Unit 1 - The Historical Use of Canada's Forests

Lesson 2: Indigenous People

The lifestyle and forestry use of each tribe was influenced by its location on the North American continent and by local environmental factors. In other words, use of the forest by individual tribes depended on what type of forest was available to them. 

Inuit use of forest products was rather limited - restricted to the amount of driftwood that they could find.
In contrast, Woodland Indians, living in what is now eastern Canada, made extensive use of the forests for their tools and transportation. Canoes were constructed from the thin and flexible bark of birch trees and strong, comfortable houses were built from logs and bark.

Coastal tribes also relied on the surrounding forest. They lived in villages of large plank houses made from cedar logs and used the great cedar trees of the area to build huge canoes. Fishing tools were made from wood. Many of the Coastal tribes carved elaborate totem poles from the trunks of large coniferous trees.

Like the Woodland and Coastal Indians, the nomadic Plains Indians made extensive use of the forest, even though they had a limited supply of trees.  Lodgepole pines were used for teepee poles; the perfect home for the Plains People who survived by following the great buffalo herds across the land.


The forest also provided implements with which to hunt and trap. Spears and lances were fashioned from grey willow or saskatoon, and arrows were made of thin willow saplings or branches.

North America's earlier inhabitants also used forest products to fashion the following items:

  • Clothing and blankets (both woven from the stringy bark of trees)
  • Cooking pots
  • Hats and baskets
  • Snowshoes, toboggans, and travois
  • Musical instruments, dolls, pieces for games, and equipment for sports (example, lacrosse sticks)

Finally, forests and forest products played an important role in traditional medicine and religious ceremonies.

        Forest trees and plants were also used by the first inhabitants for food; they continue to be used today.
                 Click here and take a fun quiz on identifying Cree plants.