Asian Migration Theories, Indigenous Territories, Social Structures

Questions to ask yourself:

Why do people move? How does geography affect settlement?

What you will be able to do:

Show that you know about the Asian migration theory, naming the routes and indicating them on a map.

Name different Indigenous groups (language groups, nations, etc.) in the present-day territory of Quebec.

Explain the ways of life and social structures of Indigenous groups, by mapping and categorizing artifacts belonging to those different groups.

Image source from animation introduction by SFU Museum, site no longer existant, available without animation via https://web.archive.org/

Engage Through Discussions - View images that show types of territory and reasons for migration.

For notions of geography affecting settlement --> Where in this image would they likely settle? What might stop them? Etc.

For bigger questions like, Why do people move? --> What in this image would have attracted people? What might they have “followed” to provide for their families and to live a better life?

The Bering Strait, Land Bridges, and Routes to Find Food

"According to the Asian migration hypothesis ... thousands of years ago, when the climate facilitated access to northwestern America, peoples from Asia tracking game crossed land bridges freed from ice to reach the central and southern parts of the continent. (QEP, page 19). Various waves of migration have been documented, and exact dates for the earliest migrations range from 10,000 B.C. to as much as 30,000 years, as new archeological sites are studied, as information about what routes were open at the time are revised, and even as alternative migration theories using other access points are postulated.

During the Last Glacial Maximum, about 21,000 years ago, global sea level was approximately 120 m (400 ft) lower than today. The Bering Land Bridge existed as a vast tundra plain connecting Asia and North America. (Source and animations)

"Most archaeologists think the first Americans arrived by boat. Now, they're beginning to prove it." (Source video)

It was not really a bridge! The Bering Strait area - what is now as narrow as 80 kilometres of water between the northern coasts of Russian and Alaska - was at one time very dry and significantly larger. Since we know that sea levels were once much lower then than now, we can conclude that that area was once an open plain. Archeologists have even found evidence of people living and travelling near the area, and some of these sites were established well before 10 thousand years ago. We also know that the area opened and closed more than once to travel and even settlement, as different climate changes occurred. But muc like crossing a bridge, the various versions of the theory still postulate that at certains points in time people slowly moved across this low area of land, possibly even settled there for a time, and that eventually they arrived on the coasts and later on the plains of what is now North America and even South America.

Beringia about 18,000 years ago. (Image credit: Bond, J.D. 2019. Paleodrainage map of Beringia. Yukon Geological Survey, Open File 2019-2) (View original large source files)

But why would people have migrated towards the south and east in the first place? Why leave what are now northern Asia and the Beringia areas at all? One idea stems from the idea that the ice sheets were constantly changing, and the weather was slowly becoming colder or hotter. Over time people moved to more habitable climates, gradually changing position around the globe.

Similarly, these changes might have also influenced wildlife: herds of caribou, bison, and in those times even groups of large woolly mammoths or saber-toothed wildcats. All of these animals might have moved slowly from one region to another, because of their changing environment and landscape. And one idea is that just as slowly people may have followed these groups of animals into their new territories. A related idea suggests that humans themselves contributed the animals' movement, through overhunting. Indeed, many of the larger species just mentioned went extinct during these time periods. As animal numbers dwindled in one area, people might have had to move on to another area to find food.

It should be noted that many Indigenous cultures do not require the inclusion of this migration theory from the northwest to explain their existence in what is now Canada. Even while recognizing notions of shifting hunting grounds and of changing of territory, for food or other reasons, “Indigenous people throughout the Western Hemisphere talk [instead] of their origins in oral histories, stories, and myths that link them [more] intimately to the places they inhabit. The land, the stories commonly assert, was made for “the people,” and they [the people] were made to inhabit the land. Every group has an origin story […] And these stories are invoked by Aboriginal peoples as sufficient to their needs as regards history.” (Source)

Another related consideration might be to wonder why non-Indigenous people tend not to include their own migration experiences, from Africa to Europe let's say, as part of their own historical records. While the "expansion of modern human population is thought to have begun 45,000 years ago, and it may have actually taken 15,000–20,000 years for Europe to be colonized." (Source)

Texts above by Paul Rombough at LEARN, based on Quebec History program requirements and recent documents curated for this section.

"Perhaps you head eastward, to places no one has ever been." Source: Illustration by Mark Garrison via A Sunken Bridge the Size of a Continent.

"At the beginning of the world, the Gwitchin culture-hero, Ch'itahuukaii, the Traveller, and the Tutchone hero Soh Jhee or Asuya (Beaver Man), journeyed across the land to change the animals from giants and man-eaters to the familiar species of today." Source: Beaver Shrinkage photo of painting posted by Flickr user Travis under by-nc.

