in their trading, but the Europeans used a currency system. In the trading between these two groups, the beaver pelt became the currency. The beaver has two kinds of fur. Next to its skin is a warm, woolly coat and over this wool grows long, silky guard hairs. Tokens were made and items to be traded were measured against the value of a beaver pelt. For example, four martens were equal to one beaver. European traders brought along with them a number of items, which they knew would assist Indigenous people in their daily lives. These items had a trading value in terms of beaver pelts. For example, in one list of goods, one gun cost twelve beaver pelts.

Fur traders from New France (Quebec) paddled their canoes southwest to trade. The main difference between these traders and the HBC traders is that they were mobile when trading and met the Indigenous people to trade, rather than waiting for them to come to a trading post. Among the traders who travelled west were Pierre Gaultier de Varenesse, Sieur de La Verendrye and his fifty men. La Verendrye built a number of trading posts along the rivers for the Indigenous people to bring their furs to the French instead of taking the furs as far as the Hudson Bay. The French soon became a strong force in the West and posts had been built as far as the Saskatchewan River. There was a constant battle for power between the French and the English. At one point, the French captured the English post on the Hudson Bay and the English captured Quebec. A seven-year war between France and England in the seventeenth century put the fur trade on hold. The Treaty of Paris in 1763, at the end of the seven-year way put an end to France’s position as a major colonial power in the Americas.

By this time, fur traders from the British colony began to travel into the western plains looking for furs. At first, most of these peddlers worked alone, travelling for long periods of time to the plains and back to Montreal. In 1784, a group of peddlers came together to form the North West Company (NWC) and a few years later, another large group of traders joined in as well. The NWC had two partners: the Montreal partners who sold furs and bought trade goods and the partners who stayed in the west and traded with the Indigenous people, known as the wintering partners.

Fur traders at Montreal
(Photo: Library and Archives Canada, Acc. No. 1990-329-1)

In 1821, the HBC and NWC joined together under one name. The new company would still be known as the Hudson’s Bay Company because it was the HBC that, under the Royal Charter, still controlled the route from the Hudson Bay.

The fur trade slowly dissolved, partially due to the lack of furs and partially due to the lack of Indigenous people willing to assist in trapping and trading furs. The change in style in Europe from fur to silk was the final blow to the North American Fur Trade. At the end of the fur trade, many traders went to work in mines, in lumber and on the railroad.

For more information:

  • Neering, Rosemary. The Fur Trade. Markham, Ont.: Fitzhenry and Whiteside, 1985.

    This book provides extensive information of the North American fur trade in an accessible way.
  • http://www.metisnation.ca

    This is the website of the Métis National Council which is dedicated to promoting Métis culture and providing history on the Métis nation.


Jingle Dress

The jingle dress originated in northern Minnesota and came from the Ojibwe people. The story is that a medicine man had a granddaughter who was ill and he could not do anything to help her. One night in a dream, a spirit came to him wearing a jingle dress and told him to make a dress like this and put it on his granddaughter to cure her. When he woke up, he and his wife started making the dress. When they finished they put it on their granddaughter and brought her to the dance hall. They started moving in circles around the room. The first time she had to be carried. The second time she could barely walk and needed assistance. The third time she could walk without any assistance and the fourth time she danced around the room.

Women’s jingle dancer. Photo by Rhonda Shingwauk

The jingle dress dance is considered to be a healing dance. A jingle dress is made out of velvet/leather and the bottom is covered with jingles that are traditionally made out of the lids of snuff cans. It takes 400-700 jingles to create a full adult jungle dress. The dance contains small controlled steps in a zigzag pattern. When the honor-beats of the song occur, the dancer will raise her fan into the air.


        For more information:

  • http://www.tpt.org/powwow/womjingle.html

    This brief summary on the jingle dress offers a glimpse into its significance, as well it includes links to music and dance associated with the sacred clothing.

For videos, check out:



Parfleche refers to a First Nations bag made of rawhide, which was traditionally used for storage. The word parfleche came from the French fur traders. In French, “parer” means “to defend” or “turn away”, and “fleche” is the word for “arrow”. The parfleche received its name because the hide was strong enough to be used as a shield.

The rawhide was prepared in a number of steps. First any hair was removed from the skin. Then the hide was stretched out. Finally, it was laid out in the sun. This process created both a strong and heavy leather. A parfleche bag was made using a single piece of rawhide, which was folded similar to that of an envelope, however, not every parfleche bag was folded in an envelope shape. Some were in the shape of a cylinder or a box. Parfleche bags were usually decorated with symmetric, geometrical shapes. There are records that indicate that the original bags had graphics, which symbolized maps and included pictorial records of the surrounding land. The art style seen on many parfleche designs is typical of the Plains Nations, as it tends to include geometrics, symmetric, and angular designs. Typically, no more than four colors were used in these art designs (i.e. green, red, yellow, and black). Colors were made from natural items such as plant material or minerals.


Calling the Buffalo
Contemporary 8 sided parfleche box
Created by Lauren Good Day Giago


              Parfleche bags were mainly used to carry dried foods, household items and clothing. Pemmican, a food made from dried meat, was often carried in parfleche bags. Pemmican is a prime example of Aboriginal people using what was found in nature for nourishment. The word Pemmican is thought to be based on the Cree words “pimii” (meaning fat or grease) and “kan” (meaning prepared). Pemmican is easily transportable and is a high calorie food, containing protein, vitamins and fat, making it a staple food on the fur trade. The ingredients depended largely on what was available; however, the meat was usually bison, elk, deer or moose and the berries were typically chokecherries, Saskatoon berries, currents, or blueberries.

For more information:


Plum Stones

Games play an important role in the cultures of Aboriginal peoples. Games were played differently depending on the tribe; they were different in the materials used and rules of the game. The different tribes had various opinions about who could play the game, times of the year that games were played, whether the game was related to a type of religious activity, ceremony, or festival. Some games even had certain purposes such as religion, amusement, for children to learn skills, social interaction between tribes, and gambling to distribute wealth. Native American women traditionally played the plum stones game in pairs.

The game provided in the kit uses stars and moons to mark the 5 plum stones. Though this is one way to play other tribes used different symbols on stones, and there were games that used more then 5 plum stones. For examples Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota uses six plums stones. Two are marked with a spider and the reverse is a vertical line with 3 horizontal lines crossing the vertical line, two have a lizard and on the reverse are three horizontal lines, and two are blackened and their reverse is plain.

For more information:



Porcupine quill embroidery is an ancient form of embroidery found only in North America. The oldest found quillwork was found in Alberta, Canada and dates back to the sixth century CE. Used mainly by woodland-based Aboriginal groups, quills are folded, twisted and sewn to embellish clothing, moccasins, knife sheaths, baskets, bags, rawhide, tanned hide and even wooden handles. Quills were dyed to create shades of black, white, red, blue and yellow.

The Cheyenne people of the Great Plains have relayed an oral legend about how quilling came to their tribe. The legend says that the art form “came from a man who married a woman, who hid her true identity as a buffalo. His son was also a buffalo. The man visited is wife and son in their buffalo home, and, while among the buffalo, the man learned the art of quilling, which he shared with the women of his tribe.”

Huron Moccasin decorated in quills

In the mid-1800’s, as European goods flowed into the Americas, glass beads became easily attainable and quillwork diminished. However, even today, many tribes such as the Sioux, Blackfoot, and Cree continue to do quillwork.

For more information:



The Inca are an Indigenous people who controlled a region in South America prior to European contact. The pinnacle of their rule lasted from approximately 1200 until the Spanish conquistadors took over their territory in 1535. The Inca are probably best known for their cities and fortresses, mostly built on highlands and on the steep slopes of the Andes Mountains. Information on the history and culture of the Inca can be found in many places on the web.


The Inca built a sophisticated road system to connect the various regions of their empire to move goods and information. The roads were paved with flat stones and messengers travelling on foot carried goods and information along the roads. Information was carried either by word of mouth or using knots on cords called quipu (sometimes spelled khipu). The Spanish invaders and early Spanish inhabitants of the Inca territory wrote about the use of quipu and included some in their illustrations. According to many of the early writers, quipu were used to keep statistical data on population census, tribute paid to the Inca leaders in the capital city Cusco, the amount of food in storage in various parts of the empire and other numerical data including tribute paid to the Spanish invaders after the conquest. One writer was Garcilaso de la Vega, born in 1539 to an Inca princess and a Spanish conquistador. Garcilaso claimed to have learned to read the information on a quipu and reported that the numerical-statistical data was recorded using a decimal-based system. Unfortunately none of writers described how the information was stored and most of the quipu were destroyed. The invaders thought the quipu were works of the devil and destroyed all they found. As a result there are only a few hundred in existence today.
The basic structure of a quipu is a main cord, from a few centimeters to over a meter in length, with hanging cords attached, usually each about 500 centimeters in length. Knots are tied on the hanging cords, often in groups arranged in rows across the quipu. These knots (number and type) supply numeric data. On the quipu that contains numeric data there are three types of knots, single knots (S), long knots (L) and figure eight knots (E).

For more information:


Stick Pull Game

Games were common among the different Aboriginal groups of North America and were often given or traded between groups. In the stick pull game the stick was sometimes decorated with eagle feathers that would be tied to the center of the stick with beaded string. In summer seasons, communities would come together and compete; the winning community would take the stick back with them. In the winter months, after a successful hunt this game would be played after a feast. Another purpose for this game was to help strengthen the hands and wrist for fishing season. As the fish swam close to the shoreline they would grab the fish by the middle.

Two people playing a variation of the Stick Pull game

For more information:

  • http://www.yasc.ca/DeneGames.aspx

    This website shares games particular to the Dene peoples, found in the northern regions of Canada and Alaska, including the stick pull game.