Home Spotlight on Indigenous Innovation 11 innovations you may not have known were Indigenous

11 innovations you may not have known were Indigenous

11 innovations you may not have known were Indigenous
Traditional Inuit goggles made from caribou antler and tendons. Photo: Julian Idrobo, Winnipeg, under Creative Commons 2.0 Share and Share Alike generic licence

Canadian innovation didn’t begin with the first settlers in the 1600s. It’s been happening throughout the thousands of years that Indigenous people have lived on these lands. Here are just a few of the more known – and lesser known – Indigenous innovations and discoveries.

Snow goggles: Inuit developed bone, antler and ivory goggles to prevent blinding snow glare while they hunted.

Bitumen for waterproofing: Indigenous people used bitumen from the Athabascan oil sands in Alberta, and then combined it with spruce gum to waterproof canoes, baskets and cloth.

Petroleum jelly: First Nations used olefin hydrocarbons and methane to make petroleum jelly, and used it to hydrate and protect animal and human skin.

Pain relief: The active ingredient in pain relievers such as Aspirin was known to First Nations for centuries. It is found in species of the willow tree, including the pussy willow.

Upset stomach remedies: A tea made with the whole blackberry plant was used by First Nations to treat sicknesses such as dysentery, cholera and upset stomach.

Cough syrup: Pine trees were used by First Nations to make a tea that helped relieve coughs. Many cough syrups today use the same ingredient.

Cure for scurvy: Indigenous people taught European explorer Jacques Cartier to use boiled cedar needles, which are high in vitamin C, to treat scurvy

Canoes and kayaks: Indigenous people made birch bark canoes that were lightweight, spacious and, as it later turned out, far superior to those made by Europeans – so much so that they adapted their own boats for exploration and the fur trade.

Lifejackets: The Inuit were the first people to create life jackets. A special garment was made of dehaired sealskins, which was worn when the Inuit hunted whales.

Snowshoes: Many kinds of snowshoes were developed by First Nations, Métis and Inuit. A very common style was made from spruce and rawhide thongs.

Baby carrier coat: Women of the Eastern Arctic designed a special kind of parka, called an amauti, which had hoods large enough to carry a baby. These coats are still being made today.

Inuit women, such as Anautak Kululaposing, pictured here in 1950 in Quaqtaq, Nanuvik, wear the amautik (or amauti) to carry
their babies, protecting them from the cold and aiding in bonding. This wearable technology is an ever evolving link between their
ancestors and modern day Inuit. (Photo: Father Kees Verspeek, OMI. Father Kees Verspeek OMI fonds, Avataq Cultural Institute,



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