Paleo-Indians and Archaic periodsEdit
According to North American archeological and Aboriginal genetic evidence, North and South America were the last continents in the world with human habitation. During the Wisconsin glaciation, 50,000-17,000 years ago, falling sea levels allowed people to move across the Bering land bridge (Beringia) that joined Siberia to north west North America, the area now known as Alaska. At that point, they were blocked by the Laurentide ice sheet that covered most of Canada, which confined them to Alaska for thousands of years.
Around 16,000 years ago, the glaciers began melting, allowing people to move south and east into Canada. The exact dates and routes of the peopling of the Americas are the subject of an ongoing debate. The Queen Charlotte Islands, Old Crow Flats, and Bluefish Caves are some of the earliest archaeological sites of Paleo-Indians in Canada. Ice Age hunter-gatherers left lithic flake fluted stone tools and the remains of large butchered mammals.
The North American climate stabilized around 8000 (BCE), or 10,000 years ago. Climatic conditions were similar to modern patterns; however, the receding glacial ice sheets still covered large portions of the land, creating lakes of meltwater. Most population groups during the Archaic periods were still highly mobile hunter-gatherers. However, individual groups started to focus on resources available to them locally; thus with the passage of time there is a pattern of increasing regional generalization (i.e.: Paleo-Arctic, Plano and Maritime Archaic traditions).
The Woodland cultural period dates from about 2,000 BCE to 1,000 (CE) and includes the Ontario, Quebec, and Maritime regions. The introduction of pottery distinguishes the Woodland culture from the previous Archaic-stage inhabitants. The Laurentian-related people of Ontario manufactured the oldest pottery excavated to date in Canada.
The Hopewell tradition is an Aboriginal culture that flourished along American rivers from 300 BCE to 500 CE. At its greatest extent, the Hopewell Exchange System connected cultures and societies to the peoples on the Canadian shores of Lake Ontario. Canadian expression of the Hopewellian peoples encompasses the Point Peninsula, Saugeen, and Laurel complexes.
The eastern woodland areas of what became Canada were home to the Algonquian and Iroquoian peoples. The Algonquian language is believed to have originated in the western plateau of Idaho or the plains of Montana and moved eastward, eventually extending all the way from Hudson Bay to what is today Nova Scotia in the east and as far south as the Tidewater region of Virginia.
Speakers of eastern Algonquian languages included the Mi'kmaq and Abenaki of the Maritime region of Canada, and likely the extinct Beothuk of Newfoundland. The Ojibwa and other Anishinaabe speakers of the central Algonquian languages retain an oral tradition of having moved to their lands around the western and central Great Lakes from the sea, likely the east coast. According to oral tradition the Ojibwa formed the Council of Three Fires in 796 CE with the Odawa and the Potawatomi.
The Iroquois (Haudenosaunee) were centered from at least 1000 CE in northern New York, but their influence extended into what is now southern Ontario and the Montreal area of modern Quebec. The Iroquois Confederacy, according to oral tradition, was formed in 1142 CE. On the Great Plains the Cree or Nēhilawē (who spoke a closely related Central Algonquian language, the plains Cree language) depended on the vast herds of bison to supply food and many of their other needs. To the north west were the peoples of the Na-Dene languages, which include the Athapaskan-speaking peoples and the Tlingit, who lived on the islands of southern Alaska and northern British Columbia. The Na-Dene language group is believed to be linked to the Yeniseian languages of Siberia. The Dene of the western Arctic may represent a distinct wave of migration from Asia to North America.
The Interior of British Columbia was home to the Salishan language groups such as the Shuswap (Secwepemc) and Okanagan and southern Athabaskan language groups, primarily the Dakelh (Carrier) and the Tsilhqot'in. The inlets and valleys of the British Columbia Coast sheltered large, distinctive populations, such as the Haida, Kwakwaka'wakw and Nuu-chah-nulth, sustained by the region's abundant salmon and shellfish. These peoples developed complex cultures dependent on the western red cedar that included wooden houses, seagoing whaling and war canoes and elaborately carved potlatch items and totem poles. Defensive Salish trenchwork defences from the 16th century suggest a need for the southern Salish to take measures to protect themselves against their northern neighbours, who were known to mount raids into the Strait of Georgia and Puget Sound in historic times.
In the Arctic archipelago, the distinctive Paleo-Eskimos known as Dorset peoples, whose culture has been traced back to around 500 CE, were replaced by the ancestors of today's Inuit by 1500 CE. This transition is supported by archaeological records and Inuit mythology that tells of having driven off the Tuniit or 'first inhabitants'. Inuit traditional laws are anthropologically different from Western law. Customary law was non-existent in Inuit society before the introduction of the Canadian legal system.
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