Celebration Circle Panels By Randy Thomas with Roy Thomas at Prince Arthur's Landing, Marina Park in Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada. Photo by Ryan Hodnett under by-sa (See also images at firstnationsdrum.com)

“Canadian and Indigenous Art: From Time Immemorial to 1967,” installation view, June 2017, National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa. Photo: NGC via An Indigenous Woman’s View of the National Gallery of Canada

Explore and Explain ... using Maps!

Observe and discuss documents provided by your teacher or that you have researched in your group. (You can use our collection here.) Consider questions such as, how does geography affect settlement and Why do people move? Consider any specific questions that come up related to the text sources and the media available. Visit and be critical of ALL sources!

For each document provided consider who, why, when and particularly for this learning goal “where” the earliest migrations into the American regions occurred. Use online tools to draw migration routes and settled areas onto maps, to suggest and explain reasons why people moved to certain regions and not to others.


What about the Indigenous people originally in the present-day territory of Quebec?

Images by source: Service national du RÉCIT de l’univers social under by-nc-sa . Background by Green slash at wikimedia.org

Once the ice age ended in this area, was the terrain and climate inviting?

Most of the northeastern areas of what is today Quebec and Canada are covered by exposed rock and shallow soils. So, these areas might appear less welcoming than areas further to the south, but they still provided resources for those who eventually settled here. "Most of the Algonquian speaking peoples lived in the region known as the Canadian Shield. Farming was difficult in this region because it was covered with rock and forests. So the Algonquian people ate game animals, which means the animals they hunted, animals such as hare or partridge which is a kind of bird. These they could easily find in the forest. They also ate the fish which filled the many lakes and rivers.... the Algonquian-speaking peoples who were further south lived in a humid continental climate where the winters are shorter. Those who lived a little further north had a subarctic climate where the winters are much longer and colder." (More information at The Algonquian territory, A. Lanoix, via RECITUS-LEARN)

Women gathering berries along a riverbank © Création Bernard Duchesne via /social-groups-women/

Territory and Climate images by RÉCITUS under by-nc-sa via RECITUS-LEARN.

Women gathering berries along a riverbank © Création Bernard Duchesne

South of the shield area the lowlands around the great lakes and along the St. Lawrence river area were warmer, and they also provided a terrain more suited to a stationary way of life, and eventually even to growing ones own food. "The Iroquoian territory was fertile because it was located in the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Lowlands, and the humid continental climate was good for farming. The Iroquoians mainly grew corn, squash and beans, which they call the three sisters.... There were many rivers on the territory. Getting around by canoe was very convenient. What’s more, these rivers were full of fish and turtles. ... They were home to several species of animals such as beavers, deer, bears and wolves. (More information at A territory rich in natural resources, RECITUS)

"The Iroquoian nations were sedentary, meaning they mostly stayed in one place; unlike the Algonquian people who were constantly moving. The Iroquoian people lived in villages and farmed their food. They stayed in the same place for 10, 15 or even 20 years, as long as the land continued to produce enough food. When the soil became depleted, the entire village had to move to another location on their territory where the soil was fertile. The village also had to be near a source of drinking water and close to a forest for wood supplies." (More information at A sedentary way of life , RECITUS)

Image source: Original drawings by Canjita Gomes on Iroquois Men (Division of labour). From page on S and T site called SMARTBoard tools for the Iroquois.


Short texts above by Paul Rombough at LEARN, incorporating texts from A. Lanoix and other RECITUS staff.

What are the different Indigenous groups in the present-day territory of Quebec?

Looking beyond local borders, Canada consisted of "several distinct forest regions. Adaptability is the essential component for survival within these demanding environments." (Source). Each group would use their region's resources differently, finding different ways to survive and even thrive.

One way of looking at the different groups that peopled our lands is to examine different languages spoken, and in particular to outline how languages are related, i.e. so-called language groups. "Linguists have linked language diversity to length of human occupation. For example, Canada's Pacific Coast has the greatest number of languages. Because of this diversity, linguists have concluded that the Pacific Coast peoples have occupied their region longer than other First Nations groups have occupied their own regions. First Nations languages within what is now Canada are classified into twelve separate groups of approximately fifty languages." (Source)

Each nation had its own language. It was used to transmit knowledge and legends © Création Bernard Duchesne

Source: Subarctic peoples map, originally from Canadian Encyclopedia, but only available now via Subarctic Peoples page here.

