Indigenous Events

Indigenous History: Historical Events That Have Taken Place In January

Indigenous history is a story about root and origins, from Time Immemorial to the present day and time. January, being the first month of the year and full of celebratory events all around the globe, is the ideal time to reflect and remember important events in Indigenous history that have taken place during this month.
What inspired this article is The Indigenous Relations Anniversary on January 13, which commemorates the establishment of the Office of Indigenous Relations at the University of Waterloo. The office was established following the appointment of Jean Becker as Senior Director, Indigenous Initiatives on January 13, 2020. Her role also includes responsibilities as Associate Vice-President, Human Rights, Equity and Inclusion. This anniversary is very significant and crucial in a sense, because it marks a dedicated effort towards Indigenous initiatives and relations at the University.
In delving into the rich tapestry of our nation’s history, the role of tribal groups cannot be overstated. These tribal communities, each with their own unique cultural identities and traditions, have contributed significantly to the mosaic that is our collective heritage. The resilience and strength of these tribal groups have been a guiding light in our understanding of unity and diversity. As we continue to learn from and about these tribal societies, we deepen our appreciation for the intricate bonds that tie us together as a group, transcending time and place.
Note before we begin: This timeline presents key events and developments in Indigenous history that have taken place during the month of January in what is now Canada, from Time Immemorial to present.

  1. JANUARY 01, 1400
    Mi’kmaq Grand Council
    Made up of male representatives from across Mi’kmaq territory, the council is governed by a grand chief and generally rules by consensus. The role of chieftain is (often) handed down from father to son. (Note: The date provided here is an estimate.)
  2. JANUARY 01, 1400
    Blackfoot Confederacy Is Organized
    A confederacy of Siksika (Blackfoot) nations is organized around bands. Decision making is left to a male leader, which every band has elected. He governs by consensus. (Note: The date provided here is an estimate also.)
  3. JANUARY 01, 1450
    Haudenosaunee Confederacy Try To Resolve Disputes In Lower Great Lakes Region
    The Haudenosaunee Confederacy (Iroquois League), organized by Dekanahwideh (the Peacemaker) and Hiawatha, try to resolve disputes among member nations in the lower Great Lakes region in a peaceful and equitable way.
  4. JANUARY 01, 1493
    “Doctrine of Discovery” Is Decreed
    The papal bull Inter Caetera — the “Doctrine of Discovery” — is decreed a year after Columbus’ first voyage to America. It is made and decreed without consulting Indigenous populations nor with any recognition of their rights, in simpler terms – it is the means by which Europeans claim their (legal) title to the “new world.”
  5. JANUARY 01, 1500
    The Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Confederacy Is Active
    Formed by five nations in total, the Haudenosaunee Confederacy is considered one of the earliest examples of a participatory democracy. (Note: Again, the date provided here is an estimate.)
  6. JANUARY 01, 1500
    Indigenous Population Ranges From 200,000 To 500,000
    The estimated range for the Indigenous population is from 200,000 to 500,000 people (though some suggest it was as high as 2.5 million), with between 300 and 450 languages spoken.
  7. JANUARY 01, 1500
    The Fishermen Cooperation Begins
    Continual contact between European fishermen and Indigenous peoples on the Atlantic coast begins slowly but surely.
  8. JANUARY 01, 1500
    Huron-Wendat Village Councils
    Civil and war related affairs among the Huron-Wendat are outlined and ruled by respective village councils. Decisions are, per usual, reached by consensus. All men over 30 are council members, but the women have almost no say in council affairs. (Note: The date is an estimate.)
  9. JANUARY 01, 1600
    Trade Alliances Between Indigenous Peoples And Europeans Form
    Indigenous technology and knowledge of hunting, trapping, guiding, food, and disease prove to be more than useful to Europeans. They are undeniably crucial to the survival of Europeans and early colonial economy and society, particularly in the supply of furs, such as beaver pelts. The establishment of alliances with Europeans gives Indigenous peoples access to weaponry and other useful goods.
  10. JANUARY 01, 1600
    Disease Devastates Indigenous Populations
    Diseases like tuberculosis, smallpox, and measles spread, intentionally or inadvertently, across the whole of North America, devastating Indigenous populations.
  11. JANUARY 01, 1613
    Covenant Chain Agreements Established
    The Two-Row Wampum (Kaswentha) establishes the Covenant Chain, a series of agreements between the Haudenosaunee Confederacy and European representatives. They agree to work towards peace which also meant in this case economic, political, and cultural sovereignty.
