Long before the vast region that is now Canada was explored and settled by Europeans, it was home to a number of aboriginal peoples. Each group had its own culture and language, but the groups were similar in some ways. Like aboriginal tribes in other parts of the world, they had stories about the creation of the world and humanity, their natural surroundings, and animals that behaved like humans and, in some cases, actually became human beings. One of the common elements in these tribal stories was the inclusion of a trickster figure, whose function was to add suspense and humor to narratives.
How and when orally transmitted aboriginal stories became literature, which by definition means something that has been written down, is difficult to determine. Although the Canadian aboriginal peoples depended primarily on the oral transmission of their cultural heritage, contemporary observers reported that some tribes recorded texts on wampum or in hieroglyphic letters inscribed on birch bark. The first alphabetical transcriptions and translations of the poetry of the Canadian aboriginal peoples can be found in letters written by Jesuit missionaries and British and French military officers to their friends in Europe. The Jesuit missionaries taught their own writing system to aboriginal children.
In the late nineteenth century, Tekahionwake (1861-1913), a First Nations poet, became famous for English-language poems about her culture. The daughter of a...
(The entire section is 407 words.)