classroom activities on
first nations in canada
ages 12 to 14
The Learning Circle: Classroom Activities on First Nations in Canada, Ages 12 to 14
Researched and written by Harvey McCue and Associates for Aboriginal Affairs and Northern
Development Canada
Special thanks to:
The First Nations Confederacy of Cultural Education Centres
The National Association of Friendship Centres
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ISBN: 978-1-100-20244-0
Catalog No: R72-278/3-2012E © Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada, represented by the Minister of
Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, 2012
Cette publication est aussi disponible en français sous le titre :
« Le Cercle d’apprentissage : Activités d’apprentissage pour la classe sur
les Premières Nations du Canada, destinées aux jeunes de 12 à 14 ans. »
Table of
Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1
UNIT 1 – URBAN FIRST NATIONS. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3
UNIT 2 – WHAT ’S IN A NAME . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8
UNIT 3 – FIRST NATIONS ORGANIZATIONS. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11
UNIT 4 – HUNTING AND TRAPPING . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 16
UNIT 5 – Indian RESIDENTIAL SCHOOLS . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 26
table of contents
UNIT 6 – LITERARY IMAGES OF FIRST NATIONS. . . . . . . . . . . . . 33
UNIT 7 – TREATIES . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 40
UNIT 8 – FIRST NATIONS SELF-GOVERNMENT . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 46
RESOURCES. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 53
The Learning Circle is designed to help meet Canadian educators’ growing need for
elementary-level learning exercises on First Nations. It is the third in a series of four classroom
guides on First Nations in Canada.
Because First Nations are culturally diverse, the information in this activity book does not necessarily
apply to all groups. To learn more about particular First Nations, and to get help with learning
activities, teachers are encouraged to consult local Elders, Cultural Education Centres or Friendship
Centres. Some key addresses and contact numbers are listed in Kids’ Stop on the Aboriginal Affairs
and Northern Development Canada website:
The Learning Circle is organized in thematic units, each with its own teaching activities. Units
are designed to give teachers and students simple but effective exercises, projects and activities
that will encourage students to learn more about First Nations. Educators can follow some of the
exercises as stand-alone units on First Nations topics, or integrate them with existing curricula on
Aboriginal peoples.
Most exercises in The Learning Circle can be completed in one period. Certain others will take
several periods, days or weeks.
Teachers and other users should note that several units in this kit include some activities that are
designed for classes and schools that are located near or in First Nations communities.
The term First Nation came into common usage in the 1970s to replace the word “Indian,” which
many people found offensive. Although the term First Nation is widely used, no legal definition of
it exists, unlike “Indian.” The word “Indian” is still used to describe one of three groups of people
recognized as Aboriginal in the Constitution Act, 1982. The other two groups are the Métis
and Inuit.
There are six major cultural regions of First Nations in Canada. From east to west, these are
the Woodland First Nations, the Iroquois First Nations of southeastern Ontario, the Plains First
Nations, the Plateau First Nations, the First Nations of the Pacific Coast and the First Nations of
the Mackenzie and Yukon River basins.
There are many unique cultures, languages and histories among First Nations. Their collective
presence in North America does not diminish their distinctiveness, much like the collective presence
of nations in Europe is not lessened by the distinctions between the cultures of Poland and Italy,
for example. Identifying all First Nations as a homogeneous group obscures the unique and rich
traditions that each Nation has developed and nurtured.
page 1
First Nations today retain their cultural and linguistic distinctiveness. As with other cultures throughout
the world, the cultural identity of many contemporary First Nations results from a long history of
influences, some peaceful and some arising out of conflict. Some First Nations merged with others.
Some were simply absorbed over time by larger Nations, and some disappeared altogether. The
cultures and languages evident today are the products of complicated, centuries-old processes that
shaped the evolution of most, if not all, cultures everywhere.
Although there are many differences between First Nations, there are commonalities as well. For
example, traditionally all First Nations were dependent on the land for survival and prosperity. All
First Nations were hunters and gatherers. Some were also farmers. Without the skills and knowledge
to hunt and fish and to gather food and medicines, First Nations would not exist today.
Another commonality is that all First Nations lived in organized societies. Individuals, families and
larger groups of people, such as clans, tribes and Nations, behaved according to a broad range
of agreed-upon social, political and economic values.
page 2
A third commonality was trade. Expansive trading practices contributed to the growth and
development of First Nations cultures. These practices also enabled many First Nations to
respond to the fur trade as competitive, efficient trading partners with Europeans.
unit 1
Not all First Nations people live on reserves. Many live in towns or cities throughout Canada.
To introduce students to challenges faced by First Nations people living in urban areas
First Nations people have been moving from their traditional communities and reserves to urban
centres since urban communities first developed in Canada. However, the shift to urban life began
in earnest in the 1950s immediately after World War II. At that time, many First Nations servicemen
moved to towns and cities that were expanding, both in size and economically. There were then
subsequent generations of First Nations people who lived exclusively in a non-reserve location.
Many others, however, returned to their reserve or community after several months or years of
working and residing in the city. Some of these men began a pattern of migrating back and forth
from the reserve to the city — a lifestyle followed by many First Nations people today.
There are many reasons why First Nations people continue to live in urban environments. The
main reasons have remained fairly constant for the past 50 years. They include opportunities for
employment, education, a different lifestyle and better access to accommodation.
Registered Indians are people who are registered with the federal government as Indians, according to the terms of the
Indian Act. Registered Indians are also known as Status Indians. Status Indians have certain rights and benefits that are
not available to Non-Status Indians. These may include on-reserve housing benefits, education and exemption from federal,
provincial and territorial taxes in specific situations.
page 3
urban first nations
Over 40 percent of the Registered Indian1 population in Canada resides in an urban setting:
either a town, a medium-sized city such as Prince George, Brandon, Barrie or Halifax, or a large
metropolitan city such as Toronto or Vancouver. In some large cities such as Winnipeg, Regina
and Edmonton, First Nation residents make up a large portion of the downtown or inner
city populations.
In addition to greater employment prospects, towns and cities have always offered First Nations
people the chance to further their education. First Nation students who wish to further their studies
often reside in an urban area for the duration of their secondary and post-secondary education.
The urban lifestyle is an added incentive for many First Nations people to leave the reserve. Few
First Nations communities can offer the consumer choices, recreational conveniences and leisure
outlets found in most towns and cities.
Occasionally, physical conditions in First Nation communities force residents to relocate to towns
and cities. These conditions include housing shortages, inadequate houses for a family’s size or a
land base that is too small.
But not all First Nations people who move to the city stay there indefinitely. Research on urban
First Nation populations shows that many First Nations people, like other Canadians, move back
and forth between their home communities and the city. The research also indicates that many
First Nations people who live in an urban environment often visit their home communities on
weekends and holidays. Thus they maintain strong links with family, friends and their homes.
Numerous towns and cities to which First Nations people have relocated have a wide range of
organizations and agencies that offer programs and services to assist First Nations people who
experience difficulty in the city. Many of these organizations are staffed by First Nations people.
Friendship Centres, for example, offer cultural programs, as well as services that address health,
employment and accommodation issues. Since the 1990s, these centres have become prominent
agencies for urban First Nations people. In some cities, municipal programs have been adapted
to meet the special needs of First Nations people. These centres, agencies and programs tend to
address the difficulties of First Nations people who live in the inner city. Unemployment, health,
accommodation and related social services are these populations’ leading concerns.
unit 1
page 4
urban first nations
Whatever the reasons are for First Nations people moving to an urban setting, there is evidence
that they encounter many problems in the city. Although the gap is narrowing, First Nations
youth generally lack job experience and higher education or training compared with the general
Canadian population. This makes finding employment more challenging. Finding suitable
accommodation can also become a problem for individuals or families who are unemployed.
There are over 100 Friendship Centres across Canada and eight provincial and territorial
associations of Friendship Centres. Ask students to write the director of a local Friendship
Centre for information about its programs and activities. Some questions that students may
want to consider are:
What special programs are offered to First Nations youth?
What cultural activities take place at the Friendship Centre?
How many First Nations clients does the Friendship Centre serve?
Does the number of clients vary from year to year?
What links exist between the Friendship Centre and municipal social agencies?
If a Friendship Centre is located in your town or city and is reasonably accessible to your school,
organize a visit. Teachers can draw up a list of responsibilities for organizing the visit to be shared
by the students. This would include the responsibility for contacting the director of the Friendship
Centre, arranging the format of the visit, and preparing questions. Another responsibility would
be recording the visit with a journal or a report based on students’ comments. Students could also
take photographs, shoot video footage, or conduct interviews to post on your school’s website.
(Before taking photos or video, ask for permission from everyone in the room; you may want to
ask them to sign release forms). The final responsibility is thanking the centre’s director and the
staff. Many First Nations continue the traditional practice of offering a gift in thanks for something
that has been provided, such as knowledge, health, kindness or generosity. Often, a simple, handmade gift is suitable. Students may want to offer a gift that they have prepared to the director and
the staff of the centre as a thank you for their time and effort.
If a class visit is not possible, teachers may consider inviting the director or any of the centre staff to
visit the class, if a centre is located in your town or city. Students can be assigned the responsibility
for the invitation. Teachers may want to organize a class discussion to identify the purpose of
the visit. This can then be included in the invitation. A simple goal would be to learn as much as
possible about the Friendship Centre’s programs and activities. Students should be encouraged to
prepare a list of questions for the visitor. Because most Friendship Centres address youth issues, the
class may want to focus on these. Students may want to consider making a gift with their own
resources to offer to the visitor.
unit 1
page 5
urban first nations
After any of these activities, organize a student discussion on what the presence of a Friendship
Centre indicates about the following issues:
the integration of First Nations into urban areas;
the importance of culture to First Nations;
possible differences between First Nations communities and cities; and
other resources, in addition to Friendship Centres, for urban First Nations people.
Many towns and cities with an identifiable First Nations population offer programs and services for
First Nations people. These programs may be part of specific departments or agencies maintained
by the city. Students can contact the Chief Administrative Officer or Principal Administrator of
any large city in the province and request a list of the programs that the city maintains for the
benefit of urban First Nations people. The request may identify the following areas — housing,
employment, social assistance, recreation, culture, health and legal services.
Once the class receives the information and students have examined the material, organize a
discussion that focuses on the possible reasons why these programs and services are needed.
Each province has universities and colleges that have developed programs and departments that
focus on First Nations issues. Usually, these institutions have a number of First Nations students
taking courses and degrees and a First Nations student club or association. For your class to
understand the difficulties some First Nations students experience when they are required to live
in a town or city to complete their formal education, students can contact a First Nations students
club or association. If the university or college is nearby, one or several First Nations students could
be invited to visit your class. Or your students could correspond with someone in the association.
Here are some questions your students may wish to present to an individual who is studying away
from his/her community:
What was the biggest obstacle you faced in the city?
How did you overcome it?
What are some of the differences between the city and your home community?
What do you miss most about your community and home? Why?
