The First Nations, Inuit, and Métis form the richly diverse group of Indigenous Canadians, who carry the legacy of Canada’s earliest inhabitants, long before European settlers set foot on the land. With a vibrant 1.7 million people, accounting for over 5% of the country’s population, these Indigenous societies preserve a colorful mosaic of history, culture, and traditions passed down through innumerable generations.
Shining a light on famous Indigenous Canadians carries tremendous importance. It acknowledges their invaluable influence on Canada’s societal and cultural fabric. Historically marginalized and oppressed, Indigenous people’s contributions have often been overlooked or undervalued. By recognizing the accomplishments of Indigenous leaders, artists, athletes, and others who have positively impacted Canada, we can dismantle negative stereotypes. We inspire a more genuine and respectful representation of Indigenous Canadians.
Many famous Indigenous Canadians have made significant contributions across various fields. Buffy Sainte-Marie is an acclaimed singer-songwriter and activist whose art underscores her commitment to Indigenous rights and social justice. Tom Jackson is a gifted Métis actor and musician with an impressive resume spanning film and television. Wab Kinew, an Anishinaabe politician, author, and musician, has been an influential advocate for Indigenous issues and reconciliation.
Check out our list of the most famous Indigenous Canadians.
Who are Indigenous Canadians?
Indigenous Canadians, also called Aboriginal Canadians, represent the earliest populations that called present-day Canada home. With roots spanning thousands of years before European settlers’ arrival, their multifaceted and fascinating history embodies Canada. Indigenous peoples consist of First Nations, Métis, and Inuit communities – each proudly displaying their own distinctive cultures, languages, and customs.
First Nations communities comprise numerous distinct Indigenous groups that contribute their languages, cultures and histories to the Canadian tapestry. Spanning from the Atlantic to the Pacific coasts and from the northern territories down to southern Canada, their presence permeates every corner of the nation.
The Métis embody a singular Indigenous group born from a blend of Indigenous and European ancestries – predominantly French and Indigenous heritages. This powerful fusion gave rise to cultural practices and traditions that stemmed from interactions between Indigenous peoples and European settlers, especially those involved in fur trading.
Inhabiting the northern regions of Canada, including the Arctic’s icy embrace, the Inuit represent a people well-adapted to a formidable environment. Their lifestyle is characterized by hunting and fishing expertise passed down through generations, alongside an extraordinary aptitude for artistry and craftsmanship.
List of famous Indigenous Canadians
- Buffy Saint-Marie
- Jody Wilson-Raybould
- Joseph Boyden
- Waneek Horn-Miller
- Adam Beach
- Carey Price
- Leah Gazan
- Jennifer Podemski
- Tanya Tagaq
- Alex Janvier
- Richard Wagamese
- Tantoo Cardinal
Famous Canadian Indigenous singer
Buffy Sainte-Marie, a celebrated Canadian Indigenous vocalist, lyricist, and trailblazer, has made remarkable strides within the music industry. She is famous among Indigenous societies across Canada and beyond.
Hailing from the Piapot Cree First Nation Reserve in Saskatchewan, Canada, she is acclaimed for her resounding voice and thought-provoking verses tackling topics such as Indigenous rights, environmental stewardship, and the pursuit of peace. With an impressive career spanning over half a century, Sainte-Marie has launched numerous albums like It’s My Way! and Medicine Songs, amassing myriad accolades such as an Academy Award and a Juno Award. Her most iconic tracks include Universal Soldier, Up Where We Belong, and Until It’s Time for You to Go.
In addition to her musical achievements, Buffy Sainte-Marie is a passionate social advocate championing causes like Indigenous rights, green living, and education. She established the Cradleboard Teaching Project to equip Indigenous youth with educational tools that celebrate their rich cultural legacy. As a member of the Order of Canada, recipient of multiple honorary doctorates, and an inductee into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, Sainte-Marie’s impact remains ever-inspiring.
Famous Canadian Indigenous leader
Jody Wilson-Raybould stands as a distinguished Canadian attorney, political figure, and Indigenous leader, renowned for her dedication to Indigenous rights and governance. Born in the beautiful province of British Columbia, Canada, she is proudly affiliated with the We Wai Kai Nation, a First Nation located in the same region.
In 2015, Wilson-Raybould shattered glass ceilings by becoming Canada’s inaugural Indigenous Minister of Justice and Attorney General. Throughout her tenure, she fervently pursued a multitude of endeavors such as the enactment of laws that acknowledged and backed Indigenous rights and self-rule.
Fast forward to 2019; Wilson-Raybould found herself at the epicenter of Canadian political discourse when she stepped down from her role as Minister of Veterans Affairs and Associate Minister of National Defence. This decision stemmed from her apprehension regarding the administration’s approach to a corruption scandal enveloping a prominent Canadian engineering enterprise. Her courageous stance against the government’s conduct earned her widespread respect and commendation across the nation.
