Recently, I began the conversation with my grade 9 students about collective rights in Canada – what they are, who receives them, why collective rights exist and to what extent have we, Canadians, affirmed these rights in society.
One of the significant learning outcomes surrounds understanding the collective rights of First Nations. While I have taught this topic numerous times, I felt it was time to do a better job, and I needed to know more in order to be a better teacher for my kids. This is such an important topic in our collective identities and histories, and, unfortunately, full of many common misconceptions in our daily lives. Thus, I revised my lesson. However, resources on this topic a difficult to find, even more so that provide a concrete understanding of who, what, when, where and why. In the spirit of strengthening the conversation for all Canadians and continuing the journey of reconciliation, here is an overview of my lesson.
After some vocabulary work, I explained to my students that aboriginal people in Canada receive collective rights, which are inherent, or are passed down from generation to generation. I explained that these rights were negotiated through the Numbered Treaties and Indian Act. A map of Numbered Treaty territories in Canada is below (from the Issues for Canadians textbook).
The Charter grants First Nations groups the following rights (also from the Issues for Canadians textbook). We looked at Treaties 6-8 because these treaties apply to land in the province of Alberta. However, examples I include, cover various parts of Canada:
At this point, I provided my students with a form of a KWL chart and asked them to thinking independently of what they think rights in each of these categories include. I asked students to fill out the first two columns. Not surprisingly, they did not have much prior knowledge.
After thinking and discussing in table groups, I led a conversation and had students fill in their third column based on information I provided.
Health Care Rights
- It has been the long time position of First Nations that all health care and medicines are pre-paid and are to be provided to Treaty First Nations as promised in the Numbered Treaties.
- Inherent Rights include a traditional health system of: Medicine Women and Men; ceremonies and practices for healing and prevention; and medicines from minerals, animals, plants and water, traditional lands and resources.
We then watched the following video so students could gain a better understanding of a traditional health approach:
- The Government of Canada funds elementary and secondary education for First Nation students ordinarily resident on-reserve, provides post-secondary education financial support for First Nation and eligible Inuit students, and provides support to Canadian post-secondary institutions for the design and delivery of university and college level courses that respond to the education needs of First Nation and Inuit students.
- This lead to the creation of residential schooling
We then watched the following clip:
- For those who wanted to take a deeper look, I provided this link as well as an additional resource: Why fixing First Nations education remains so far out of reach
Fishing & Hunting Rights
- Affirmed as part of the Constitution of Canada by Section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982, Indian people “have the right, which the Province hereby assures to them, of hunting, trapping and fishing game and fish for food at all seasons of the year on all unoccupied Crown lands and on any other lands to which (they) may have a right of access.”
- We then had a discussion surrounding these three questions:
- What does this mean?
- How is this different from people who are not First Nations?
- Why do they get this right?
Then, we watched the following news clip and reflected:
- An Indian Reserve is a tract of land set aside under the Indian Act and treaty agreements for the exclusive use of an Indian band. Band members possess the right to live on reserve lands, and band administrative and political structures are frequently located there.
- Reserves today continue to be important land bases for First Nations across Canada, often contained within their ancestral and spiritual homelands. Yet, on average, reserves present some of the most alarming conditions in Canada. They are typically isolated communities with high instances of poverty, substance abuse, suicide, unemployment, and mortality.
To give students a clear picture of what conditions on some reserves are, we analyzed the following photograph:
We then had a conversation about Attawapiskat and the recent events that have happened in that community. In 2011, What in the World by Les Plan provided a current event on this topic. This was also provided to students who wanted to extend their understanding:
- In signing treaties with the First Nations, the government promised to provide them with a way of life through farming. Agriculture was not only the government’s plan to develop an agricultural based economy in the west but it was a means to assimilate the First Nations into the rest of society.
- Some First Nations farmers did have success in farming and had commercially viable operations. It became apparent in some cases the First Nations were more successful than non-First Nations farmers, which caused the government to implement policies to benefit the interests of the non-First Nations farmers. The government wanted the non-First Nations farmers to be prosperous in the hopes of attracting more settlers to the prairie provinces in pursuit of agriculture.
- Intended to be a revenue stream, a share of the wealth generated by revenues from territory.
- Indigenous nations agreed to share their resources and territories with European settlers, in exchange for a number of benefits, including annual payments.
We then read the following news article as a class on annuities:
Needless to say, students were quite shocked. With their third column now full and brains a bit saturated, we ended our discussion there for the day. The next class, students were given another current event from 2013 in What in the World. After reading the article in groups of 4-5 as a read aloud, groups examined the photo and editorial cartoon, and, using tabletop whiteboards, answered the questions:
- To what extent have we affirmed collective rights of First Nations?
- What, if any, are the next steps in affirming these collective rights?
Overall, students replied with a sense that while intentions outlined in the Numbered Treaties (many believe the Indian was very racist) are “good”, as a society, we need to make sure that the rights are provided for.
- One group used education as an example – why are schools on reserves not as good as MidSun?
- Another group spoke of the need to do a better job with housing and basic needs.
- Last, a group spoke of how excellent of a job First Nations are doing at educating and involving aboriginal youth, and hopefully this will now continue into the rest of Canadian society.
Overall, I know this lesson still has a long way to go. It does only highlight the issues and not what has been successful. This lesson will continue to evolve – please add revise, adapt as you see fit. If you would like a copy of the Google Presentation or other resources, please contact me and I will gladly share. As well, if you find resources that would make this better, please share!!