  12. JANUARY 01, 1615
    European Missionaries Arrive In North America
    The first European missionaries, Récollets and later also Jesuits, arrive with the intention to convert Indigenous populations to Catholicism.
  13. JANUARY 01, 1677
    Silver Covenant Chain Treaty
    This wampum treaty between Britain and the Haudenosaunee represented an open and honest communication between two peoples. Subsequent wampum treaties reinforce this idea, as well as the idea of mutual interest and peace. Such wampum treaties oblige the parties to help each other, in war if necessary, should it be necessary.
  14. JANUARY 22, 1690
    Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Peace Treaty
    The Haudenosaunee concluded a peace treaty with the English and also the tribes of the Great Lakes.
  15. JANUARY 01, 1791
    Haida Chief Koyah Organizes First Attacks On The British
    Haida chief Koyah organizes the first of many attacks on the British, who had started coastal explorations in an emergent west coast fur trade.
  16. JANUARY 01, 1831
    Mohawk Institute Begins To Accept Boarders
    Run by the Anglican Church, the Mohawk Institute in Brantford, Upper Canada (Ontario), becomes the first school in what will be established as Canada’s residential school system. The school only admits boys at first. In 1834, girls are admitted as well.
  17. JANUARY 01, 1857
    Gradual Civilization Act Passed In The Province of Canada
    The government attempts to assimilate First Nations men by offering them the right to vote if they voluntarily enfranchise. This essentially means giving up rights, including treaty rights. Only one person elects to do so under this Act.
  18. JANUARY 01, 1880
    Amendment To The Indian Act (1880)
    An amendment to the Indian Act formally disenfranchises and disempowers Indigenous women by declaring they “cease to be an Indian in any respect” if they choose to marry “any other than an Indian, or a non-treaty Indian.”
  19. JANUARY 01, 1885
    Electoral Franchise Act
    Even though the original draft of the Act gave federal voting rights to some women, under the final legislation, only men can vote. The Act gives some Reserve First Nations with property qualifications the right to vote, but also bars Chinese Canadians.
  20. JANUARY 01, 1889
    Peasant Farm Policy Introduced
    From 1889 to 1897, the Canadian government’s Peasant Farm Policy sets limits on Indigenous agriculture on the Prairies. The policy includes rules about the types of tools First Nations farmers could use on their reserve lands. It also restricts how much they grow and what they can sell. The policy impeded the growth and development of First Nations farms and in result reduced their ability to compete with settler farms on the open market.
  21. JANUARY 01, 1896
    Growing Number Of Residential Schools
    The number of schools across Canada quickly climbs to over forty. Each school is provided with an allowance for each student, which led to overcrowding and an increase in illnesses within the institutions.
  22. JANUARY 01, 1922
    The Story Of A National Crime Published
    Dr. Peter Henderson Bryce publishes “The Story of a National Crime”, exposing the Canadian government’s suppression of significant amount of information on the health of Indigenous peoples. Bryce argues that Duncan Campbell Scott and the ministry of Indian Affairs neglected Indigenous health needs and notes a “criminal disregard for the treaty pledges.”
  23. JANUARY 01, 1924
    Status Indian WWI Veterans Granted Right To Vote
    Males with the status Indian veterans of the First World War gain the right to vote in federal elections without losing their status and treaty rights.
  24. JANUARY 01, 1929
    Complaints About Inuit Names Begin
    Complaints about Inuit not bearing traditional Christian names begin to arise, with the result being decades of government labelling strategies to ease the recording of census information and entrench federal authority in the North. Among the failed initiatives are metal discs with ID numbers, and Project Surname.
  25. JANUARY 01, 1930
    Residential School Network Expands
    More than 80 institutions operate across Canada — the most at any one time — with an enrolment of over 17,000.
  26. JANUARY 01, 1934
    Dominion Franchise Act
    Inuit and First Nations persons living on reserves are disqualified from voting in federal elections, with the only exception being First Nations veterans who had previously received the vote.
  27. JANUARY 01, 1934
    Inuit Education Research Conducted by Federal Government
    For the first time, the Canadian government conducts serious research into Inuit education. J. Lorne Turner, Director of Lands, Northwest Territories and Yukon Branch, Department of the Interior urges the government to provide formal education to Inuit children.
