Learning Modules

Indigenous Peoples of Canada

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Module 1: The Politics of Indigenous Identity

Is identity political? The answer is as close as the nearest news source. From governments that discriminate against certain groups, to large-scale wars between people of different ethnicities or nationalities, identity clearly has political dimensions and consequences for everyday lives.

This module aims to promote a basic understanding of the politics of governance and Indigenous identity (membership and inter-group relations) in a multicultural state. As we improve our understanding about how identity works in the political realm, we can better appreciate identity-based claims and conflicts. By the end of this module, students should have a basic sense of how and why identity can play such a big part in shaping politics – and vice versa. Students should also be able to appreciate the role identity plays in Indigenous peoples’ ongoing efforts to regain greater control over their lives and lands, apart from state governments.

After a short introduction of what makes up identity and how it is formed, we will look at how this concept can be applied to Indigenous peoples. We will then be able to see how identity both contributes to, and reflects, the political dynamics of a state with colonized indigenous populations. Along the way, we will take note of one theorist’s provocative challenge to conventional interpretations of identity politics, and the promise it holds for an alternative approach to Indigenous self-government theory and practice. Finally, we will explore questions about what the future might bring for indigenous identities in an increasingly globalized world. Read more…

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and AFN Chief Perry Belgarde

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Module 2: Introduction to Indigenous Governance

This module is an overview of theoretical and practical aspects of Indigenous governance and politics. The aim of this module is to promote an understanding of Indigenous traditions and visions of governance and to introduce existing governance structures in First Nations communities. First, the module presents a brief overview of the current political landscape facing Indigenous people, including an introductory discussion of self-government. Second, concepts and visions of Indigenous governance and politics are presented. The incredible diversity of Indigenous peoples and their political interests will be outlined and some of the important aspects of traditional Indigenous governance noted in the report of the Royal Commission of Aboriginal Peoples will be presented. Finally, the module will conclude with an overview of band governance systems in Canada. Read more…

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Module 3: Colonialism

This module will introduce students to the concept of colonialism and its historical and present effects. Despite the removal of many institutionalized colonial systems, the consequences of these systems still have profound effects on Canada’s Indigenous population. Historically, spiritual, social, political, and economic ways of Indigenous life were controlled by federal and provincial governments, and this module will explore the ways that this has affected Indigenous identities. Read more…

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Module 4: Treaty Relationships

There is a rich history of treaty negotiations in Canada. First Nations and the Crown in the pre- and post-Confederation eras relied heavily upon Treaty-making as a method of securing relations of peace and cooperation. After a relatively long period of inactivity, Treaty relations have regained an important role in the Canadian political landscape. This module focuses on historical and contemporary Treaty-making relationships between First Nations and the Crown. The module begins by outlining the history of treaty-making in Canada, which is important in understanding the complexity of treaty relationships. The module focuses on three different Treaty periods: pre-Confederation, post-Confederation, and modern-day. After the history of treaties is explained, the module will highlight ongoing political challenges to treaty relationships. Understanding Treaty history is important for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians as this history is integral in shaping the relationships between the nations. As the reading by Tupper explains, “treaty education requires all students to consider how their own lives and privileges are connected to and may be traced through, treaties and the treaty relationship” (2012, 147). Read more…

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Module 5: The Indian Act

This module provides students with a survey of the central political and governance issues relating to the federal Indian Act. The module begins with a presentation of the historical background of Canadian federal Indian policy. The second section considers the impacts of the Indian Act on the governance of First Nations communities, with reference to leadership selection and membership and status provisions. The third section contains an overview of the Royal Commission’s perspectives of Indian Act reform. The final section examines historical and contemporary policy changes related to the Indian Act and discusses why abolishment of the Act is a contentious issue. Overall, this module presents a detailed examination of the complexities involved in federal policy and First Nations. This module will expose students to the Act and demonstrate that there are no easy solutions to the governance and political dilemmas posed by the Indian Act. Read more…

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Module 6: Section 35 (Constitution Act)

In 1982, the government of Canada patriated and amended its constitution to include the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, a new amending formula, and the constitutional recognition and affirmation of Aboriginal and treaty rights. The constitutional recognition of Aboriginal and treaty rights marked a dramatic shift in political and legal relations between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples. This module explores the origins and meaning of section 35, and how the courts have focused on the theme of reconciliation in order to balance the competing interests at stake in this highly controversial area of law and politics. Read more…

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Module 7: Métis Self-Determination and Governance

The first part of this module addresses identity issues in Métis history. Defining the Métis People has been a long process which has fluctuated from including all so-called “mixed blood” Aboriginals to narrow definitions of the Métis as being only descendants of the Red River Colonies in the mid-1800s. This module will introduce historical and modern identity and political issues affecting Métis groups to show the unique political challenges that Métis People have endured.

The second half of the module will focus on Métis political organization in Saskatchewan. Recent reorganizations of the Métis Nation-Saskatchewan (MN-S) have been based on the Métis Act 2002 and governance structures laid out in the Act. The Métis People have had a modern Constitution since the 1980’s and have organized themselves to run social and business programming with federal Canadian government funding and provincial funding. These programs have set up special housing, work, training and education programs to benefit the Métis People and have also been the source of Métis business and corporate development in the province. Larger organizations include women’s groups and national lobby groups, which represent the special Aboriginal rights of the Métis People to the federal and provincial governments.

The module will conclude with a discussion of recent issues faced by the MN-S and ongoing solutions to address these governance challenges. Read more…

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Module 8: Models for First Nations Self-Governance

Indigenous self-governance is a topic with many considerations. Self-government stems from a desire for self-determination. For many groups, self-government inherently contains the recognition that Indigenous peoples have a right to sovereignty (expressed in many different ways). This module will discuss the concept of self-government, explore historical forms of Indigenous governance and relate them to modern desires for self-determination, as well as explain different models that Indigenous self-government can take. Read more…

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Module 9: Implementing Self-Governance and Governance in the North

This module provides a further examination of the political issues and challenges involved in the self-government process. The module overviews general principles of good government. It discusses the benefits and challenges of self-government agreement implementation. The module introduces Northern territorial governance by outlining the Nunavut public government model to contrast self-government systems used in the Yukon Territory. Using Yukon First Nations as examples, the module demonstrates the struggle some First Nations have had in negotiating self-government agreements and details the historical developments in self-governance in the Yukon. Read more…

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Module 10: Indigenous Movements and Reconciliation Efforts

Indigenous governance and politics in Canada must be understood against the background of colonialism, both historical and contemporary. This module introduces students to the domestic and international efforts to have Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians reconcile the history of colonialism. While much focus has been spent exploring political and governance issues faced by Indigenous communities, these challenges cannot be addressed without considering relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous residents. The module will begin by exploring recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Canada. These recommendations will be examined against theoretical concepts of reconciliation and decolonization. Finally, the module will discuss international Indigenous diplomatic efforts including the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) and its effects on governance and politics in Canada. Read more…