Post-politics, she remains an unrelenting champion for Indigenous rights and sovereignty, gracing conferences and gatherings around the globe with her eloquent speeches on Indigenous matters. Her outstanding leadership and activism have garnered multiple recognitions. Among these is being named among Canada’s Top 100 Most Powerful Women by the Women’s Executive Network.
Famous Canadian Indigenous author
Joseph Boyden is one of the most famous Canadian authors. He has enjoyed a thriving literary journey spanning over two decades. His eclectic assortment of writings deeply explore themes such as Indigenous identity, history, and social justice, resonating from his roots in Willowdale, Ontario.
The Orenda, likely Boyden’s most renowned work, has seized numerous prestigious awards, including the Scotiabank Giller Prize and the Canadian Authors Association Award for Fiction. Additionally, other highly lauded creations by Boyden, like Three Day Road and Through Black Spruce, have garnered a slew of commendations and nods.
As a devoted advocate for Indigenous rights and reconciliation efforts, Boyden partners with various organizations to highlight the hurdles encountered by Indigenous communities. For his priceless contributions to this cause, he has been honored with distinct recognitions such as the Order of Canada and the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal.
Famous Canadian Indigenous athlete
Waneek Horn-Miller, a distinguished Mohawk First Nation athlete, activist, and TV star, holds a special place in the hearts of Canada’s Indigenous people. Born and bred in Montreal, Quebec, she hails from a lineage teeming with significant Indigenous figures and leaders.
As an exceptional water polo competitor, Horn-Miller secured her position on the Canadian Olympic team at the 2000 Sydney Summer Games. Her global stardom ignited when she was dramatically struck in the face by a riot officer’s weapon during the 1990 Oka Crisis – a turning point in Canadian Indigenous affairs.
Retiring her athletic pursuits, Horn-Miller emerged as a passionate crusader for Indigenous rights, concentrating on health, empowering young people, and social justice. She co-established the Indigenous Sport Council of Quebec and accepted the role of National Coordinator for the North American Indigenous Games.
Horn-Miller’s impact stretches beyond activism and athletics; she has graced television screens multiple times, even co-hosting the acclaimed series Working it Out Together, which delved into health and wellbeing within Indigenous communities. Waneek has received numerous accolades such as the Indspire Award and was welcomed into McGill University Sports Hall of Fame in 2018.
Famous Canadian Indigenous actor
Adam Beach is a famous Canadian actor, filmmaker, and Indigenous advocate. He has made a lasting impact in the world of entertainment.
Originating from Manitoba, Canada, he is an Anishinaabe member of the Dog Creek First Nations. Beach’s acting career took off in the late 1990s with appearances in Canadian productions like North of 60 and Smoke Signals. Since then, he has portrayed characters in numerous celebrated films and TV series such as Flags of Our Fathers, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, and Windtalkers, among others.
Numerous accolades have been bestowed upon Beach for his exceptional performances, including the Gemini Award and the National Aboriginal Achievement Award. As a strong force for Indigenous voices, Beach tirelessly advocates for increased representation of Indigenous communities within the entertainment field. His dedication to this mission resulted in the establishment of the Adam Beach Film Institute, geared towards educating Indigenous youth in filmmaking and acting.
In acknowledgment of his remarkable contributions, Beach has received various honors such as the Indspire Award and Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal.
Famous Canadian Indigenous hockey player
From the Ulkatcho First Nation in Anahim Lake, British Columbia, Carey Price is a renowned First Nations ice hockey goaltender who has carved a name for himself in the world of Canadian sports. Growing up near his home, Price spent his childhood honing his hockey skills on frozen ponds.
It was with the Tri-City Americans of the Western Hockey League that Price’s hockey career truly soared, showcasing his goaltending prowess. His remarkable skills landed him a spot on the Montreal Canadiens’ roster, where he’s been playing for over ten years. Throughout his journey, Price has garnered multiple awards and accolades, such as the Hart Memorial Trophy, the Vezina Trophy, and a 2014 Winter Olympics gold medal.
Price’s commitment extends beyond the rink – he is a staunch advocate for mental health awareness and suicide prevention, particularly within Indigenous communities. The establishment of The Carey Price Foundation attests to his dedication to supporting children in need and fostering healthy lifestyles. His philanthropic endeavors have earned him distinguished recognitions like the Meritorious Service Cross and the NHL Foundation Player Award.
Embracing his cultural roots, Price recognizes the significance of Indigenous representation in hockey and often speaks openly about it. As a testament to his influence both in the sport and within his community, Price was awarded the 2020 Laureus World Sports Award for Exceptional Achievement in a sport.
Famous Canadian Indigenous activist
Leah Gazan, an influential Anishinaabe politician and activist, has left a mark on Canada’s political scene. Hailing from Winnipeg, one of the most diverse cities in Canada, she embraces her Indigenous heritage with immense pride.