"All Algonquians belong to the same linguistic family. That means all the different languages spoken by the Algonquian nations come from a single language. Over time, each nation developed its own words and expressions, until they eventually used different words than neighbouring nations, even though they were speaking the same language. This is somewhat like French, Italian and Spanish, which are all Romance languages ​​of the same origin. Some words are very similar, such as the word “night”, which is “nuit” in French, “notte” in Italian and “noche” in Spanish. The same goes for the Algonquian languages. They belong to same language family, but people did not always understand each other. Indigenous people also used a common language that was shared by all nations and linguistic families so that they could understand one another when they met and did trade. (Source: Many languages, one family, by A. Lanoix). You can compare Algonquian languages and dialects using the Algonquian Linguistic Atlas.

Similarly, there were several different nations one could call “Iroquoian”. All these nations shared certain common traits, such as farming and belonging to the mother’s clan. But do they also share the same language? Not exactly. So why do we speak of the Iroquoian linguistic family? The languages spoken by the Iroquoian nations all come from a common language. Over time, this language has evolved within each nation and the territory it inhabits ...

Many Indigenous languages ​​no longer exist. However, you can find traces of them by looking at the names of certain lakes, rivers or mountains in Québec. This is because Indigenous people gave names to the places around them, just like we do. Although the Europeans often renamed the places they visited and the rivers they travelled, many Indigenous names remain. They cannot all be listed here because there are about 10 000 Indigenous place names in the province of Québec. Most of them are Algonquian names.

Some Iroquoian names still remain, too. In fact, one of them is very well known, although it no longer means the same thing that it did in 1500: Canada. At the time, Canada meant “village” or “big village”. Hochelaga is another word that is still used today; it means “beaver dam” or “big rapids“, in reference to the Lachine rapids that was near the St. Lawrence Iroquoian village on the island of Montréal. (Source: One linguistic family, several dialects, by RECITUS)

Dekanawida -- Great Peacemaker. Speaking of peace to Iroquois. Dekanawida known to have grown up in Huron lands. Copyright unknown. Originally via the History and Innovation site no longer active.

Investigate and Map Local Language Groups

Use documents provided or found online to establish facts about the territories in Quebec. (relief, climate, etc.). Situate First Nation groups and establish facts about them. (their language, their language groups, etc.)

Google My Maps or LEARN-RECIT's Cartograf could be used to present territories and regional differences. Students could also use Cartograf maps in order to denote different nations, groups and locations. A draft Cartograf language-group map has been started at here to show how territories can be outlined and can contain descriptions.


Way of life and social structures of different Indigenous groups

Image collage, with main background source unknown, as used in I-Spy Game: Societies in 1500 to represent an Iroquoian village.

The Iroquoian-speaking peoples built villages. Since they were able to hunt and farm for several years in one place, they had time and reason to build larger structures. Of course, they are well-known for their longhouses. Several families belonging to the same clan lived together, and these large structures of wood and bark could be expanded. The people in each house were all descended from the same mother. The Iroquoians were what is known as a matrilineal society, where children belong to their mother’s clan. But of course, “Not everyone living in a particular longhouse is a member of your longhouse family. For example, your father lives in your longhouse but remains a member of his mother’s longhouse family." Read more at "The importance of the clan" and follow the links there to Kanienkehaka Lifeways – Mohawk Valley, circa 1500 at Deerfield History Museum.

Another structure they had time was a palisade. "Four hundred years ago, an Iroquois longhouse village was typically surrounded by a palisade or "stockade." The palisade was built of tall, upright posts set into the ground, with saplings, and sometimes, sheets of bark, interwoven between them. From the inside and outside, the palisade wall resembled a wicker basket. Villages might be protected by one, two, and even three encircling rows of palisades. The palisade protected the villagers from enemy attack, and kept wild animals out, as well. Some researchers think they may have also served as a "snow fence," protecting the longhouses just inside from winter winds and snow." (Source)

“For the Iroquoians, farming involved a special organization of their social space and was based on a sexual division of labour. Agricultural activities normally began in April, with the clearing of forested land to prepare it for cultivation. Following the women's directions, the men slashed brush, felled some trees with stone axes and killed off others by removing the bark." (Source and more information) Iroquoian women were also potters, and intricate bowls can be found on very ancient sites. Men and women both would have also fashioned tools like axes, arrows and even pipes for tobacco smoking. For more information visit our pages on Iroquois Men and Iroquois Women, and research further on the Ceramics, Objects made of organic material and Stone objects that have been found.

Image from the short film The Abenaki – People of the Dawn, by Scott G. MacLeod available for LEARN users via https://www.learnquebec.ca/wateroflife

The Alongonquian-speaking peoples were nomads. They lived in dwellings known as wigwams, large tents in the shape of a cone or dome. A wigwam could be 3 to 6 metres wide and 3 metres high. It was made of large wooden poles which were covered with skins and bark. Normally, a wigwam was large enough to house several families. Iwas easy to assemble, disassemble and transport. Once a band had chosen the location of its camp, it took the women about an hour to set up the wigwam. When the band moved, it took only the skins and bark because they were light enough to carry. New poles could be found at the next site where the camp would be set up.

