The first inhabitants
Archaeologists have uncovered evidence suggesting that the human presence in North America goes back at least 8,000 years. Artefacts indicate that these humans, the Paleoindians, travelled in search of food as they followed the great herds of bison and caribou across the continent. As the glaciers from the last Ice Age withdrew, people gradually settled down. To survive, they gathered berries, fished, and hunted animals like bison, moose, caribou, seal, walrus, porpoise, whales and wildfowl.
Archaeologists have classified Aboriginal peoples according to language (their ‘language family’) and region (their ‘cultural area’).
The Eskimo-Aleut language family is native to the Arctic region, and includes languages spoken by the Inuit. The Algonquian and Athapaskan language families, which include the Montagnais (Innu), Mi’kmaq and Algonquin languages, are concentrated in the sub-Arctic regions. The Algonquian language family is also found in the continent’s northeast, together with the Iroquoian (which includes the Huron and Iroquois languages).
When the Europeans began hunting and fishing in the Gulf of St. Lawrence about 1,000 years ago, they met Amerindians from the Algonquian (Montagnais, Mi’kmaq) and Iroquoian (St. Lawrence Iroquois) language families. These Native peoples knew the shores of the St. Lawrence very well. They went there each spring to hunt seal, and spent the summers fishing in the river’s waters. They dried and smoked fish like cod and salmon. When Jacques Cartier arrived, the Iroquois diet included eel, sturgeon, shad, pike and perch.