The Importance of the First Nations, Métis, and Inuit Studies Curriculum
The history of Canada begins with Indigenous peoples; this land’s development and its future are inextricably linked to its first inhabitants. In this unique position, Indigenous peoples have perspectives on and knowledge of this land and of humanity that can inform how Canada addresses global challenges in the twenty-first century. Exploration of Indigenous cultures, ways of knowing, and contributions to society is therefore essential for students as the global citizens and problem solvers of tomorrow.
First Nations, Métis, and Inuit in Canada have an important standing as separate and distinct peoples, with specific rights and freedoms that arose from pre-Confederation treaty-making processes and evolve to the present day, through ongoing relationships and negotiations with the Canadian government.
The First Nations, Métis, and Inuit studies curriculum offers a variety of courses that can provide all students in Ontario schools with a broad range of knowledge and skills needed for work in fields such as law, environmental and other sciences, health, economics, politics, social services, and education. With the skills and knowledge they acquire in the program, students will have much to offer in work, continuing study, and community service settings after graduation.
First Nations, Métis, and Inuit studies will help students develop a deeper understanding of concepts that are of public interest and of specific concern to Indigenous peoples. These concepts, such as citizenship, governance, economic prosperity, and collective well-being, may apply at the local, regional, national, and global levels.
As students increase their awareness of Indigenous belief systems through First Nations, Métis, and Inuit studies courses, they will develop and refine their own thoughts and beliefs on key themes such as stewardship, peace, justice, power and authority, democracy, rights and responsibilities, identity and culture, reconciliation, and our relationship with the natural world.
Cultural, linguistic, racial, and religious diversity is a defining characteristic of Canadian society, and schools can help prepare all students to live harmoniously as responsible, compassionate citizens in a multicultural society in the twenty-first century.
First Nations, Métis, and Inuit studies courses are designed to engage students in an interdisciplinary exploration of the histories, cultures, languages, traditions, and perspectives of Indigenous peoples in Canada, and of Canada’s relationship over time with the Indigenous peoples of this land. Using various research and inquiry processes and other critical approaches, students will investigate the current realities, contributions, and aspirations of Indigenous peoples in Canada, as well as related assumptions and misconceptions.
First Nations, Métis, and Inuit studies is by nature integrative. For example, when students examine the relationship between the design and function of wampum belts and the purpose of written treaty documents, their exploration of art and history helps them think more deeply about government and sovereignty/self-governance. When students learn about traditional stories and legends through the work of various Métis artists while also investigating Métis harvesting rights, they are drawing on the arts, English, and law to develop their understanding of how geography affects culture. Similarly, when they analyse the impact of legislation on First Nations, Métis, and Inuit cultures as they study a novel about the efforts of a residential school survivor to reclaim their cultural identity, they are combining their understanding of governance and law, civics, and English to gain insight into how institutions can influence identity.
While the many Indigenous nations in Canada are diverse in their governance practices, traditions, protocols, ceremonies, dances, songs, rites of passage, creation stories, languages, and other experiences, First Nations, Métis, and Inuit world views have certain constant elements in common. In this document, we refer to these constants as “essential understandings” in the study of First Nations, Métis, and Inuit in Canada. They provide a lens through which to develop a deeper appreciation of identity, relationships, and self-determination, three concept areas that are central to First Nations, Métis, and Inuit studies. As students work through major topics in a course, they use the essential understandings as a lens through which they can make connections to and between a number of key concept areas. The essential understandings, each of which is related to one or more key concept areas, are outlined in the chart below.
First Nations, Métis, and Inuit communities also have a long history with the French and English settler communities and, subsequently, with the government of Canada. This history ties these groups together in ways that are distinct from the connections between other groups in Canada. The Constitution Act, 1982, formally recognizes Aboriginal and treaty rights, which represent one of the essential understandings in the study of First Nations, Métis, and Inuit in Canada. This understanding provides the context for a theme that runs throughout the First Nations, Métis, and Inuit studies curriculum – that is, the crucial importance, for all peoples and nations in Canada, of truth, reconciliation, and renewed nation-to-nation relationships.
Essential Understandings and Key Concepts
|Essential Understanding||Key concept||Practice|
|Community involves close kinship ties with others and with creation (animals, plant life, sky, earth, spirit beings). The concept of family includes extended family members through marriage, adoption, clans, nations, and spiritual ties, such as the ties established through naming.|
|Ancestral knowledge||Relationships with
the spirit realm
|Spirit is a life force from which all things come, tying together all things past, present, and future, including human beings. Because the past, present, and future are linked, ancestral knowledge – the original teachings the ancestors hold for us – is forever within reach of successive generations. All life, not just human life, is imbued with spirit.|
|Traditional knowledge||Identity through
|Indigenous practices and protocols for transferring knowledge differ from Western protocols. Because traditional knowledge is sacred, its transfer from one person to another is governed by strict protocols that depend on the context and the knowledge being shared.|
with the natural
|The Creator gives us laws that govern our relationships with the natural world so that we can live in harmony with all creation.|
|Interconnectedness of all things||Relationships with
all of creation
|All of creation is connected. To live a prosperous life, one lives in balance with all life, including people, land, sky, animals, plants, and waters.|
|Cultural diversity||Identity through
|Indigenous peoples and cultures have diverse and distinct ways of life, beliefs, values, languages, and traditions.|
for rights and
|Indigenous peoples hold Aboriginal and treaty rights that are protected by Section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982. Although nations are diverse, they share common historical experiences in their nation-to-nation dealings with the Crown over time.|
It is important to create a learning environment that is respectful and that makes students feel safe and comfortable not only physically, socially, and emotionally but also in terms of their cultural heritage. A culturally safe learning environment is one in which students feel comfortable about expressing their ideas, opinions, and needs and about responding authentically to topics that may be culturally sensitive. Teachers should be aware that some students may experience emotional reactions when learning about issues that have affected their own lives, their family, and/or their community, such as the legacy of the residential school system. Before addressing such topics in the classroom, teachers need to consider how to prepare and debrief students, and they need to ensure that resources are available to support students both inside and outside the classroom.