  28. JANUARY 01, 1944
    Status Indian WWII Veterans Granted Right To Vote
    People with the status Indian veterans who served in the Second World War and their spouses are permitted to vote in federal elections without losing status, with (some) conditions.
  29. JANUARY 01, 1948
    Amendments To Dominion Elections Act
    Race is no longer a valid reason for exclusion from voting in federal elections. However, Status Indians still have to give up their Status in order to vote.
  30. JANUARY 01, 1949
    First Nations Win Right To Vote Provincially
    Except in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, Status Indians had been barred from voting provincially. Beginning with British Columbia in 1949 and ending with Quebec in 1969, First Nations peoples slowly but surely win the right to vote in provincial elections without losing status or treaty rights.
  31. JANUARY 01, 1950
    Inuit Granted Right To Vote
    Inuit are granted the right to vote in federal elections, but the isolation of several communities means many of them cannot access polling stations. Later reforms increase access to ballot boxes.
  32. JANUARY 01, 1950
    Inuit Sled Dogs Killed
    Sled dogs are killed as part of the Sled Dog Slaughter, a government (assimilationist) initiative to force the Inuit of Northern Québec to deny their nomadic way of living and move them away from their traditional lands.
  33. JANUARY 01, 1951
    First Nations Women Granted Right to Vote in Band Council Elections
    Changes to the Indian Act grant First Nations women the right to vote in band council elections.
  34. JANUARY 01, 1954
    Elsie Marie Knott Becomes First Female Chief Of A First Nation
    Elsie Marie Knott becomes the first female chief of a First Nation in Canada when she is elected as a leader of the Anishinaabe (Ojibwe) Curve Lake First Nation near Peterborough, Ontario. She holds this position for 16 years.
  35. JANUARY 01, 1960
    The Sixties Scoop
    As residential schools closed one by one, thousands of Indigenous children were taken from their families by provincial and federal social workers and placed in foster care or adoption homes. Often, these homes were non-Indigenous. Some children were even placed outside of Canada.
  36. JANUARY 01, 1968
    Voice Of Alberta Native Women’s Society Founded
    The Voice of Alberta Native Women’s Society (VANWS) was founded by Indigenous activists, including Métis war veteran Bertha Clark Jones, to advocate on behalf of Status and Non-Status women in the years before Bill C-31 made it possible for those who had lost their status by marriage to regain it. VANWS would eventually evolve into the Native Women’s Association of Canada, which has been active since 1974.
  37. JANUARY 01, 1969
    White Paper Published
    A federal White Paper regarding Indian Affairs proposes abolishing the Indian Act, Indian status, and reserves altogether, and transferring responsibility for Indigenous affairs to the provinces. In response, Cree chief Harold Cardinal writes the Red Paper, calling for recognition of Indigenous peoples as “Citizens Plus.” The government later withdraws this proposal after considerable opposition from Indigenous organizations.
  38. JANUARY 01, 1969
    Authority For Residential Schools Transferred To Government
    The Canadian government takes over responsibility for the remaining residential schools from the churches.
  39. JANUARY 01, 1970
    Inuit Territory Discussions Begin
    Eastern Arctic Inuit of the Northwest Territories begin discussions about forming an Inuit territory.
  40. JANUARY 01, 1971
    Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami Is Formed
    The Inuit Tapirisat of Canada, renamed Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami in 2001, is formed as a national organization advocating for self- government, social, health, economic, environmental and political welfare of Inuit in Canada, and preservation of language and history.
  41. JANUARY 01, 1973
    Supreme Court Acknowledges Indigenous Land Titles
    The Supreme Court of Canada agrees (or admits) that Indigenous peoples held title to land before European colonization, that this title existed in law, and that it continues unless specifically extinguished. Named for Nisga’a chief Frank Calder, the Calder Case forces the government to adopt new policies in order to negotiate land claims with Indigenous peoples not covered by treaties.
  42. JANUARY 01, 1974
    Native Women’s Association Of Canada Founded
    The Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) was founded by Indigenous women and their allies, including non-Indigenous feminists that were active in the women’s movement. Members concerned themselves with the preservation and continuation of Indigenous culture on a local level, while at the same time focusing nationally on addressing the inequity in status conditions for women under the Indian Act. NWAC’s first president was bofre mentioned Métis war veteran and activist Bertha Clark Jones.