Where do you plan to live after you finish your studies? Why?
unit 1
page 6
urban first nations
As mentioned earlier, many urban First Nations people move back and forth from their home
communities and the city. This exercise will help students understand the importance of
traditional communities to First Nations.
unit 1
page 7
urban first nations
Organize a class discussion on some of the reasons that might explain these urban-reserve
migrations. Encourage students to focus on issues such as culture, accommodation, language,
employment, family, and the land.
unit 2
When the Europeans arrived, names and terms used by individual First Nations to identify
themselves were adopted by the Europeans; however, the Europeans used these local terms to
identify First Nations as a single group. The European usage of these different labels has blurred
the distinctions and differences between the First Nations.
1. To learn why the term “Indian” is not considered appropriate to identify First Nations
2. To explore some traditional names of several First Nations
3. To gain an appreciation of some of the issues that surround the names and terms that
identify groups in society
Language is one cultural difference between First Nations. Each nation or band had a name that
set them apart from others with whom they had regular contact. For example, the people of the
Ojibway, Saulteaux and Mississauga Nations referred to themselves as the Anishnabek, “the people.”
The people of the Iroquois Nation called themselves the Haudenosaunee. On the East Coast, the
Maliseet used the term, Welustuk, “the people of the beautiful river,” to describe themselves.
The people of the Blackfoot Nation were the Siksika. On the West Coast, the people of the Beaver
Nations called themselves Dunneza, “the real people,” and the members of the Gitksan Nation
called themselves the Gitxsan, “the people of the Skeena.”
Some of the band names that exist today originated with the early explorers and traders who
found it necessary to identify the people with whom they traded and interacted. Unable to speak
with the numerous tribes and nations they encountered during their expeditions, European words
were used to refer to the people they met. Some newcomers simply Europeanized names of the
tribes they encountered. Thus, the Odawa became the Ottawa and the Mi’kmaq became known
as the Micmac.
Some nation or band names have not changed from their traditional First Nations language
and pronunciation.
page 8
w h a t ’s i n a n a m e ?
The constant use of the term “Indian” during the past centuries has helped to obscure the cultural,
political and historical richness and diversity among the First Nations in Canada. It has also
contributed to a misconception in Canada that First Nations are a homogeneous population. This
name, a misnomer, originated with Christopher Columbus, who first applied the name to the
Arawak people he encountered in the Caribbean in 1492. He mistook them for the inhabitants of
India. The name took root and has been used for centuries throughout North America to identify
First Nations people.
By the 1960s, “Indian” took on a pejorative meaning for many First Nations as a result of their
negative stereotyping in the media and in films. Over time, new terms and names, such as First
Nation and Native, gradually emerged to partially displace the word “Indian.”
Although many people regarded these terms as less pejorative than “Indian,” there was no consensus
among First Nations about their appropriateness. Soon other terms such as Amerindian, indigenous
and Aboriginals or Aboriginal appeared.
Today, there is no single term that is acceptable to all. With few exceptions, however, the terms
most often used by First Nations to refer to themselves as a single group include First Nation or
First Nations, Aboriginal peoples, Native, Native peoples, and finally, Indian.
Micmac (Mi’kmaq)
Malecite (Maliseet)
Ask students to research the traditional and contemporary history of one or several First Nations.
The traditional history would include language, economy, location and social structure. The
contemporary history would include the size of the community or band, features of the community,
local political structures, programs and services for members and residents, and economic activities.
unit 2
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w h a t ’s i n a n a m e ?
Encourage students to learn about the different band and nation names. Ask them to examine the
meaning of several of the following names:
Sports team names, such as the Black Hawks and Braves, as well as brand names such as Pontiac
automobiles, are well known and part and parcel of the cultural and economic landscape.
Students will be familiar with some or all of these names and terms. In a class discussion on
the importance of names, ask students to consider some of the following questions:
Do names and terms such as these affect people’s perceptions of First Nations?
In what ways are our perceptions affected?
Are there other groups or segments of the population whose names are used
in the same way as the above examples?
If students identify one or some names, ask them the same question about the effects
on how that group or groups are perceived by others?
If they are unable to identify any names, ask them why only First Nations
names are used in this way?
Why do sports teams, in particular, use First Nations names and figures?
What messages, if any, are conveyed in the use of First Nations names for sports teams?
unit 2
page 10
w h a t ’s i n a n a m e ?
Each First Nation band has a word in its language for non-First Nations people. Ask students to do
an Internet search, or to contact different First Nation organizations, to identify what those various
terms are and what they mean in the First Nations language.
unit 3
A wide variety of organizations exist to assist the political, social, economic, cultural and health
objectives and interests of First Nations. These organizations play vital roles in the daily lives of all
First Nations.
1. To learn about First Nations organizations and their objectives
Throughout the history of First Nations, successful alliances, partnerships and societies among and
between communities and nations enabled members to pursue specific goals and objectives in
trade, politics or culture. There are numerous examples across Canada that involve most, if not all,
of the traditional First Nations before and after European contact. Specific examples include the
Council of the Three Fires, the military and political alliance that the Ojibway Nation maintained
near the present city of Sault Ste. Marie; the trading alliance that the Plains Cree and Assiniboine
Nations forged to maximize their trading interests during the westward expansion of the fur trade
during the 1700s and 1800s; and the traditional carving fraternities and societies that flourished in
many West Coast First Nations.
In similar fashion to other cultures and nations throughout the world, traditional First Nations saw
the advantages of combining numbers to address strategic or critical interests.
Unfortunately, several factors that were beyond the control of First Nations converged in the midand late 1800s and reduced the effectiveness of their traditional organizations. The steady decline
of the fur trade, epidemics of small pox and measles, and the gradual but inexorable westward
expansion of Canadian settlement, all combined to undermine the traditional and customary
alliances and partnerships among the First Nations. The introduction of the reserve system and the
Indian Act, both in the second half of the 19th century, had an impact on most of the traditional
organizations that had managed to survive the turn of the century.
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first nations organizations
2. To learn about legal impediments that prevented First Nations from forming organizations
during the last century
One of the earliest attempts at a modern First Nations organization took place as the traditional
ones were disappearing. The Grand General Indian Council of Ontario came into being in the
1870s and continued until 1938. In British Columbia, the Allied Tribes of British Columbia emerged
in 1916. In 1919, an attempt to establish a national First Nations organization, the League of
Indians, fell short of its objective. By the 1920s, efforts were underway to create the Union
of Ontario Indians, which still exists today.
In addition to the Indian Act, the presence of a pass system hampered the establishment and
development of First Nations organizations. For many years after Confederation, Indian agents
maintained an informal pass system that required any First Nation individual who wished to leave
the community for any amount of time to obtain a written pass from them. It was often difficult to
enforce, and there is evidence that this system was not official government policy regarding the
movements of First Nations peoples. The existence of the system, however informal it may have
been in some jurisdictions, was well known to most First Nations. It served to remind them that
any undertaking to establish a First Nations organization, particularly one with political objectives,
faced numerous hurdles and legal roadblocks.
By 1945, at least three new First Nations organizations had emerged in Canada: the Indian
Association of Alberta, the Saskatchewan Indian Association (which became the Federation of
Saskatchewan Indian Nations) and the North American Indian Brotherhood (which later made the
first attempt to create a First Nations labour union). Each of these organizations pursued political
and economic objectives on behalf of their members.
In 1961, the federal government recognized the benefit of having a national voice for First Nations.
Accordingly, it financed and organized the National Indian Advisory Council. The government
appointed Council members from across Canada to meet regularly to advise on a wide range of
First Nations issues. It was short-lived because of its perceived lack of independence and because
its role was limited to advising the government.
The 1960s and 1970s represented a period of remarkable political advocacy by First Nations. The
National Indian Brotherhood (NIB) emerged in 1965 to replace the National Indian Advisory
Council. The appearance of the NIB was matched by numerous other provincial and regional
organizations that pursued a broad range of interests and goals. Many of them had political
objectives, but there were also organizations with a focus on urban issues, health concerns
and other special interests.
unit 3
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first nations organizations
These four efforts to create new political First Nations organizations were hampered by a lack of
money and certain sections of the Indian Act. One provision in the Indian Act made it an
offence for three or more First Nation persons to make “threatening demands” on any civil servant.
This provision effectively undermined any meaningful attempt to create an organization to bring
pressure to bear on the federal government to address the concerns of First Nations. Furthermore,
from 1927 until 1951, the Indian Act outlawed any solicitation of funds by or on behalf on any
First Nation to advance any First Nation claim unless permission to do so had been granted by the
federal government.
By the end of the 1970s, every province and territory had at least one political organization. There
were also numerous national organizations such as the Canadian Native Communications Society,
the Native Women’s Association of Canada and the Canadian Indian Youth Council.
Today, there are many national Aboriginal organizations that pursue a broad range of political,
cultural, social, economic, legal, education, and health-related goals. Examples of national
organizations include: The Assembly of First Nations, which subsumed the National Indian
Brotherhood in 1980, the National Association of Friendship Centres, the Congress of Aboriginal
Peoples, the Native Women’s Association of Canada, the Indigenous Bar Association, the First
Nations Confederacy of Cultural Education Centres, the Aboriginal Nurses Association and the
National Aboriginal Forestry Association.
In addition to national organizations, each province and territory has one or more political
organizations. Examples include the Dene Nation, the Chiefs of Ontario, the Council of Yukon
First Nations, the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs, the Union of Nova Scotia Indians and
the Grand Council of the Crees of Quebec. There are many other associations, bodies and groups
that represent economic, cultural, educational and social interests and objectives of their First
Nation members.
Select a national First Nations organization such as the Native Women’s Association of Canada.
Prepare a class project to examine the organization in detail. Encourage students to include the
following points:
why and when the organization was created;
its mandate;
any changes to the mandate since its founding;
its membership and how it selects a leader;
brief profiles of the current and recent leaders;
its governing structure;
its administrative structure;
its recent policies;
the programs that it maintains;
its location; and
its provincial or territorial offices or affiliates.
unit 3
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first nations organizations
Together, the national, provincial, territorial and regional bodies provide effective and continuous
advocacy on a broad range of First Nations issues.
To complete the project, the class can be divided into small groups, each covering various points or
subject areas; i.e., mandate, policies, structures, etc. Once the groups have completed their work,
students can organize the material into one report or description.
Look for a First Nations organization in the vicinity of your school. If one exists, contact the
organization to arrange a visit — either the class to the organization, or a representative of
the organization to the class. In either case, students will need to compile information about the
organization before the visit. Find or request communications material about the organization for
background information.
Once the information is distributed to the class, set aside some time for students to brainstorm
questions for the visit, or visitor. Record the questions and encourage students to refine them.
Students could reduce the number of questions, for example, put them into categories or revise
them so that they are more precise.
In this activity, students will compare a political First Nations organization, such as the Chiefs of
Ontario, the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations, or the Assembly of First Nations, with
a First Nations organization that is non-political, such as the National Association of Friendship
Centres, the National Aboriginal Forestry Association and the Aboriginal Nurses Association
of Canada.
To help students appreciate the range of issues that some First Nations political organizations
deal with, organize a project to gather news about a particular national or provincial political
organization. Students can use several sources for their information: local newspapers, magazines
and the Internet. First Nations publications and newspapers may be useful.
Once students prepare a list of potential organizations, they will choose one organization to study.
Most national, provincial and territorial First Nations political organizations receive regular coverage
in the national or provincial media. Therefore the final choice should not be a problem. Some
teachers may want to review the final list of organizations beforehand to ensure that they have a
reasonable political profile.
unit 3
page 14
first nations organizations
Students should share the final list of questions during the visit. If a visitor comes to the class, the
class should express its appreciation with a gift, preferably one that students have prepared using
their own resources and creativity.
After a timeline for the project is decided (e.g., three months), students should decide how often
(daily, weekly or bi-weekly) they are going to report on the activities of the organization and how
often they will research its activities. At the conclusion of the project, ask the students to organize
the accumulated information into a journal or a poster board demonstration for the classroom
or the school bulletin board.
It may be useful for students to compare one or several First Nations organizations to nonAboriginal community, regional, provincial or territorial organizations that have similar goals
and objectives. This exercise will help students appreciate the different roles that organizations
play in our communities and the similarities and differences between First Nations and non-First
Nations organizations.
After either the teacher or students have selected several categories, students should decide which
ones they want to investigate. Students will then be required to locate the First Nations and nonFirst Nations organizations that fit the categories selected. Once these have been located, students
should begin to retrieve as much information, through as many sources as they can manage,
about these organizations’ goals and objectives. Any information on the organizations’ recent
issues or activities will also be helpful.
Once the information is assembled, students should begin to analyze the data by focusing on the
similarities and differences between the organizations.
unit 3
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first nations organizations
One way to begin the exercise is to identify categories of organizations such as political, cultural,
gender-based, youth, sports, recreation or business.
unit 4
Hunting and trapping are essential to the way of life of many First Nations. Issues such as resource
development, land claims, furs for clothing and sport hunting have profound effects on First
Nations who pursue traditional lifestyles.
1. To learn how hunting and trapping affect the economies, laws, social organization and
spirituality of First Nations hunting societies
2. To explore the role of hunting and trapping in contemporary First Nations communities
Hunting and trapping have always been essential to the way of life of First Nations and other
Aboriginal societies. More than simply a means of providing food, hunting and trapping are
central features of many First Nations’ economic, social and cultural lives. Wildlife harvesting is a
form of sustainable resource use that meets the needs of the present without compromising the
ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Hunting and trapping encompass all wildlife
harvesting, including marine mammals such as whales and seals.
It may be difficult for students in urban schools to appreciate the importance of hunting and
trapping to the First Nations way of life. Indeed, many Canadians assume that the hunting
and trapping lifestyle is a thing of the past. By putting hunting and trapping in a historical context
only, the images of First Nations are frozen in the past. For this reason, the role of hunting and
trapping in today’s First Nations economies and cultures is largely ignored. Many people in Canada
are only discovering now what Aboriginal people have been practicing for millennia — that
sustainable use of resources is important to our community’s well-being.
In this unit, students will learn why hunting and trapping are important to First Nations societies
and how they remain an integral feature of life in many First Nations communities today.
The importance of hunting and trapping to First Nations varies because First Nations have diverse
cultures and different historical circumstances.
page 16
hunting and trapping
Over thousands of years, each First Nation developed its own methods of surviving on their
traditional lands. The Iroquois Confederacy had sophisticated farming skills and all First Nations
relied upon fishing. But every First Nation depended on hunting and trapping as the primary
means of subsistence. Although resources and environments varied, large game and fur-bearing
animals provided the food, shelter and clothing that were vital to survival.
The historical circumstances of First Nations have also affected the role hunting and trapping play
in community life. Today, many First Nations who live in southern Canada are unable to make a
living from hunting and trapping because of urban settlement. First Nations in the relatively remote
northern regions of Canada continue to rely on hunting and trapping for food and income.
Hunting and trapping are therefore part of the social fabric of these communities.
First Nations who regard hunting and trapping as important reflect this throughout their
cultures. First Nations have always had a close relationship with the animals and the land
that support them. As a result, the importance of hunting and trapping is reflected in many
of their traditional structures.
For example, many First Nations’ traditional systems of land use are defined by their traditional
hunting and trapping practices. Some First Nations had patterns of land use that reflected the
well-defined hunting territories of families or clans. Others based their movements on the patterns
of the animals they pursued.
Hunting and trapping also shape the traditional laws and customs of many First Nations.
Here are some examples:
Where families or clans have their own hunting territory, an essential law for some
First Nations is that others may not hunt on the family’s territory without permission.
Plains peoples, such as the Blackfoot, had special societies responsible for
managing the buffalo hunt. Individuals who interfered with the buffalo hunt, by
disrupting it or not obeying the orders of the lead hunters, were punished.
An important custom in some First Nations cultures is that the bones of an
animal must be returned to the land or water, or hung in a tree.
These customs and laws are based on an attitude of respect that is required in First Nations
traditions to manage the land and its resources properly.
Women play crucial roles in First Nations hunting societies. The work of men and women in
hunting societies is both separate and overlapping. Generally, men hunt large game animals;
women hunt smaller animals. Men’s work focuses on killing and butchering, while women prepare
the food and the skins. Some First Nations women work their own traplines. They snare, trap and
skin, and prepare hides for trade.
In most First Nations hunting societies, none of these roles is exclusive. However, they do tend to
be separated. One role or activity is not viewed as any less important than the other.
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Hunters often hold a great deal of influence in First Nations societies. Hunters who have proven
their skills and knowledge of the land are consulted about many issues in the community.
Many First Nations have maintained the cultural practices of their ancestors, and hunting and
trapping continue to play a critical role in the First Nations way of life today.
Also, in many First Nations communities, hunting and trapping are critical to the economy. Some
communities have estimated that bush or country food (food taken from the land) provides
anywhere from 25 to 50 percent of the food needs of the community.
Hunting and trapping also have tremendous social value. The traditional concepts of sharing are
preserved, as families who hunt provide bush food to those who hunt less, or who are unable to
hunt. Traditional hunting territories and concepts of stewardship have adapted to increasing First
Nation populations and to the growth of “non-traditional” employment in communities. Finally,
hunting and trapping continue to play an important role in the education of many First Nations youth.
Many First Nations are seeking to protect and revitalize hunting and trapping in their communities.
First Nations are using land claims settlements to establish co-management boards so hunters
and trappers can have more say in how wildlife and the environment are managed in their
territories. Some First Nations have created income security programs for hunters and trappers, so
that families can pursue hunting and trapping as a way to earn income. And First Nations are
increasingly sharing the hunters’ traditional knowledge of the land to teach society as a whole
how to relate to the environment in a more respectful manner.
First Nations hunters and trappers face a number of obstacles in pursuing their livelihood.
is a shrinking land base. The land base of many southern First Nations has all but disappeared.
Even in remote and less populated northern areas, resource companies are having an impact on
traditional hunting territories.
Forestry, mining, oil and gas, and hydro developments are not the only intrusions on the
traditional territories of First Nations hunters. With the extension of access roads deep into First
Nations hunting territories and traplines, the popularity of sports hunting has also grown.
First Nations hunters find themselves competing with other Canadians for game. The activities of
groups opposed to the harvesting of animals for fur have also affected First Nations communities
across Canada by drastically reducing the value of furs.
This unit may be more difficult to implement for teachers in southern, urban environments than
it will be for teachers in northern, remote communities. Where hunting and trapping remain an
important way of life for a community, teachers should seek to involve hunters and trappers in the
classroom. Even more importantly, they should give the students an opportunity to incorporate life
on traplines into their studies.
However, teachers who do not have ready access to hunters and trappers can still benefit from
this unit. Teachers can guide students through the available research on hunting and trapping.
They can have them consider how issues such as resource development, land claims, fur bans
and sport hunting affect First Nations who seek to pursue traditional lifestyles.
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The biggest threat to the continued existence of hunting and trapping in First Nations communities
Read the following account of a First Nations Elder to your class.
“When I was young, we used to hunt all the time. We used to hunt moose, bear, caribou,
ducks, geese. We hunted all the time, you had to hunt until you killed something.
Sometimes we went hungry, but mostly we had country food all the time.
It’s hard to hunt moose. You have to follow the tracks until you find the animal. Moose are
smart. You have to be careful because they watch everything, and they run away fast. I shot
my first moose when I was fifteen. I didn’t know a lot about hunting, so an old man took
me out in the bush. I saw some moose tracks, I was real excited because I wanted to shoot
that moose. The old man ignored those tracks. He didn’t even say anything, he just kept on
walking. We walked for a long time, and we found more moose tracks. The old man said
there was a moose here, so we went into the bush, and we found it and I shot it. I was
happy. It was a good feeling because we took it back and everyone had fresh meat. That
old man knew how to hunt and he showed me how to hunt.
We were trappers, too. That’s how we used to make money. We trapped beaver, lynx,
muskrat, mink. We used to take our furs to the store. We traded the money for groceries
and then we would go back in the bush again.
I remember in the old days, my mother used to trap. She used to set snares for rabbits. She
used to walk a long way, and come back with some rabbits in a bag. Sometimes she even
set a trap for muskrat. I taught my granddaughter how to set a snare, and she brought me
a rabbit last week.
Trapping is different from the old days. Now, they only stay one or two nights when they go
check their traps. In the old days, we were gone a long time when we checked our traps.
We travelled on snowshoes. We went really slow when there was lots of snow. Now they
got skidoos and they check their trapline in one or two days.
Some of my kids would rather go to work than go trapping. It’s hard on them going out in the
bush and trying to make a living. But it’s a good life. Even the tea tastes better in the bush.”
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In those days, everyone used to travel together and everyone would help each other. If
someone killed a moose, they would share it with everybody. Today, people don’t share as
much as they used to. That was important in the old days — if you had meat, you never
refused to share it with anybody. If you didn’t share, then the hunting was no good. That’s
why people respected a good hunter, because he always shared everything.
When you have finished reading this short story to the students, encourage them to discuss their
impressions of the Elder who was speaking. You may ask them some of the following questions:
Why is it difficult to hunt moose? How did the Elder learn to hunt moose?
How has trapping changed from when the Elder was young?
Do you think that hunting and trapping are still important to the Elder?
How are women involved in hunting and trapping?
Why does the Elder feel it is important to share?
Do you believe it is important to share? Why?
What have you learned from this story?
The Chiefs who signed treaties with the Crown did not enter into the treaty-making process
without a great deal of discussion and debate.
An important feature of many of the treaties was that the Crown agreed that First Nations
could continue to hunt and fish in the manner in which they were accustomed. For example,
the Robinson Superior Treaty of 1850, which covers much of Northern Ontario, contains the
following provision:
During the signing of Treaty 8, the treaty commissioners reported that the Chiefs would not sign
until they had been assured that their freedoms to hunt, trap and fish would not be restricted:
“Our chief difficulty was the apprehension that the hunting and fishing privileges were to be
curtailed. We had to solemnly assure them that only such laws as to hunting and fishing as
were in the interests of the Indians or were found to be necessary to protect the fish and
fur-bearing animals will be made, and that they would be as free to hunt and fish after the
treaty as they would be, if they never entered into it.”
Some historical treaties may be found at Once you have reviewed some of
the treaties with the class, ask students to enact a play, taking the parts of the Chiefs and the
representatives of the Crown during the late nineteenth century. Select six students to prepare
a short skit in which three leaders discuss their hunting rights with three representatives of
the Crown.
Perform the skit in class, with half the class acting as community members who will be affected by
the proposed treaty and half as non-Aboriginal settlers. Both parties may have questions as to their
own rights according to the treaty’s provisions on hunting.
