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Researching Your Aboriginal Ancestry at Library and Archives Canada

Part I: Researching Your Aboriginal Genealogy at Library and Archives Canada

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Indian Tribes and Bands

A tribe or nation is a large group of aboriginal people, generally composed of more than one band, who follow the same traditional way of life and who speak basically the same language; the tribe is sometimes politically arranged in a federation. Researchers interested in the names of tribes and nations native to Canada and the northern United States can consult Indians of Canada, Cultural Dynamics, by John Price. A copy of the book's map showing the general geographic location of the tribes and nations is available for onsite consultation at Library and Archives Canada in Ottawa. Few RG 10 documents were created at the tribe or nation level, as the federal government has mostly dealt with aboriginal people at the level of the band.

Specialists today recognize two meanings for the term "band". Administratively, the band is the basic unit of organization that the federal government created to group aboriginal people for purposes of managing services to them. Socially, it is a group of people following a traditional way of life (hunting, fishing, trapping, gathering, family structure, etc.). Members of bands are recognized by the government by a band number or ticket, a government issued identification number given to a family or an adult living alone in a band.

A band is sometimes referred to by the name recognized by its own members, such as Chippewas of Nawash, Algonquins of Barriere Lake, etc., but generally the band name does not contain the name of the tribe or nation to which it belongs. Researchers must bear in mind that, over the years, many bands were amalgamated, surrendered their treaty rights or changed their names. It is therefore important to know the dates of interest when searching for band information.

In the absence of the name of the band to which an ancestor is believed to have belonged, the place of residence might make it possible to identify the appropriate band or reserve. Here are three resources that may help:

  • The Canada Gazetteer Atlas, available at most local libraries, identifies reserves as pink areas; smaller settlements show as a red dot. The researcher can try to locate an Indian reserve in the area surrounding the place of residence of an ancestor.

  • The Indian and Northern Affairs Canada's publication Schedule of Indian Bands, Reserves and Settlements gives the names of the reserves in each province and territory and the names of the bands in each reserve. The Atlas of Indian Reserves and Settlements of Canada contains similar information, but with slightly more detailed maps.

  • The Historical Atlas of Canada II lists Native reserves to 1900 and treaty areas to 1899.

Once the band name is known, a variety of resources exist for the researcher of aboriginal ancestry:

  • Binders containing band history cards are available in the Genealogy and Family History at Library and Archives Canada in Ottawa. These cards contain such band information as name of agencies, treaty numbers, dates and the name changes. Because access to the band history cards is restricted, the cards must be consulted by the Centre staff on behalf of the researcher.

  • Reference files maintained in the Clients Services Division at Library and Archives Canada contain limited information about various Indian bands. Again, access is restricted, and these files must be consulted by archival staff on behalf of the researcher.

  • A number of finding aids provide information about the relationship between bands and the field offices that administered them. If the name of a band is known, the finding aid provides the name of its agency; if the name of an agency is known, the aid provides the names of the bands under its responsibility. The responsibility for bands moved from one agency to another over time as agencies were created, restructured or abolished. In addition, some bands may have surrendered their land to the government, and the band members were then incorporated into other bands.

In many cases, a search of the online databases described in Part II of this guide provides adequate information about the relationships between bands and their agencies. When such searches are not conclusive, the following finding aids (FAs) can be consulted at Library and Archives Canada:

  • FA 10-12: a guide to Western Canadian field offices identifying the bands for which each was responsible, 1871-1959

  • FA 10-145: a guide to Nova Scotia field offices, 1871-1997

  • FA 10-157: a guide to Ontario field offices identifying the bands for which each was responsible, 1845-1990

  • FA 10-202: a guide to Indian bands and agencies in British Columbia

  • FA 10-249: a guide to Quebec field offices identifying the bands for which each field office was responsible, c. 1763-1995

  • FA 10-475: a guide to New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland field offices, 1871-1972

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