  43. JANUARY 01, 1976
    Greenpeace Anti-Sealing Campaign
    An anti-sealing campaign led by Greenpeace attacks Inuit hunting practices, economically devastating Inuit communities for years to come. Greenpeace publicly expresses their regret in 2014.
  44. JANUARY 01, 1979
    28 Residential Schools Remain
    Thousands of Indigenous students are enrolled at the 28 remaining residential schools that were running in Canada at the time.
  45. JANUARY 01, 1980
    Standoffs Occur On Disputed Lands
    Several politically charged standoffs occur on disputed lands. More than 800 people are arrested during the “War in the Woods” when Tla-o-qui-aht and environmentalists fight to protect ancient forests from any potential loggers in Clayoquot Sound, British Columbia. The Oka Crisis sees Mohawk activists clash with Québec provincial police for 78 days. Tensions over the Kettle and Stony Point First Nation occupation at Ipperwash Provincial Park contribute to protestor Dudley George’s death at the hands of an Ontario Provincial Police officer.
  46. JANUARY 01, 1987
    Sanaaq, One Of The First Inuktitut Novels, Is Published
    Mitiarjuk Nappaaluk was an Inuit author, teacher and historian. Her most noted achievement is her novel “Sanaaq”, written in Inuktitut throughout the 50s and finally published in 1984. One of the first Inuktitut novels, it was translated into French in 2002 and English in 2014. Nappaaluk was a champion of Inuit culture and traditions and was made a Member of the Order of Canada in 2004.
  47. JANUARY 01, 1996
    Last Federally Operated Residential School Closes
    The last federally-run facility, Gordon’s Residential School in Punnichy, Saskatchewan, closes.
  48. JANUARY 01, 2008
    Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada Formally Acknowledges Crown’s “Duty To Consult” Indigenous Peoples
    Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada formally acknowledges Supreme Court rulings on the Crown’s “duty to consult” and, if appropriate, accommodate when the Crown considers initiating activities or decisions – often dealing with natural resource extraction – that might impact Indigenous peoples’ treaty rights.
  49. JANUARY 08, 2013
    Kenojuak Ashevak Dies
    Kenojuak Ashevak, a Nunavummiuq artist whose work became the face and soul of the Canadian Arctic, died at age 85 in her home at Cape Dorset, Nunavut.
  50. JANUARY 10, 2014
    First Indigenous Constitution In Ontario
    Members of the Nipissing First Nation voted in favour of adopting their first (own) constitution, or Gichi-Naaknigewin, believed to be the first such document among First Nations communities in Ontario. Its purpose is to allow the nation to define its membership and create laws. Legal experts say it is unclear, however, whether this constitution will run up against Canadian laws such as the Indian Act, which it is designed to replace.
  51. JANUARY 01, 2018
    Toronto’s Oldest Artifact Trusted To The Care Of The City Over 80 Years After Its Discovery
    An Indigenous arrowhead, which is estimated to be between 4,000 and 6,000 years old, has been trusted to the care of the city of Toronto by the woman who discovered it during a class trip to Fort York in 1935. Jeanne Carter discovered what is now considered the oldest artifact found on the present-day territory of the city of Toronto.

In concluding this exploration of Indigenous history throughout the month of January, it’s imperative to reflect on the profound impact that these events have had on the Native people and the land they have inhabited long before it became part of the United States of America. Each moment we’ve delved into is a testament to the resilience and enduring spirit of Native Americans, whose stories are woven deeply into the fabric of North American history. These events not only highlight the struggles and triumphs of Indigenous people but also serve as a reminder of the ongoing journey towards recognition and justice on a national scale.

As we honor these significant days in January, it becomes clear that the history of Native Americans is not a separate chapter but a central part of the story of the United States. The land that we now share holds the memories and the legacy of its original inhabitants, making it imperative for all Americans to acknowledge this shared history. By doing so, we can foster a new understanding and respect that transcends the past, bringing us closer to a united future where the contributions of Native people are celebrated as an integral part of the American narrative.

Let this January serve not only as a reflection of history but also as a beacon for the new chapters yet to be written. As we move forward, let us carry with us the lessons learned from the Native Americans, their profound connection to the land, and their unyielding resilience. In doing so, we embrace a more inclusive and comprehensive view of our national identity, one that honors the rich tapestry of all its people and paves the way for a united path forward in the ever-evolving story of America.