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“Her Majesty and the Government of this Province hereby promises and allow the
said Chiefs and their tribes the full and free privilege to hunt over the territory now ceded by
them, and to fish in the waters thereof as they have heretofore been in the habit of doing...”
A steward is usually someone who is entrusted with managing the affairs of someone else. In First
Nations hunting societies, stewards are responsible for managing and regulating their hunting
territories. Not everyone can be a steward: stewards must hunt and trap for many years before
they can assume such a role. A steward must be familiar with the conditions of the animals in
the territory, and he will discuss these trends with other stewards and Elder hunters. Stewards
will decide when the territory can be used, how many people may use it, which species may be
hunted and where. If a steward neglects these responsibilities and over-hunting occurs, future
hunting will be unsuccessful and the family and community will suffer.
Managing the land through stewardship is an example of traditional First Nations wildlife
management practices. Another way that many First Nations societies traditionally managed game
levels was by the selective use of fire. Hunters would burn small land fires in carefully chosen areas.
The fires encouraged new growth in the spring. The new growth would attract the small animals,
birds, and berries necessary to support greater numbers of larger animals. Some of the species
which benefited from controlled burning were moose, deer, beaver, muskrat, bear, and different
species of waterfowl.
To illustrate the discussion about First Nations stewardship, you may choose to have the class
watch the National Film Board video, Cree Hunters of Mistassini. How does the family in the
video show its responsibilities to the land? Do students think that this knowledge could be used to
benefit Canadians as a whole?
Because of its cultural significance, hunting remains an important part of the livelihood of many
First Nations. It is also an economical way of providing food. Wild game is a key feature of
the traditional diets of some First Nations, who often prefer it to domestic foods like beef and
chicken. Large game such as moose, deer and caribou may feed several families for weeks. When
compared to the cost of purchasing groceries at a supermarket, particularly meat products, it is
easy to see why hunting is crucial where jobs for First Nations members are scarce.
To understand the importance of hunting to contemporary First Nations economies, it is worth
asking students to give some thought to the costs of the food on their tables each night.
Begin by asking students where their families get their food. Many students will simply say the
supermarket. Encourage them to explore other sources, such as gardens, berry-picking, farms or
fishing. There may be some students in your class whose families rely on hunting for some or all
of their meat supply. They should be encouraged to share their insights during this discussion.
Once you have recorded this information on the board, tell students to prepare a short report on
the cost of the food they eat. Over the course of a week, they are to record the meals eaten at
dinnertime and approximately how much they cost. It is not necessary for the students to add up
all of the ingredients that went into the preparation of the meal; the focus of this shopping list
investigation should be on meat, or whatever main course protein source the family prefers.
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At the end of a week, ask the students to prepare a simple chart that totals the amount of money
spent on meat or meat substitutes. The chart may look like this:
Chicken Stir-fry
Tuna Casserole
Tinned Tuna
Frozen Lasagna
Lentil Loaf
The last line of the chart should indicate the total costs of the primary ingredients of their family’s
foodstuff over the past week.
Students should not be left with the impression that the sole value of hunting to First Nations
is economic. Nor should they be left with the impression that wild game is “free.” Traditional
First Nations hunting practices emphasize the hunter as a guardian of the land, and animals are
honoured as sacred gifts for the nourishment of people. If the land is not managed wisely, the gifts
will be taken away. Furthermore, like all self-employed individuals, hunters have associated costs,
such as guns, clothing, transportation and gasoline.
Invite a First Nations hunter or trapper to speak to the class about the role of hunting and trapping
in First Nations cultures. You may also wish to invite a First Nations woman who is familiar with
hunting lifestyles to discuss a woman’s role in a hunting camp. Or invite a First Nations person
who is involved in contemporary styles of ecological management. Many First Nations administer
their own wildlife management programs and there will be people such as wildlife officers who
are very knowledgeable about contemporary and traditional First Nations conservation practices.
If your school is in the city and it is difficult to reach people who are familiar with traditional
hunting lifestyles, contact someone from the local Friendship Centre. Another option is to contact a
provincial environment ministry, which will have various wildlife and natural resources departments.
It may be possible to invite to the classroom a conservation officer who has some knowledge of
First Nations hunting and trapping issues. Be sure that students prepare some questions for the
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hunting and trapping
Students do not need to display these charts or share the amount with the rest of the class. You
need only ask them to consider the total amount spent by their family on meat or meat substitutes,
and imagine what else the money could be used for. The point to emphasize is that hunters who
provide wild game for their family and others have a tremendous impact on household income.
This is especially important in areas where employment income is low and the cost of living is high.
speaker. The students should also present the speaker with a gift, preferably one that they have
created themselves.
If students in the class are involved in hunting and trapping, teachers may wish to
complement the activities in this unit by creating a wall display that shows the students’
hunting and trapping knowledge.
Items in the display could include:
a map by the students showing their families’ traditional hunting territories;
a display of animal pelts, with a description of the animal and its characteristics;
photos and drawings of hunting trips;
stories and poems about the students’ experiences in the bush;
descriptions of methods of snaring or trapping particular animals;
e.g., a step-by-step account of how to set a rabbit snare; and
recipes for the preparation of traditional foods.
Skillful hunters or trappers must know a great deal about the animals they are hunting or trapping,
but this is only one of many skills they must master. They must be able to build shelters when they
and their families are in the bush. They must be prepared to repair their snowmobiles, trucks and
outboard motors, if they break down.
Trappers must be sensitive to the price of furs in the larger economy and what types of fur will
fetch the highest price. They must be prudent businesspersons, to ensure that their income
will meet their families’ needs. First Nations trappers and hunters are often also highly sensitive
to the spiritual teachings of their people, which may include being responsive to dream teachings.
Hunters are occasionally required to practise their medicinal skills, both traditional and modern,
when they or members of their families are ill out on the trapline or hunting territory. Hunters can
also pass on a great deal of traditional knowledge of the land from one generation to the next
through stories.
This activity is designed to encourage students to explore, albeit in an artificial way, the variety of
factors that a hunter or trapper must consider in making a sound and wise hunting choice.
Tell students that they are going to simulate a decision that must be made by one hunter and
one trapper. The hunter is hunting for a moose and the trapper is planning to set his or her traps
for beaver (feel free to change these animals to any large game animal or any fur-bearing animal
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Students who live in communities where hunting and trapping are practised will understand,
and likely be very respectful of the variety of skills of hunters and trappers. Wherever possible,
students should be encouraged to spend time with hunters and trappers so they can observe
these skills first-hand.
common in your area). The families of the hunter and trapper would like to leave for the bush
seven days from the date of the assignment.
Divide the class into two committees, the Moose Committee and the Beaver Committee. It is the
responsibility of the committees to gather all of the information required for the hunter and trapper
to make a decision as to whether or not the family should depart seven days from now.
On each committee, you will need a student to provide the following information:
animal expert — provides a report on the animal being pursued, including
its habits and habitat;
weather person — provides a report on the weather seven days from now and a
prediction of what the weather will be for the duration of the two-week trip;
businessperson — provides a report on the current cost of furs or hides;
storyteller — provides a legend or story regarding the animal being pursued;
mechanic — provides a report of the steps taken to prepare the pick-up truck and the
snowmobile or outboard, and the cost of the necessary fuel for a two-week trip;
carpenter — provides a report of the tools and wood required to build a
7x7 storage shed at the camp and a rough estimate of the costs; and
dreamer — (in some hunting cultures, a good hunter is someone who can interpret dreams)
this student should provide a report on how his or her dreams can assist the hunting trip.
ingenuity. For example, the student who is doing the report on carpentry may have to phone
a local lumber store; the students researching the weather forecast or the fur rates may find
the Internet useful; the student assigned to interpret dreams will have to research some First
Nations mythologies.
Once all of the students have gathered their information, they should prepare it in a brief summary
to present to the rest of the committee. After hearing all the reports, it is up to the committee to
reach consensus as to whether or not they should depart on the designated day.
In recent years, First Nations hunters and trappers have found themselves at the centre of a
highly controversial debate: the use of animal fur for fashion. Animal rights groups have launched
campaigns to try and stop the use of animal fur in the fashion industry. In some markets, the antifur lobby has been very effective, resulting in either import restrictions or a lessening of the appeal
for fur as a fashion item. Many First Nations people have found this controversy to be perplexing,
as some of the third groups which present Aboriginal people as “the original environmentalists”
then criticize their traditional hunting and trapping of wildlife. As a result, First Nation communities
who rely on wildlife harvesting have become actively involved in lobbying for their own rights to
hunt and trap.
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Some of this information is not conventional library research, and students may have to use their
From the perspective of animal rights groups, non-human animals have a right to live according to
their own natures. This includes a right to be free from any human use. Animal rights groups have
particularly focused on the use of “leg-hold traps,” which at one time was the most common type
of animal trap used by trappers. While there are over a thousand different types of leg-hold traps,
the “steel-jawed” type has been the one used most often in anti-trapping ads. This type of trap has
not been widely used in Canada since the 1970s. Their use has been banned in most provinces
and territories for most terrestrial fur-bearing animals since that time. Animal rights groups have
called for a ban on all traps and, ultimately, an end to the use of furs for fashion.
Aboriginal hunters and trappers argue that their traditional hunting practices are based upon
respect. In traditional First Nations hunting societies, animals are more than food that sustains
people’s bodies. Animals are considered to possess intelligence, are capable of independent action
and have their own way of living. A successful hunt is not simply the result of the work of the
hunter. It also rests with the intention of the animal to be slain. In this way, animals are “received”
and are considered gifts from the Creator. In fact, many Aboriginal communities believe that to
refuse these gifts — i.e. not to hunt them — would be seen by the Creator as ingratitude and
result in some retribution against the community. This belief is found in all Aboriginal cultures
across Canada. To view an animal in this way means that hunters have special obligations. For
example, they must share this gift with others, they must manage the land wisely and they must
maintain a spiritual balance. If they are sensitive to all of these responsibilities, hunters believe that
they will receive what they want when they are in need.
Students will likely have strong views on this subject. Students could be asked to share their views
on the following question: Do you think people (specifically First Nations) should be allowed to
trap animals for their fur?
If students have not had exposure to the role of hunting and trapping in First Nations, it may be
difficult for them to appreciate the First Nations perspectives. The National Film Board video, Pelts:
Politics of the Fur Trade, may serve as a basis for discussion before beginning this activity.
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Trappers – both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal — have responded by using quick-killing traps
specially designed for each species, which are much more selective and humane than older
methods. Nonetheless, the anti-fur activities of the animal rights groups threaten to undermine
the ability of many First Nations communities which have depended on trapping to provide some
of their cash income.
unit 5
The Indian Residential Schools system had devastating effects upon many First Nations, Inuit and
Métis children, families and communities. Communities are still healing from the abuse many of
their members suffered at Indian Residential Schools.
1. To introduce students to the history of the Indian Residential Schools system
3. To discuss what can be done to redress the wrongs associated with the Indian
Residential Schools
Indian Residential Schools started operating in Canada prior to Confederation. Churches
established the first schools as part of their missionary work. The Government of Canada played
a role in the administration of Indian Residential Schools system as early as 1874. The reason was
mainly to meet its obligations, under the Indian Act, to provide an education to Aboriginal
people, and to assist with their integration into the broader Canadian society. The last of the
federally run schools closed in 1996. It is now widely understood that this system has contributed
to weakening the identity of Aboriginal peoples. It did this by separating children from their families
and communities, and preventing them from speaking their own languages, and from learning
about their heritage and cultures.