Walking, using canoes, even toboggans, The Algonquians travelled a lot because their territory required it of them. . They usually travelled on water when it was not frozen. Canoes were a fast and efficient way of moving in the spring, joining the camp in the summer, and returning to the hunting lands in the fall. The Algonquians developed modes of transportation that were adapted to their way of life. These modes allowed them to move quickly and with ease. Plus, they were light and easily repaired with materials that were readily available.

Building a canoe © Jean-Paul Eid via from-canoe-to-toboggan/

Model canoe Anonyme © McCord Museum, under by-nc-nd

Two sled with Inuit arriving at Wollaston Point, Northwest Territories (Nunavut) https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Two_sled_with_Inuit_arriving_at_Wollaston_Point_(38649).jpg under by-sa/

The Inuit, another nomadic people, lived further north. Migrating to our continent later than the other groups, the Inuit peoples and their ancestors travelled through and lived in all northern areas of the globe. That being said, the Inuit have lived in what is now northern Canada, the United States, and Greenland for over 4000 years, making theirs one of the oldest cultures in the world.

"The Inuit had different methods of travel depending on the season. In the winter they traveled across the frozen Arctic either by foot or dog sled. During the summer they took advantage of the open water and traveled by boat." (Source) "They used a sled called A qamutiik, a sled designed to travel on snow and ice, built using traditional Inuit design techniques. Adapted to the Arctic sea ice environment, such sleds are still widely used in the 21st century for travel in Arctic regions." (Source, and see also our page on Dogsleds to Snowmobiles)

As hunters, the Inuit required different tools. They made various kinds of knives, including the ‘women's knife’ known as the ulu, with its distinctive form. Originally, the blades were made from slate, but after contact with Europeans the Inuit began making the blades from iron files or pieces of steel. (Visit mccord.qc.ca). Early Inuit were already accomplished whalers when they began moving into Arctic Canada about 1,000 years ago. Like Inuit today, early Inuit depended on a variety of animals for food, including seals, caribou, fish, walrus, and other sea mammals.

The Inuit developed many ingenious tools and strategies to deal with the difficulties associated with living on their territory. They developed various means of transportation, like kayaks, other boats called oumiak, and qamutik (dog sleds). They invented dwellings, (like igloos), clothing (like snow goggles), and other items that were essential for survival, (such as a Qulliq, a kind of oil lamp made of soapstone). Because of their history, their lifestyle, and their traditions, the Inuit are quite different from other Indigenous peoples living in southern Quebec. (Read more at Adapting to the Great North)

Model sled Anonyme - Anonymous Eastern Arctic Inuit: Nunavimiut 1911... © McCord Museum under by-nc-nd

Culture of Greenland. via Scan of the National Geographic Magazine, Volume 31 (1917) under Public Domain

Eskimo man seated in a kayak prepares to throw spear. J299990 U.S. Copyright Office. via picryl.com/ No known restrictions on publication

Investigate then explain the ways of life and social structures of Indigenous peoples

Examine the texts, images and objects in available documents and via your own research on Algonquian, Iroquoian and Inuit-speaking peoples.

Categorize and explain the significance of key artifacts, first according to whether the objects come from a society in either Algonquian, Iroquoian or Inuit language groups, then later according to how that object was used, who used it, etc. A sample gallery of objects is available at http://cartograf.learnquebec.ca/file750?view=browse. Explain the choice of object and comment on the region or territory of the First Nation in question. Explain how it is significant to the way of life in that region and/or its social structures.

Technology: Create a Google Maps or Cartograf map to identify and delineate different language groups using lines or shapes. For example, attach 4 artifact images to each of the shapes' descriptions, thus matching them to First Nations in that language group. You could also simply use points placed over the given territory, or a legend system that identifies that object to that Indigenous group. A draft Cartograf language-group map using shapes has been started at http://goo.gl/neFv6m (It can be duplicated and used)

Main Teacher Guide/Document Collection

The texts and other resources above were compiled using our main document collection available here. That collection is meant as a starting point for further research. Please follow the source links for further context, and for more in-depth information.

Please report typos and errors on this page to prombough@learnquebec.ca

2018 version -- Origins to 1608 -- (#1) Indigenous peoples.Colonization (Asian migration, territory, social structures)

Thinking about Local History

Here are a few questions and an organizer to help students ask questions about their own region, as it relates to the above learning intentions and course content:

Sample Questions - Local History Focus on Migrations