Prior to entering the political arena, Gazan was a respected academic and educator, focusing on Indigenous history and social justice concerns. In 2019, she made history by becoming the first Indigenous woman to represent Winnipeg Centre in the Parliament.
As a passionate activist, Gazan fervently supports various causes such as Indigenous rights and sovereignty, environmental justice, and social equality. Her crucial role in persuading the Canadian government to adopt the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples cannot be overstated.
Gazan’s exceptional leadership hasn’t escaped recognition. Among her accolades are the YMCA-YWCA Women of Distinction Award and the Carol Shields Winnipeg Book Award for her insightful publication, Truth and Reconciliation in Canadian Schools.
Famous Canadian First Nations actress
Jennifer Podemski is a talented actress, producer, and director from the Ulkatcho First Nation in Anahim Lake, British Columbia. She has been actively involved in the entertainment industry for over 30 years and has acted in a wide range of productions, including the CBC series The Rez and the critically acclaimed film Dance Me Outside.
Jennifer is also passionate about Indigenous rights and representation in the industry. She co-founded Redcloud Studios, which focuses on creating Indigenous-led film and television projects. In addition to her creative work, Jennifer has been recognized for her activism with awards such as the 2020 ACTRA National Award of Excellence and the Meritorious Service Medal.
Famous Canadian Indigenous musician
Tanya Tagaq has left a lasting impression on Canada’s music and culture. Originally from Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, this famous Canadian Indigigenous musician uses her Indigenous heritage as inspiration for her distinct and captivating sound.
Her music has gained widespread recognition and praise, earning various accolades including the Polaris Music Prize, Juno Awards, and a National Arts Centre Award. Through her eerie vocals and experimental compositions, Tagaq challenges and expands traditional Inuit throat singing beyond its cultural roots.
Tagaq is a strong advocate for Indigenous rights and environmental justice. She utilizes her platform to raise awareness and inspire meaningful change, particularly concerning issues affecting Northern Indigenous communities. Her activism has earned her esteemed recognition, such as the Order of Canada and the Qilaut Award for Aboriginal Music.
Tagaq’s unique artistic and cultural contributions led her to curate the diverse 2019 Polaris Music Prize Gala, showcasing her significant influence and leadership in the Canadian music industry.
Famous Canadian Indigenous artist
Alex Janvier is one of the most famous Canadian painters. He has significantly impacted the Canadian art world with his breathtaking artwork. His pieces are deeply connected to his Indigenous culture and spirituality and reflect his exceptional and innovative style that marries traditional Indigenous art with modern techniques.
Alex has received several notable awards, including the Order of Canada, Governor General’s Award in Visual and Media Arts, and the prestigious Alberta Order of Excellence. His artwork has been showcased across various venues, including the Royal Ontario Museum and the National Gallery of Canada.
Famous Canadian First Nations author
Richard Wagamese is a famous Canadian author from Northwestern Ontario and proud member of the Ojibwe Nation. He has etched his name in the annals of literature with his mesmerizing stories and poignant narratives that draw inspiration from his Indigenous roots.
His critically acclaimed novel, Indian Horse, tells the moving tale of a young Indigenous boy’s journey as he battles to overcome the hardships imposed by residential schools. This extraordinary piece of fiction went on to garner numerous awards, including the esteemed Canada Reads competition in 2013. Other notable creations by Wagamese include Medicine Walk, Starlight, and One Native Life.
Wagamese is a steadfast advocate for Indigenous rights and reconciliation. He staunchly opposed the mistreatment of Indigenous populations and devoted his life to promoting empathy and healing between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities. In acknowledgement of his prodigious contributions to both literature and activism, Wagamese was honored with multiple awards such as the Molson Prize for the Arts and the George Ryga Award for Social Awareness in Literature.
Famous Canadian Indigenous actress
Tantoo Cardinal is a gifted Canadian Indigenous actress embodying a fusion of Métis and Cree heritage. With her compelling performances and resolute advocacy for Indigenous representation, she has carved a unique path since her birth in Fort McMurray, Alberta. Her acting journey commenced in the 1970s, encompassing a myriad of films, television dramas, and stage plays.
A few illustrious film titles under her belt are Dances with Wolves, Legends of the Fall, and Smoke Signals. Furthermore, her TV appearances on popular series like Stumptown, Penny Dreadful: City of Angels, and Westworld have drawn critical appreciation. To honor her exceptional skills, Cardinal’s trophy shelf boasts the Order of Canada and the Earle Grey Award for Lifetime Achievement.
In addition to her artistic contributions, she unyieldingly fights for Indigenous rights and champions environmental issues. Utilizing her influence, she wholeheartedly supports preserving Indigenous traditions and dialects. Simultaneously, she widens awareness about the growing effects of climate change on Indigenous societies.