Indian Residential Schools had a tragic effect upon many Aboriginal families. They disrupted
the smooth transmission of beliefs, skills and knowledge from one generation to the next. This
system reflected mainstream attitudes of racial and cultural superiority. The experience of these
schools has left a legacy of personal pain for former residents, which continues to reverberate
in communities today.
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2. To explore how Indian Residential Schools have affected former students, their
families and communities
Many of the children who attended Indian Residential Schools underwent a devastating process
of enforced assimilation. For some of the children in certain schools, the normal and healthy
process of change and growth slowed, because conditions were physically, psychologically
and spiritually unhealthy.
By the 1950s, the federal government began to realize that the Indian Residential Schools
system could not be maintained. Many of the children leaving the schools did not have the
proper education or skills to fit into mainstream Canadian society and they found it difficult to
readjust to their own communities.
The federal government and churches have acknowledged the damage done to Aboriginal
communities as a result of the Indian Residential Schools system. Aboriginal peoples have
demanded, and received, apologies from the federal government and a number of churches.
Some former students are also seeking redress through the criminal justice system.
In its report released in 1996, the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples recommended that
the government and churches offer apologies to Indian Residential Schools survivors, that people
be compensated for the abuse they suffered and that a public inquiry be struck to examine the
treatment of former Indian Residential Schools students. In response to the Report, the federal
government issued a statement of reconciliation in which it apologized to those individuals who
suffered abuse while at residential schools. The government also granted $350 million to the
Aboriginal Healing Foundation to support healing initiatives that address the legacy of abuse left
by the Indian Residential Schools system.
In 2006, the Government announced the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, which
included individual and collective measures to address the legacy of the Indian Residential Schools
system. These measures included Common Experience Payments; an Independent Assessment
Process to address abuse claims; the Truth and Reconciliation Commission; commemoration
activities; and measures to support healing. In June 2008, the Prime Minister issued an apology
on behalf of all Canadians for the Indian Residential Schools system.
Today, most First Nations run their own schools. They are reclaiming the education of their
children and attempting to put the Indian Residential Schools experience in the past.
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The effects of the Indian Residential Schools did not stop when the children finally left the school. The
physical, sexual and spiritual abuse suffered by many children at the schools spilled back into some
Aboriginal communities. At Indian Residential Schools, many children learned that adults wielded
power and control through abuse. As a result of these childhood lessons, many former students
have inflicted abuse upon their own children. The incidents of physical and sexual abuse are often
higher in some Aboriginal communities than the rest of Canada. Many former students also find
themselves struggling with their Aboriginal identities, after being taught for so long to suppress
their own culture. Finally, many former students found it difficult to raise their own children,
because they had been deprived of any parental role models.
Aboriginal children were forced to make serious adjustments when they arrived at Indian
Residential School.
Often children were sent far away to an Indian Residential School, and siblings were separated
according to age level. Children were often punished for speaking their Aboriginal languages.
Those who did not speak English or French were therefore often unable to communicate verbally
to anyone in authority. They were forced to deal with loneliness, sickness, confusion and abuse on
their own.
Ask students to recall an experience in which they had to make a major adjustment. Ask them
to write a short essay or story (2-3 pages), or start a class discussion in which they compare their
experiences to those of Aboriginal children at Indian Residential Schools.
Consider the poem by Rita Joe, a Mi’kmaq poet, called Hated Structure: Indian Residential
School, Shubenacadie, N.S., which can be found in Rita Joe’s book, Song of Eskasoni.
In the poem, the poet returns to the residential school in Shubenacadie, Nova Scotia. Ask students
what they think the poem means. What is the poet’s opinion of Indian Residential Schools? What
memories does the school stir in the poet? What type of emotions is she expressing when she
remembers the school? What does the school represent to the poet?
Aboriginal peoples had well-developed systems of education before the arrival of Europeans. The
bases of traditional education were the lessons and teachings of Aboriginal Elders and parents.
They educated their children in the skills necessary to survive on the land; their family and tribal
history; language, fine arts such as music and storytelling; the appropriate social and political
behaviour; and moral and religious values.
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Many former students have reported that they had to cope with the suffocating heat or fierce cold
of the buildings. They missed their parents and other adult members of their families. Some also
suffered because of inadequate food, rigid discipline, mental and physical abuse, and the loss of
personal freedoms and individual will. They were often punished for engaging in any cultural and
spiritual ceremonies and practices.
Indian Residential Schools disrupted the transmission of beliefs, skills and knowledge from one
generation to the next. Despite Indian Residential Schools, Elders continue to be respected in
Aboriginal communities for their wisdom and experience. Ask students to write a journal entry that
explores their relationship with their grandparents or an Elder/senior who played an important role
in their lives. Ask them to remember the lessons and values they learned from that person. If students
have not had such a relationship, encourage them to describe their feelings about not having
such a connection with an Elder.
Students may ask why many Aboriginal students did not fit into the regular school system. Ask
students to consider a situation where, as seven-year-old students, they would be separated from
their parents for most of the year and placed in a school where no one spoke their language. In
this situation, the language spoken to you is written very differently from your native tongue. Your
teachers don’t understand many of the things that are very important to you, such as hockey or
ringette, snowboarding and skateboarding, burgers and fries, music videos and computer games.
Would it mean that you are a failure if you had a difficult time in that school system?
When children returned to their communities after several years at Indian Residential Schools, they
often found it hard to fit back into family life, and parents found that the children had changed.
Some parents also found that the children argued with them frequently, and with other children
and family members. Also, some children seemed unconcerned about hurting others and often
appeared unwilling to respect Elders.
Also difficult for many parents was their children’s loss of their language. At Indian Residential
Schools, many students were often punished for speaking their own language. After several years
away at school, children generally found it difficult to speak their mother tongue.
From an Aboriginal people’s perspective, the most damaging part of Indian Residential Schools
was that children were taught that their culture was unimportant. They were told that the values
with which they had been raised were “primitive” and that non-Aboriginal people in Canada were
part of a more “advanced” society. The schools’ organization and the curriculum content gave
Aboriginal children the impression that the beliefs, political institutions, religious practices and
economic system of non-Aboriginal people in Canada were superior to the traditional ways of
Aboriginal peoples.
Ask students to create a short skit in which a family is adjusting to having their children return from
Indian Residential School after a three-year absence. Students will need at least two characters (a
residential school student and a parent), but they may have more: one or more students, a mother,
a father, a grandparent, brothers and sisters. Encourage students to put themselves in the shoes of
the character they are portraying. What were some of the problems experienced by the children
and their parents when the students arrived home? What effect did the Indian Residential Schools
have on the way Aboriginal members felt about themselves as students and parents?
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In 1998, as part of its response to the Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, the
federal government delivered a Statement of Reconciliation to Aboriginal peoples. The churches
also apologized for the role they played in Indian Residential Schools.
In 2007, the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement came into effect. This was followed
by the June 2008 federal Government’s apology to former students and the creation of the Truth
and Reconciliation Commission in 2009.
Ask students if they believe that the apologies are important. Why?
For more than a century, Indian Residential Schools separated over 150,000 Aboriginal children
from their families and communities. In the 1870’s, the federal government, partly in order to
meet its obligation to educate Aboriginal children, began to play a role in the development and
administration of these schools. Two primary objectives of the Residential Schools system were to
remove and isolate children from the influence of their homes, families, traditions and cultures,
and to assimilate them into the dominant culture. These objectives were based on the assumption
Aboriginal cultures and spiritual beliefs were inferior and unequal. Indeed, some sought, as it was
infamously said, “to kill the Indian in the child”. Today, we recognize that this policy of assimilation
was wrong, has caused great harm, and has no place in our country.
One hundred and thirty-two federally-supported schools were located in every province and
territory, except Newfoundland, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island. Most schools
were operated as “joint ventures” with Anglican, Catholic, Presbyterian or United Churches.
The Government of Canada built an educational system in which very young children were often
forcibly removed from their homes, often taken far from their communities. Many were inadequately
fed, clothed and housed. All were deprived of the care and nurturing of their parents, grandparents
and communities. First Nations, Inuit and Métis languages and cultural practices were prohibited in
these schools. Tragically, some of these children died while attending residential schools and others
never returned home.
The government now recognizes that the consequences of the Indian Residential Schools policy
were profoundly negative and that this policy has had a lasting and damaging impact on
Aboriginal culture, heritage and language. While some former students have spoken positively
about their experiences at residential schools, these stories are far overshadowed by tragic
accounts of the emotional, physical and sexual abuse and neglect of helpless children, and their
separation from powerless families and communities.
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indian residential schools
The treatment of children in Indian Residential Schools is a sad chapter in our history.
The legacy of Indian Residential Schools has contributed to social problems that continue to exist in
many communities today.
It has taken extraordinary courage for the thousands of survivors that have come forward to speak
publicly about the abuse they suffered. It is a testament to their resilience as individuals and to the
strength of their cultures. Regrettably, many former students are not with us today and died never
having received a full apology from the Government of Canada.
To the approximately 80,000 living former students, and all family members and communities,
the Government of Canada now recognizes that it was wrong to forcibly remove children from
their homes and we apologize for having done this. We now recognize that it was wrong to
separate children from rich and vibrant cultures and traditions that it created a void in many lives
and communities, and we apologize for having done this. We now recognize that, in separating
children from their families, we undermined the ability of many to adequately parent their
own children and sowed the seeds for generations to follow, and we apologize for having done
this. We now recognize that, far too often, these institutions gave rise to abuse or neglect and
were inadequately controlled, and we apologize for failing to protect you. Not only did you suffer
these abuses as children, but as you became parents, you were powerless to protect your own
children from suffering the same experience, and for this we are sorry.
The burden of this experience has been on your shoulders for far too long. The burden is properly
ours as a Government, and as a country. There is no place in Canada for the attitudes that
inspired the Indian Residential Schools system to ever prevail again. You have been working on
recovering from this experience for a long time and in a very real sense, we are now joining you
on this journey. The Government of Canada sincerely apologizes and asks the forgiveness of the
Aboriginal peoples of this country for failing them so profoundly.
Nous le regrettons
We are sorry
In moving towards healing, reconciliation and resolution of the sad legacy of Indian Residential
Schools, implementation of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement began on
September 19, 2007. Years of work by survivors, communities, and Aboriginal organizations
culminated in an agreement that gives us a new beginning and an opportunity to move forward
together in partnership.
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indian residential schools
The government recognizes that the absence of an apology has been an impediment to healing
and reconciliation. Therefore, on behalf of the Government of Canada and all Canadians, I stand
before you, in this Chamber so central to our life as a country, to apologize to Aboriginal peoples
for Canada’s role in the Indian Residential Schools system.
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indian residential schools
A cornerstone of the Settlement Agreement is the Indian Residential Schools Truth and
Reconciliation Commission. This Commission presents a unique opportunity to educate all
Canadians on the Indian Residential Schools system. It will be a positive step in forging a new
relationship between Aboriginal peoples and other Canadians, a relationship based on the
knowledge of our shared history, a respect for each other and a desire to move forward together
with a renewed understanding that strong families, strong communities and vibrant cultures and
traditions will contribute to a stronger Canada for all of us.
unit 6
For centuries, non-Aboriginal writers have contributed to the shaping of the image of First Nations
in North American literature. The literary “voices” of First Nations are now emerging and are
gradually displacing the often stereotypical image of the “Indian” in Canadian literature.
1. To introduce students to First Nations authors and First Nations literature
2. To discuss Canadian literary works about First Nations
3. To introduce students to First Nations oral traditions
When studying Canadian literature, students should understand that stories, legends and songs
of the First Nations were the first literature of Canada. A work is usually defined as literature when
it is a written story that displays creative imagination and artistic skill. Thus, many people assume
that the study of literature is about books. But each culture has its own unique literary expression.
Literature can be defined more broadly to include songs, speeches, stories and invocations.
Students should also learn that non-First Nations writers have shaped the images of First Nations in
Canadian literature, even though there is a very large body of oral stories that have been passed
down from generation to generation among First Nations. Students should also be made aware
of the increasingly large body of written works by First Nations authors.
The literature of First Nations was based in oral traditions best described as “orature.” Individuals
who were eloquent and had a strong command of the language were highly respected in First
Nations communities. They were often storytellers. A good storyteller could transport listeners to a
particular piece of hunting territory — the lapping of the water on the lake shore and the smell of
the trees. A storyteller could evoke the lessons of ancestors long passed away. A storyteller could
shape the opinions of people by reminding them of past actions and historical events. In any oral
tradition, spoken words had the power to capture the imagination and transform reality.
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literary images of first nations
In this way, First Nations used songs, legends and stories to express their understanding of
their world and to pass on the histories of their people to succeeding generations. In particular,
storytelling was a vital ingredient in teaching young children and youths. Stories were often used
to discipline children. This was generally done in a humorous way because teasing and joking
served as a more effective social mechanism in many First Nation cultures than direct reproof,
pointing out mistakes.
Many of the old stories have slipped away with the passing of Elders and through the loss of
culture caused by assimilation. The precarious state of many First Nations languages also presents a
challenge to storytelling traditions. Nevertheless, the oral traditions of First Nations continue today.
First Nations storytellers are reclaiming the stories of their people and, in many cases, relating
them in the context of the contemporary lives of First Nations. Contemporary storytellers are also
expanding their audiences by adapting oral traditions to radio, television, theatre, music and books.
First Nations frequently appear as characters in Canadian literature. The “Indian” is a commonplace
figure in Canadian literature. While some of these portrayals have been sympathetic, the “Indian”
has come to be associated with meanings that are often not defined by First Nations themselves.
In many instances, their voices have been ignored.
In many early Canadian literary works, First Nations characters did not speak. If they did, they
expressed themselves in broken English or with romantic eloquence. If First Nations characters
moved, they acted according to Euro-Canadian concepts of plot. They were portrayed as faithful
allies or cruel enemies, but most often as marginal figures who could be ignored.
Rather than complex human beings with a range of emotions, intellect and experience, First
Nations peoples were portrayed in a purely symbolic way. First Nations characters displayed
“good” traits (living in harmony with nature, simplicity, hospitality, noble, wise, acquiescent
or compliant to Europeans) or “bad” traits (violence, cruelty, instinctive rather than rational,
uncommunicative, independent).
When these characters appeared, they were marginal to the plot in Canadian literary works.
Ultimately, many Canadian authors failed to look beyond the pervasive early European perspectives
of First Nations when creating First Nations characters. By treating them as little more than symbols,
Canadian literature denied First Nations’ history and humanity and perpetuated the powerful but
unrealistic mythic images of the “Indian.”
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literary images of first nations
Some European newcomers considered First Nations cultures to be inferior because they lacked
written forms of communication. However, many earlier colonial administrators soon came to
appreciate the verbal skill and artistry of First Nations leaders and orators. At treaty sessions and
council meetings, government officials found themselves having to adapt to the complex oratory
of First Nations spokespersons.
While First Nations have continued to maintain their oral traditions, printed texts by First Nations
authors were exceedingly rare until the 1970s. Today, First Nations authors, playwrights and
poets are flourishing. The emergence of creative art schools for First Nations people, First Nations
publishers, bookstores that specialize in First Nations literature, and First Nations educators, have all
contributed to the “renaissance” of First Nations writers.
As their collective voices emerge, Canadian literature is being transformed. First Nations writers
are sharing their experiences, their beliefs and their perspectives on human relationships, the
spirit world and the land. In the process, centuries of scholars and authors’ misinformation and
misunderstandings about First Nations are being corrected. Canadians finally have the opportunity
to learn about First Nations and their stories from First Nations authors themselves.
Storytelling has always been a communal activity for First Nations. Traditionally, stories and legends
brought people together to pass on their history to the next generation, to entertain each other,
and to teach their children. They told stories about their ancestors, about every aspect of the land
around them and about the magnificent beings who were part of their mythology.
One of the central figures in First Nations mythologies is a character often referred to as the
“Trickster.” The Trickster can be either male or female. It is called different names in different
First Nations cultures — Raven by the people of the West Coast, Wee-sak-ee-chak by the Cree,
Nana’b’oozoo by the Ojibway of the Eastern Woodlands, Kluskap by the Mi’kmaq. The Trickster is
known as Coyote, Hare, Crow, Badger or Old Man among other First Nations in North America.
Generally, the Trickster is a half-human and half-spirit figure who roams from one adventure to
another, assuming the form of animals or humans of either gender. The Trickster is an amusing
character whose enormous curiosity frequently leads to trouble. The Trickster regularly displays
contradictory behaviour such as charm and cunning, honesty and deception, kindness and mean
tricks. It is unpredictable — one minute a hero, the next a foolish clown.
Above all, the Trickster is a teacher. Listeners are invited to draw their own conclusions about
traditions and proper behaviour from the Trickster’s exploits. The Trickster is a remarkably selfimportant individual. Like all humans, the Trickster is imperfect: it is capable of violence, deception
and cruelty. Listeners learn as much through the Trickster’s mistakes as through its virtues.
There are those who say that the Trickster left the First Nations when the Europeans arrived.
Among the Ojibway, it is said that Nana’b’oozoo paddled away from his people in a canoe,
accompanied only by his grandmother, upset that his people had rejected him for the ways of
the newcomers. But it is also said that Nana’b’oozoo would return when the people were ready
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literary images of first nations
to welcome him again. Given the number of contemporary First Nations authors who employ
the Trickster in their works, it appears that the Trickster has returned and is roaming the Canadian
landscape once again.
There are many compilations of First Nations myths and legends that feature the Trickster. Early
translators of First Nations myths and legends tended to modify the stories to resemble European
fairy tales, with a linear plot and a moral. Contemporary versions of the Trickster stories better
reflect the complexity and humour of the original storytellers. Introduce students to the Trickster
character by reading and comparing Trickster stories. Here is a brief list of stories you may
wish to use:
• “The One About Coyote Going West” by Thomas King in All My Relations
• “Nana’b’oozoo” by Basil Johnson in The Manitous
• “Weaver Spider’s Web” by Peter Blue Cloud in All My Relations
• “Legends of the Supernatural Wee-Sa-Kay-Jac” by Carl Ray and James Stevens in Sacred
Legends of the Sandy Lake Cree
• “This is a Story” by Jeanette Armstrong in All My Relations
• “Trickster Cycles” in Our Bit of Truth: An Anthology of Canadian Native Literature
• “The Shivering Tree” by John McLeod in Native Voices: The Issues Collection
When students have read one or more of the Trickster stories, ask them some of the
following questions:
Is the Trickster a character you admire? If not, what have you learned from its behaviour?
Have you heard any other stories about someone who is vain? How was that person
treated in the story?
Do you ever play tricks on people? How do people react when they’ve been tricked?
Many European newcomers assumed that without the written word, First Nations were not literate.
In reality, the oral traditions of the First Nations were intricate and full of meaning. First Nations
orators were highly respected, and words had a great deal of power. Orators used wit, metaphor,
irony, emotion, imagery and eloquence to enrich their orature. Storytelling, political oratory,
invocations and songs served as forms of literary expression and were passed on from generation
to generation.
Without understanding the language of the orator or the context of the oratory, it may be difficult
for students familiar with Western literary structures to appreciate First Nations orature. However, ask
students to consider the words from the following two songs (for these and other examples of Native
orature, see Penny Petrone, Native Literature in Canada, [Oxford: Toronto, 1990]).
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literary images of first nations
The first is a Chippewa song:
“Wau wau tay see!
Wau wau tay see!
E mow e shin
Tahe bwau ne baun-e wee!
Be eghaun - be eghaun - ewee!
Wau wau tay see!
Wau wau tay see!
Was sa koon ain je gun.
Was sa koon ain je gun.”
Give me light before I go to bed!
Give me light before I go to sleep!
Come, little dancing white-fire-bug!
Come, little dancing white-fire-beast!
Light me with your bright white-flame-instrument — your little candle.”
Next is a translated version of a Sekani medicine song:
“I need your help, O caribou
Come swiftly to me.
You see I have laid my hands on the sufferer.
Come and lay your hoofs where I have laid my hands,
I need your help.
Without your help there is no healing in my hands today.
Come so quickly that your tail stands erect.”
Do you think these songs have “literary” elements to them? Is there imagery, rhythm, structure,
symbolism or allegory? What are these songs expressing?
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literary images of first nations
Translated literally by Henry Schoolcraft, the singer is saying:
Tell students that they have been asked by a national newspaper to write a book review on a
contemporary First Nations author. Teachers may wish to suggest one of the following authors:
Daniel David Moses
Thomas King
Duncan Mercredi
Rita Joe
Beth Brant
Beatrice Culleton
Louise Halfe
Richard Wagamese
Pauline Johnson
Bernard Assiniwi
Gregory Scofield
Lee Maracle
Wayne Keon
Armand Garnet Ruffo
Ruby Slipperjack
Eden Robinson
Beth Cuthand
Basil Johnson
Jeanette Armstrong
Jordan Wheeler
Lenore Keeshig-Tobias
Harry Robinson
Brian Maracle
Richard Van Camp
Tell students to write the book review in the first person. Ask them to describe what the book
meant to them and whether it raised (or answered) any questions about First Nations culture.
Do they think that other readers would enjoy the book? Why or why not?
First Nations theatre has exploded in popularity since the 1990s. Many First Nations playwrights
believe that theatre captures the oral traditions of First Nations cultures more effectively than
written works. Plays also evoke the powerful emotions that have been used as part of the
contemporary healing process for First Nations.
Obtain a play by one of the following playwrights:
Tomson Highway
Monique Mojica
Billy Merasty
Drew Hayden Taylor
Floyd Favel
John McLeod
Daniel David Moses
Margo Kane
Ian Ross
If students have a different First Nations playwright in mind, they may choose that
playwright’s work.
Choose a short scene from one of these plays and read it to the class. Explain to the class why
the scene was selected and organize a class discussion about the content of the scene.
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Students may choose any other First Nations author to complete this exercise.
Introduce students to short stories, essays and poems by First Nations authors. There are
several anthologies of Canadian First Nations literature where you can find selections for
the class, including:
King, Thomas (ed.). All My Relations. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1990.
