The term “Subarctic peoples” describes a number of different
and unique groups, including the Dene, Cree, Ojibwa,
Atikamekw, Innu and Beothuk. The Subarctic region consists
largely of a five million square kilometre zone of boreal
forest extending from the arctic tundra south to the
mountains, plains and deciduous forest in the mid-section of
the country. West to east, it extends from the Bering Sea to
of the Eastern Subarctic belong to the Algonquian language family, while
those of the Western Subarctic are generally part of the Athapaskan (also
known as Dene) family. Northern Subarctic Algonquians, including the
Atikamekw and Innu of Québec and Labrador, speak Cree dialects, and
Algonquians to the south speak Ojibwa dialects. The Beothuk of
Newfoundland spoke a language of uncertain affinity. Linguists have
identified more than 20 different Northern Dene languages within the
Western Subarctic, including Alaska (see Aboriginal People, Languages).
peoples of the Subarctic lived by hunting, including large game like
moose, fishing, trapping and gathering wild plants. Farming was not
practical within their territory. Since game animals were thinly
distributed over vast territories in the boreal forest, population
densities were modest. Some scholars estimate that the entire area may
have supported as few as 60,000 people.
Subarctic Aboriginal peoples typically lived in communities
of 25-30 people. Each group moved frequently within a well-defined
territory as game supplies changed from season to season and
from year to year. A group's size and the nature of its
annual economic cycle were strongly influenced by the
availability of local resources.
Because of their mobile existence, northern forest peoples
built shelters constructed of easily transported skin covers
and of locally available materials such as bark. Dwellings
varied considerably depending on local materials and
traditions, but in all areas they were designed to be heated
and lit by a single fire. They did not usually accommodate
more than two families.
Aboriginal people of the Subarctic were organized into bands or groups
of people who spoke the same language dialect and were related by
kinship and common traditions. Most Subarctic bands did not have formal
chiefs before European contact. People aligned themselves with
individuals who manifested leadership and took the responsibility for
specific tasks such as trading, war or communal hunting.
Most adult men and women participated in decisions that affected the
band. Families or individuals who did not agree with a particular
decision were free to join another band or camp, or to act on their own
for a time. Subarctic people were noted for the value they placed on
personal autonomy as well as for the flexibility of their social
organization. These characteristics helped them respond to the
opportunities and limitations of their environment.
Source: The Canadian Encyclopedia, Aboriginal People: