The game is six degrees of Canadian history. Take two seemingly unrelated pieces of Canadian culture and connect the dots through various people, places and events to discover how they’re distantly — or maybe not-so-distantly — related. Along the way, we visit the quizzical and curious, the tragic and comic, and everything in between.
Jeannette Vivian Corbiere Lavell (called Keewednanung, “North Star” in the Anishinaabe language), CM, activist, educator and community worker (born 21 June 1942 in Wikwemikong, ON). Corbiere Lavell, an Anishinaabe (Ojibwe) woman, was one of several Indigenous women who brought increased public awareness to the gendered discrimination that First Nations women faced because of status law, namely section 12(1)(b) of the Indian Act. Her efforts were central to revising patriarchal (male-dominated) aspects of Canadian legal code.
Shawnadithit (also known as Nance or Nancy April), the last Beothuk (born circa 1800-6 in what is now NL; died 6 June 1829 in St. John’s, NL). Shawnadithit’s record of Beothuk culture continues to shape modern understandings of her people. In 2007, the federal government announced the unveiling of a Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada plaque recognizing Shawnadithit’s importance to Canadian history.
Sitting Bull (Tatanka Iyotake in the Lakota language, meaning literally “Buffalo Bull Who Sits Down”), Hunkpapa Lakota Sioux chief (born in 1831; died 15 December 1890 at Standing Rock, South Dakota). Sitting Bull led the Dakota (Sioux) resistance against US incursion into traditional territory. After the most famous battle at Little Big Horn, in which General George Custer’s forces were completely annihilated, Sitting Bull left the United States for the Cypress Hills in Saskatchewan. Sitting Bull symbolized the conflict between settlers and Indigenous culture over lifestyles, land and resources.
Stephen Kakfwi, Dene leader, politician, premier of the Northwest Territories 2000–2003 (born 1950 near Fort Good Hope, NT). Kakfwi attended residential schools in Inuvik, Yellowknife and Fort Smith. He achieved national prominence because of his forceful appearance before the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline Inquiry. In the mid-1970s he argued passionately that the proposed construction of a pipeline across the traditional homeland of the Dene people before the settlement of their land claims would destroy their way of life as well as damage the natural environment of the region.
James Karl Bartleman, OC, OOnt, diplomat, author, lieutenant governor of Ontario 2002–07 (born 24 December 1939 in Orillia, ON). James K. Bartleman spent nearly 40 years as a career diplomat, serving as high commissioner and ambassador to many countries, including South Africa, Cuba and Israel, and as a foreign policy advisor to Prime Minister Jean Chrétien. A member of the Mnjikaning First Nation, he became Ontario’s first Indigenous lieutenant-governor in 2002. Bartleman’s tenure as lieutenant-governor was highlighted by his advocacy for literacy and education in Indigenous communities and his efforts to end the stigma around mental illness.
Georges Henry Erasmus, OC, Indigenous leader, activist and spokesperson (born 8 August 1948 in Fort Rae, NT). Erasmus has been a leading advocate for the self-determination of Indigenous peoples in Canada. He has served as the head of several Indigenous public policy organizations, including the Dene Nation and the Assembly of First Nations. He also served as the co-chair for the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples.
Frank Arthur Calder, OC, Nisga’a politician, chief, businessman (born 3 August 1915, Nass Harbour, BC; died 4 November 2006 in Victoria, BC). Frank Calder was the first Indigenous member of a Canadian legislature, elected in 1949 during the BC general election. Calder is best known for his role in the Nisga’a Tribal Council’s Supreme Court case against the province of British Columbia (commonly known as the Calder case), which demonstrated that Aboriginal title (i.e., ownership) to traditional lands exists in modern Canadian law.
Gloria Mary Maureen George, Indigenous politician, activist and public servant (born 24 July 1942 in Hubert, BC). A tireless advocate for non-status Indians, George was elected president of the Native Council of Canada in 1975, becoming the first and only woman to lead a major Indigenous political organization.
Sheila Watt-Cloutier (née Watt), OC, human rights and Indigenous rights activist, cultural preservation advocate, politician, writer and educator (born 2 December 1953 in Old Fort Chimo, QC). Watt-Cloutier is a respected Inuit leader who has received international recognition and acclaim in the areas of rights activism, environmental and climate change awareness and social justice.
Piita Irniq (formerly known as Peter Irniq and Peter Ernerk), cultural proponent, artist, public servant, commissioner of Nunavut (born 1947 at Lyon Inlet, NT [now Nunavut]). Irniq represented the Keewatin region in the Council of the Northwest Territories from 1975 to 1979. From 2000 to 2005, he served as the second commissioner of Nunavut . Irniq has worked to preserve and promote Inuit culture and languages.
Ralph Garvin Steinhauer, OC, lieutenant-governor of Alberta, Indigenous leader, farmer (born 8 June 1905 in Morley, North-West Territories [now AB]; died 19 September 1987 in Edmonton, AB). The first Indigenous person to serve as lieutenant-governor of a Canadian province, he was committed to Indigenous affairs in Alberta and Canada.
Bill Wilson (Hemas Kla-Lee-Lee-Kla), Kwagiulth (Kwakwaka’wakw) hereditary chief, politician, administrator (born in 1944 in Comox, BC). A leading theorist in British Columbia Indigenous politics, he was also influential in a successful proposal to amend the Constitution Act, 1982 to enshrine Indigenous rights. He is the father of Jody Wilson-Raybould, minister of justice and attorney general of Canada (2015–), who has continued his legacy.1
Stanley Vollant, CQ, Innu surgeon, professor and lecturer (born 2 April 1965 in Québec City, Québec). The first Aboriginal surgeon trained in Québec, he received a National Aboriginal Role Model Award from the Governor General of Canada in 1996. In 2010, he began Innu Meshkenu (“my Innu path”), a 6,000 km walk whose goals are to bring peoples together, to promote the discovery of the land and the teachings of First Nations and to encourage Aboriginal young people to pursue their dreams.
Richard W. Nerysoo, activist, politician, premier of the Northwest Territories 1984–85 (born 1953 near Fort McPherson, NT). In 1984, Nerysoo became the youngest-ever premier of the Northwest Territories (a position known as “government leader” until 1994) and the first Indigenous person to hold that position. Unrelenting in his efforts to uphold Indigenous rights in the Northwest Territories, Nerysoo participated in the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline Inquiry and was active in a variety of Indigenous political organizations, including the Indian Brotherhood of the Northwest Territories and the Gwich’in Tribal Council.
Ann Meekitjuk Hanson, CM, journalist, broadcaster, philanthropist, commissioner of Nunavut (born 22 May 1946 in Qakutut, Northwest Territories). Hanson has spent much of her professional life in the public sector service, furthering the development of Nunavut and its people through her media and philanthropic work.