Moses, Daniel David and Terry Goldie (ed.) An Anthology of Canadian Native Literature
(3d) Toronto: Oxford University Press, 2005.
Ahenakew, Freda, Brenda Gardipy and Barbara Lafond (ed.) Native Voices: The Issues
Collection. Canada: McGraw Hill Ryerson, 1993.
Brant, Beth. (ed.) A Gathering of Spirit. Toronto: Women’s Press, 1988.
Maki, J.T. (ed.) Let The Drums Be Your Heart. Vancouver: Douglas and McIntyre, 1996.
Grant, Agnes (ed.) Our Bit of Truth: An Anthology of Canadian Native Literature.
Winnipeg: Pemmican Publications, 1990.
Perreault, Jeanne and Sylvia Vance (ed.) Writing the Circle: Native Women of Western
Canada. Edmonton: NeWest Publishers, 1990.
After they have read the stories, ask students some of the following questions:
One of the key themes in First Nations literature is a sense of interconnected family
or community relations. What role do First Nations communities play in the stories or
poems? How are individuality and isolation treated by First Nations authors?
How do First Nations authors use humour in their works?
In a traditional oral story, the storyteller uses gestures, performance, and language
to enhance the story. In a written story, all you have is the word on the page. How
have First Nations authors demonstrated oral traditions in their writing?
Is there anger in any of the First Nations works you have read? Is there healing?
How have First Nations authors portrayed the relationship between people
and the land? What about relationships between people and animals?
Many non-First Nations authors set their works about First Nations in historical periods
such as the nineteenth century. How do First Nations authors treat the past? What
period are their works set in?
How are relations with non-First Nations people portrayed in works by First Nations authors?
How do First Nations authors treat the experience of colonization? For example,
do they write about jails, loss of language, boarding schools or reserves?
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literary images of first nations
En’okwin International School of Writing. Gatherings: The En’okwin Journal of First
North American Peoples. Penticton: Theytus Books, annual.
unit 7
Treaties are an important part of the relationship between the Crown and First Nations. First
Nations consider treaties to be sacred and enduring agreements. There are different types of
treaties in Canada, although many First Nations have never signed treaty agreements.
1. To provide students with a historical perspective of treaties in Canada
2. To raise awareness of current issues surrounding treaties and First Nations land claims
The Government of Canada and the courts understand treaties between the Crown and Aboriginal
people to be solemn agreements that set out promises, obligations and benefits for both parties.
Starting in 1701, in what was to eventually become Canada, the British Crown entered into
solemn treaties to encourage peaceful relations between First Nations and non-Aboriginal people.
Over the next several centuries, treaties were signed to define, among other things, the respective
rights of Aboriginal people and governments to use and enjoy lands that Aboriginal people
traditionally occupied.
Treaties include historic treaties made between 1701 and 1923 and modern-day treaties known as
comprehensive land claim settlements.
In the 18th century, the French and British were competing for control of lands in North America.
The two colonial powers formed strategic alliances with First Nations to help them advance their
respective colonial interests in the continent. For example, in what are now New Brunswick
and Nova Scotia, the British made a series of “Peace and Friendship” treaties with the Mi’kmaq and
Maliseet nations between 1725 and 1779.
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Treaty rights already in existence in 1982 (the year the Constitution Act was passed), and those
that arose afterwards, are recognized and affirmed by Canada’s Constitution.
By the early 1760s, the British had established themselves as the dominant colonial power in North
America. The British Royal Proclamation of 1763 prohibited the purchase of First Nation lands by
any party other than the Crown. The Crown could purchase land from a First Nation that had
agreed to the sale at a public meeting of the community.
Several treaties were signed after the Royal Proclamation and before Confederation in 1867. These
include the Upper Canada Treaties (1764 to 1862) and the Vancouver Island Treaties (1850 to
1854). Under these treaties, First Nations surrendered interests in lands in areas of what are now
Ontario and British Columbia, in exchange for benefits that could include reserves, annuities or
other types of payment, as well as certain rights to hunt and fish.
Between 1871 and 1921, the Crown entered into treaties with various First Nations that enabled
the Canadian government to actively pursue agriculture, settlement and resource development
of the Canadian West and the North. Because they are numbered 1 to 11, the treaties are often
referred to as the “Numbered Treaties.” The Numbered Treaties cover Northern Ontario, Manitoba,
Saskatchewan, Alberta, and portions of Yukon, the Northwest Territories and British Columbia.
Under these treaties, the First Nations who occupied these territories ceded vast tracts of land to
the Crown. In exchange, the treaties provided for such things as reserve lands and other benefits
like agricultural equipment and livestock, annuities, ammunition, gratuities, clothing and certain
rights to hunt and fish. The Crown also made some promises regarding the maintenance of
schools on reserves, or the provision of teachers or educational assistance to the First Nation
parties to the treaties.
In Gathering Strength — Canada’s Aboriginal Action Plan, announced January 7, 1998,
the Government of Canada affirmed that both historic and modern-day treaties will continue to
be key elements in the future relationship between Aboriginal people and the Crown. The federal
government believes that treaties, and the relationship they represent, can guide the way to a shared
future. The continuing treaty relationship provides a context of mutual rights and responsibilities that
will ensure that all Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people can enjoy Canada’s benefits.
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Comprehensive land claim settlements deal with areas of Canada where Aboriginal people’s claims
to Aboriginal rights have not been addressed by treaties or other legal means. The first of these
modern-day treaties was the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement, signed in
1975. As of 2011, the federal government has settled 24 comprehensive claims with Aboriginal
people in Canada.
The numerous treaties in Canada cover different areas and affect different First Nations.
Divide the class into 13 groups and assign each group a province or territory. Ask each group to
make a five minute oral report to the class on the treaties that affect the province or territory they
have been assigned.
Their presentation should include:
the number of treaties in the province or territory;
the year in which the treaties were signed;
the Aboriginal groups affected by the treaty; and
the types of treaties; i.e., peace and friendship, pre-Confederation, numbered or modern-day.
When discussing treaties, one of the most important historical documents is the Royal Proclamation
of 1763. It was issued by King George III and was intended to keep First Nations as allies
during times of war and to keep them as trading partners. Some of the important principles in
the Royal Proclamation include:
the decree that First Nations should not be disturbed in their use and enjoyment of the lands
reserved for them by the Royal Proclamation;
any lands that the Royal Proclamation reserved to First Nations were to be purchased by
the Crown only and not by individuals;
lands reserved for First Nations under the Royal Proclamation could only be purchased
with the consent of the First Nation in a public assembly of the First Nation community held
by the Governor or Commander in Chief of the colonies in which the lands lay.
Ask the class to design a short skit concerning the Royal Proclamation of 1763. One student
will be required to portray a British representative of King George in 1763. The representative
visits some of the local First Nations in your area and reads the following portions of the Royal
Proclamation to them. An interpreter must translate the meaning of each paragraph into
contemporary English:
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First Nations still refer to the Royal Proclamation as evidence of their sovereignty and their
rights to land and resources.
“And whereas it is just and reasonable, and essential to our interest, and the Security of our
Colonies, that the several Nations or Tribes of Indians with whom We are connected, and
who live under our Protection, should not be molested or disturbed in the Possession of
such Parts of our Dominions and Territories as, not having been ceded to or purchased by
Us, are reserved to them, or any of them, as their Hunting Grounds.”
(INTERPRETER’s version)
“And, We do further strictly enjoin and require all Persons whatever who have either
willfully or inadvertently seated themselves upon any Lands within the Countries above
described, or upon any other Lands which, not having been ceded to or purchased by
Us, are still reserved to the said Indians as aforesaid, forthwith to remove themselves from
such Settlements.”
(INTERPRETER’s version)
“And Whereas Great Frauds and Abuses have been committed in purchasing Lands of the
Indians, to the Great Prejudice of our Interests, and the Great Dissatisfaction of the said
Indians; In Order, therefore, to prevent such Irregularities for the future, and to the End
that the Indians may be convinced of our Justice and determined Resolution to remove
all reasonable Cause of Discontent, We do, with the advice of Privy Council, strictly enjoin
and require, that no private person do presume to make any Purchase from the said
Indians of any Lands reserved to the said Indians, within those parts of our colonies
where, We have thought proper to allow Settlement;”
(INTERPRETER’s version)
“But that, if at any Time any of the said Indians should be inclined to dispose of the said
Lands, the same shall be Purchased only for Us, in our Name, at some public Meeting or
Assembly of the said Indians...”
When the group is preparing the text for the interpreter, keep in mind that the translator is a First
Nations person who will be translating the text from a First Nations perspective. Students do not
need to memorize their parts; they can simply read them. However, they should practise so that
they know their roles fairly well.
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(INTERPRETER’s version)
After the skit, ask the class the following questions:
What is meant when First Nations refer to British and First Nations dealings as
being on “a nation-to-nation basis”? Has this type of relationship continued?
How is it different today? What can be done to change this situation?
How important is language in negotiations?
Have students read the text of one of the historical treaties. Teachers may wish to have students read
the text out loud and “translate” some of the more complex language. Remind students that many
First Nations believe that the written versions of the treaties do not reflect the verbal agreements
reached by the negotiators, and that ultimately, the treaties are about peoples living together.
Ask students if they think that a literal interpretation of the treaties is fair. Are the promises of $5
annual treaty money or a medicine chest a reasonable exchange in today’s terms for Aboriginal land
rights? Or were they gifts to commemorate an agreement, which are most important as symbols?
Soon after Confederation in 1867, the Government of Canada purchased Rupert’s Land from
the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1869 and the Province of Manitoba was created in 1870. This
purchase set the stage for the negotiation of a series of treaties between Canada and First Nations
throughout the areas now known as Northern Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, British
Columbia and the Northwest Territories.
Both Canada and the First Nations had long histories of negotiating treaties as a way to assure
peaceful relationships, establish trade and commerce, and to allow for the settlement of the West by
settlers. Between 1871 and 1921, eleven treaties were concluded and established reserves for First
Nations, guaranteed rights to hunt and fish, as also provided assistance and agricultural tools. While
the terms of the treaties are written down, there have long been disagreements as to their meaning.
Students can get some very detailed information about the Numbered Treaties from the internet,
including photographs, copies of the treaties, and historical background information.
In the settlement of modern land claims, First Nations seek a wide range of opportunities. From
a First Nations perspective, land claims agreements provide a means to rebuild their nations and
revitalize their culture. First Nations want more control over programs in their community, such as
education, child welfare and justice. They want to participate in local renewable resource activities,
and to manage things like fishing and hunting according to their traditional values. They also seek
access to the wider Canadian economy, through enterprises such as logging, commercial fishing,
and mining on their traditional lands.
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Ask students to write a research report (2-3 pages) about a modern-day land claim in Canada
(e.g. the Labrador Innu, the Northwest Territories First Nations, or the British Columbia Treaty
Process). Students can address some of the following issues in their report:
How long have the negotiations been going on?
What portion of the resources are the First Nations to control?
What forms of First Nation self-government are in the agreement? For example,
does the agreement deal with justice, health or economic development?
How does the agreement protect and revitalize First Nations cultures? For example, are
there any heritage sites protected? Will portions of the traditional territory be renamed?
