Technology is a two-way street. It flows not just from non-Natives to indigenous peoples, but also the other way around. Native contributions have been significant but often go unnoticed.
Without help from First Nations people, the first European colonists would have starved or frozen to death. Fur traders could not have survived the harsh Hudson's Bay winters without the food and labour of the Crees.
Native people were in a position to help because of advanced technical understanding of the workings of the natural world and how to survive in it.
It required a knowledge very close to the environment, says Stephen Augustine, a curator at the Canadian Museum of Civilization who is also a hereditary chief of the Mi'kmaq Grand Council.
Aboriginal people needed to have a really good knowledge of the characteristics of animal material, sinews, the characteristics of trees. Some (trees) bend easily, some are too dry and brittle to be used for anything but carving, says Augustine.
In a paper for Canada's environment ministry, Augustine lists many ways in which technical and scientific information - a.k.a. technology - has passed from First Nations to non-Native society. The contributions range from transport systems to farming and medicine.
He notes that over 100 Native American medicines are used today in North American pharmaceutical drugs, including aspirin, which comes from the willow. Native people themselves learned from the animals, says Augustine. They saw animals digging up roots and it seemed to have a good effect, and Native people started exploring it.
As for farming, First Nations agricultural experts revolutionized food production around the world with a bounty of new crops - corn, beans, squash, potatoes.
Indigenous transport has also been widely adopted - kayaks, toboggans, canoes, snowshoes, sleds.
But where some see cultural wealth, others see only dollar signs. Augustine warns of growing conflicts around the world as a flood of pharmaceutical companies inundates indigenous territories in search of medicinal plants and knowledge to exploit.
The scientists come in and observe, then turn around and patent the medicine, he says. And in some cases Native people have been outlawed from using this resource.
But there is also a new opposing trend. Native people themselves are increasingly turning to their own traditional knowledge and rejuvenating it to protect their rights - making the "old" new again. Oral histories and elders' stories are key ammunition in modern land claims and court battles over development projects.
In an effort to preserve and foster First Nations knowledge, Augustine has helped catalogue an array of aboriginal artifacts at the Canadian Museum of Civilization's new 20,000-square-foot First Peoples Hall, which opened in Jan. 2003. The permanent exhibit features over 1,500 Native objects and artworks and 500 documents and illustrations.
Says Augustine, The main theme is we are still here, we contribute and we have a sacred relationship with the land.