History explains the past. Dealing with the past, everybody quickly realizes that there are some things that have changed and some that have remained the same. There are certain periods in history when rapid changes occur and others when time seems to stand still. Often periods of transformation are triggered by technical developments, changing natural circumstances, or new ideologies. These affect each other and create a new situation. In Canadian history, all of these components initiated transformations and we can interpret these transformations ourselves.
H. V. Nelles explains in A Little History of Canada where he sees major transformation in Canadian history. 1 After presenting these in a short analysis, I will show another structure which emphasizes four major transformations that relate to Native Canadians. The first transformation occurred before 1500 when Canada became inhabited by its indigenous nations. Afterwards France transformed the continent until her defeat in 1763. This was the end of the fierce competition between Britain and France which meant Natives could no longer take advantages of their position as military allies. Under British rule the third period of transformation started and a new state formed in 1867: the Dominion of Canada. The British continued to strongly influence Canada throughout the industrialization and Victorian Age. All over this time Natives were oppressed. The fourth transformation started when Natives were allowed to fight for Canada, their home country, during the First World War.
2 Major Transformations of Canadian History According to Nelles
Nelles structures A Little History of Canada according to his assumptions that four major transformations occurred in Canadian history. In the first chapter he describes the shift of present-day Canada being a land settled only by indigenous nations into one in which France dominated the competition between European colonial powers on the North American continent. The second chapter shows how the British Empire was able to defeat France and establish a loyal colony in the North Americas. In the end of the third chapter this colony has developed into a “transcontinental, quasi-autonomous Dominion” still preserving strong ties to Great Britain (vii). Canada, after having loosened its ties to Britain, has found a new place on the world stage with an extraordinarily diverse population as Nelles claims in the last chapter.
Nelles argues that each of the chapters ends at a point in Canadian history where a new stability had been reached and the next transformation was to change the country anew (vii). He emphasizes the process of transformation because he sees it as “the enduring theme of Canadian history” (vi).
3 Becoming Home to Native Nations
The first transformation, I concentrate on, occurred thousands of years before the establishment of French power in North America. Canada, as all of the Americas, transformed from uninhabited land to the home of its First Nations.
Scholars estimate different dates for the migration of the first humans to the North American continent ranging from 50,000 BC to 10,000 BC.2 Most likely the first immigrants travelled from Siberia via the land bridge Beringia which connected the Asian and American continents during the ice ages.3 Some scholars also state that these earliest immigrants might have sailed.4
These first inhabitants probably had contact with Chinese and Mediterranean civilizations in the end of the fourth millennium BC.5 In 1000 AD the Norse arrived in present-day Newfoundland and started an agricultural settlement. Without success they withdrew to Greenland.6 The Native inhabitants restricted these first settlement attempts of Europeans who were still without gun powder.7
Other developments had more impact on Natives’ lives. In 800 AD Iroquoians settled in palisaded villages of up to 1,500 inhabitants, while all other societies remained hunters and gatherers.8 200 years later tobacco and beans were grown in present-day Ontario, where corn had already been cultivated for 300 years.9 Finally, in the thirteenth century squash and sunflowers, which had been cultivated for 3,300 and 2,300 years respectively in the Northeastern Woodlands, were introduced in Ontario. Thus, the rise of the ‘three sisters’, squash, corn, and beans, began. 10
In the Arctic, the Thule started to supersede the Dorset in 1,000 AD.11 Five hundred years later, they had spread all the way to the Atlantic coast.
Increasing in population since the fourteenth century, by 1451 the Iroquoian peoples Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, and Seneca formed the League of Five Nations to keep peace among themselves.12 During the next century the Iroquois established more confederacies. The northernmost was Huronia, the Five Nations’ direct competitor.13 The Huron Confederacy grew larger than the Five Nations’ population by late sixteenth century. The Hurons dominated the region with alliances with the Five Nations stretching 805 kilometres to the south.14
1 H. V. Nelles, A Little History of Canada (Don Mills: Oxford University Press, 2005). All subsequent parenthetical citations refer to this book.
2 Olive Patricia Dickason, Canada's First Nations: A History of Founding Peoples from Earliest Times (Don Mills: Oxford University Press, 2002), 16, Margaret Conrad and Alvin Finkel, Canada: A National History, 2nd ed. (Toronto: Pearson Longman, 2007), 6, Nelles, A Little History of Canada, 1, Arthur J. Ray, I Have Lived Here Since the World Began: An Illustrated History of Canada's Native People, Revised ed. (Toronto: Key Porter Books, 2005), 2, C. Roderick Wilson and Carl Urion, "First Nations Prehistory and Canadian History," in Native Peoples: The Canadian Experience, ed. Morrison and Wilson (Don Mills: Oxford University Press, 2004), 13.
3 Conrad and Finkel, Canada: A National History, 6.
4 Knut R. Fladmark, "The Feasibility of the Northwest Coast as a Migration Route for Early Man," in Early Man in America from a Circum-Pacific Perspective, ed. Bryan (Edmonton: 1978).
5 Dickason, Canada's First Nations: A History of Founding Peoples from Earliest Times, 32.
6 Conrad and Finkel, Canada: A National History, 20.
7 Dickason, Canada's First Nations: A History of Founding Peoples from Earliest Times.
8 Ibid., 51, 54.
9 Ibid., 22, 51.
10 Ibid., 22.
11 Ibid., 55.
12 Ibid., 51-4.
13 Ibid., 51.
14 Ibid., 52.
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- Kathrin Biegner (Autor), 2008, Four Major Transformations in Canadian History Relating to Its Native Inhabitants, München, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/169428