Will historical artifacts that are stored in museums be returned to the First Nations?
How will the agreement affect non-Aboriginal peoples?
How will First Nations and governments work together to manage resources?
Students may wish to complement their research on land claims by creating a wall display
where they can post newspaper articles about current First Nations land claims.
Invite a person knowledgeable about treaties and land claims to speak to the class. If students
live in an area covered by a historical treaty, teachers could ask an Elder to share some of the oral
history or a First Nations leader to discuss how the treaty affects his or her work. If students live
in an area where claims are being negotiated, teachers could invite a person from a First Nations
claims research office to discuss the type of work that is being done, or federal or provincial
workers who work in the area of treaties. This may include negotiations, mapping, historical
research or recording oral history.
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Be sure that students prepare some questions for the speaker. Students should also present
the speaker with a gift, preferably one that they have created with their own resources.
unit 8
Canada has recognized the inherent Aboriginal right to self-government within the Canadian
Constitution. Self-government means that First Nations can gain more control over their lives and
their communities than is possible under the Indian Act.2
2. To learn why self-government is important to First Nations
3. To learn about traditional modes of self-government
First Nations had been practicing their own forms of government for thousands of years before
the arrival of Europeans in Canada. These governments covered a wide variety of systems. First
Nations shaped their forms of government to meet their particular needs — needs defined by their
own economic, social and geographic conditions. Groups’ individual cultures and spiritual beliefs
have also been important sources of inspiration for their forms of government.
First Nations can trace their systems of government back to the beginnings of their oral history.
They see their powers of government as essential to their existence. This is what is meant by the
inherent right of self-government for First Nations people. From a First Nations perspective, the
right to govern themselves is a natural right.
Colonial policies weakened the authority of First Nations governments. When European colonists
arrived in the territory we now call Canada, they established their own colonial governments and
signed treaties with many First Nations. The aim of these early treaties was to ensure strategic
military and trade alliances between First Nations and European colonists, and to share lands
and resources.
In the eyes of many, early versions of the Indian Act restricted the lives of First Nations people in Canada and did not
promote equality. Changes are now happening as First Nation communities negotiate self-government agreements. Once
a First Nation establishes new arrangements with the federal and territorial governments, the Indian Act is no longer in
effect. Instead, that First Nation is self-governing.
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first nations self-government
1. To introduce students to the concept of self-government
However, colonial governments gradually began to establish laws and policies aimed at assimilating
First Nations people into European society. The colonial governments, and (after 1867) the
Government of Canada, passed laws encouraging First Nations people to adopt the social and
political ways of the broader Canadian population.
The federal policies of assimilation and control had terrible effects. Traditional First Nations lifestyles
were threatened. The authority of First Nations governments weakened. Over the past few
centuries, First Nations and Inuit have become the most disadvantaged groups in Canada. People
living in First Nations communities have some of the lowest standards of living in the country.
However, First Nations self-government is being re-established. First Nations leaders are working
to help their people regain their rightful place in the Canadian federation and to enter into
partnerships with the federal and provincial governments and other partners, including the
private sector.
In August 1995, the federal government undertook a process to negotiate practical arrangements
to make Aboriginal self-government a reality. This process is based on the idea that the inherent
right of Aboriginal self-government already exists in the Canadian Constitution. Aboriginal groups
will shape their own forms of government to suit their particular historical, cultural, political and
economic circumstances.
Self-government is about building self-reliance and establishing a new relationship between
governments and First Nations, based on mutual understanding and trust. It means that First
Nations will be able to take more responsibility and control over decisions affecting their own lives
and communities than they have now. It means that they will be able to make their own laws
in some areas, make choices about how to spend money, deliver their own programs and
services (like education) to their people, and build partnerships with others to pursue economic
development opportunities. It also means that Aboriginal governments will be more accountable
to their own people for the decisions they make.
Self-government does not mean that First Nations will operate as independent countries. First
Nations will co-exist with their neighbours, as they do now. The Canadian Constitution and the
Charter of Rights and Freedoms will apply to First Nations governments. Federal and provincial
laws will also continue to apply, with overarching federal and provincial laws, such as the Criminal
Code, superseding First Nation laws in the case of a conflict between them. Self-government
involves all levels of government — First Nations, municipal, provincial, and federal — working
together as partners to ensure that all Canadians have access to the services and opportunities to
which they are entitled.
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By re-establishing their own governments, First Nations will once again be able to control their
own lives and lands. They will also be in a better position to continue the process of social and
spiritual healing in their communities.
In this activity, students will profile an individual who is actively involved in First Nations selfgovernment. In urban centres or in communities without an adjacent First Nations community,
students might contact a local Friendship Centre to find potential interview subjects. Students
may look at many different areas to identify this person, such as schools, businesses, government,
health clinics, or policing services. It is important that students be allowed to choose this person
themselves, as this will reflect what self-government means to them on a personal level.
How did you first become interested in your profession?
What prompted you to choose that career?
What is your idea of self-government?
What do you think your contribution in assisting your community
in moving to self-government has been/will be?
What messages would you give to students about self-government?
When the interviews and any additional research are complete, each student should write a profile
of the person and how he or she is contributing to First Nations self-government. Students should
also include why they believe this person’s contributions are important. Students can then give a
brief oral report to the rest of their classmates.
The class can create a visual display of all the completed biographies, which could include pictures,
or design their own First Nations self-government posters to be posted around the classroom.
Make sure that students send a copy of the biography to the person they interviewed, along with
a letter of thanks for the time he or she volunteered.
Invite a person from a First Nation who is knowledgeable about self-government issues to speak to
the class. There are several different perspectives the class could take on the issue: a First Nations
Elder to talk about traditional government systems; a politician with a First Nations organization;
a member of a band council or a First Nations businessperson. If the school is in the city, a good
place to start would be a Friendship Centre or an urban First Nation organization.
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To complete this activity, students will need to become investigative reporters, interviewing and
getting in direct contact with their subject. Once they have selected a First Nations member in
or near their community, they should contact that person and find out if they are willing to be
interviewed. In addition to important personal history details, the interviewer should also include
the following questions:
Encourage students to prepare questions for the speaker, such as:
What does self-government mean to you?
Do you think that there are barriers to First Nations achieving self-government?
If so, how can these be overcome?
Have First Nation communities become more self-governing in your lifetime?
Do you have any ideas for self-government in the future?
The students should have a gift, preferably one they have created themselves, to honour the
speaker after the presentation.
an Ojibway businessperson in Toronto
a Member of Parliament representing one of the political parties
a Dene woman living in a Dene village in the Northwest Territories
a commercial fisherman in British Columbia
a recent immigrant to Canada who owns a shop in Halifax
a university student in Québec City
a Maliseet Elder from a First Nation community in New Brunswick
Ask students portraying the characters to imagine what their character’s perspective on First
Nations self-government might be and to write a short statement that can be used in a
documentary. Students should creatively combine the characters’ statements into a script
and perform it for the television audience (the rest of the class).
In the follow-up discussion, ask students acting as the audience how they felt about the viewpoints
represented by each interviewee. How might each interviewee come to that perspective? Did
they have access to complete information? Were there any stereotypes about First Nations or
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Select several members of the class to role-play a television special on the evening news with
a journalist interviewing Canadians on their impressions of First Nations self-government. One
student will play the role of the TV interviewer and several others will act as people being
interviewed. The following are examples of characters the students could portray (feel free to
create additional characters, as required):
Strong, stable Aboriginal governments are an important building block for economic development
opportunities. Traditional First Nations economies were based on hunting, gathering, fishing
and trade. However, the viability of these activities has declined considerably over the past
century. Many First Nations communities have become increasingly dependent on the Canadian
government because of, in part, this shift in economy. With the expansion and stimulation of First
Nation-run economic enterprises, First Nations communities can become economically
In this activity, students will be asked to develop a business plan for an economic enterprise in a
First Nation community.
Once students have some familiarity with what goes into running a business, assign them to
groups of three or four. Tell these groups that they will each be designing their own business
for a First Nation community.
Ask each group to brainstorm a business idea. The groups should ask themselves what the
community needs or what community assets could be transformed into an economic
development opportunity.
Once each group has hatched an idea, the next step is to create a successful business plan.
a) summary
In this part of the plan, students will provide a background of their business, a brief outline
of how the company is organized and indicate who manages it.
b) market need
Give a description of the product, process or service that the company has to offer, in order
to attract financial support.
c) amount of capital required
Calculate how much money will be needed to run the business, including items such as
wages or materials.
d) projected financial results
Provide an estimate of how much money the business will make.
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Before the students develop and design their own First Nation business, ask them to identify an
existing enterprise in a First Nation community; e.g., a co-op grocery, tourism company, gas station,
computer software company, fish cannery or a wild rice manufacturer. Ask students to write a short
essay in which they describe what the enterprise is, who runs it, and why it is important to the
community. To fill in these details, students may wish to interview the people who administer
the enterprise.
Ask students to read and consider the “Declaration of the First Nations,” adopted in 1980
by all of the First Nations in Canada at a conference of the Assembly of First Nations.
“We the Original Peoples of this Land know the Creator put us here.
The Creator has given us Laws that govern all our relationships to live in harmony with
nature and mankind.
The Laws of the Creator defined our rights and responsibilities.
The Creator gave us our spiritual beliefs, our languages, our cultures, and a place on
Mother Earth that provided us with all our needs.
We continue to exercise the rights and fulfill the responsibilities and obligations given to us
by the Creator for the land upon which we were placed.
The Creator has given us the right to govern ourselves and the right to self-determination.
The rights and responsibilities given to us by the Creator cannot be altered or taken away
by any other Nation.”
A class project should address the following questions: What does this declaration say about how
First Nations see themselves? Where does the right to self-government and self-determination
come from?
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We have maintained our freedom, our languages, and our traditions from
time immemorial.
negotiators and leaders;
engineers and scientists;
teachers, cultural experts and Elders;
judges and lawyers;
artists and linguists;
communicators and storytellers;
financial administrators, accountants and economists;
healers, dentists, doctors and nurses;
program and human resource managers; and
policy analysts.
Many other positions and skills will be required as the process of self-government matures and
develops. Ask students to brainstorm what types of skilled people they believe will be needed
to make self-government a reality. Students should also consider how they would encourage
their peers to pursue these careers. After they have identified the positions and skills, ask them to
develop a campaign to recruit potential self-government staff to fill these positions. The campaign
should also address youth training and education issues, as part of the overall strategy.
Students could design posters that feature photography or artwork to be posted in the school, or
placed in the school’s newspaper or the local newspaper. They could design a radio commercial
that could be run over the P.A. system or broadcast over the community radio or television stations.
If the class has access to a video camera, students could develop a short video commercial.
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One challenge of self-government is how to bring together the skilled professionals to operate
the administrations and businesses that will be required for First Nations self-government. While
many First Nations men and women across Canada have achieved high levels of academic and
professional success, education levels on reserve and among First Nations collectively are among
the lowest in the country. First Nations pursuing self-government will need people who have a
wide range of formal education, training, skills and experience. They include:
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Please visit Kids’ Stop on the Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada website
( for more information about First Nations and Inuit in Canada, including books,
learning guides, activities and links to websites for all ages.
N o t e s
A learning resource
for Ages 14-16
AGES 8 TO 11
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