Unit 1 Human Rights

Chapter 2 Aboriginal/Indigenous Experience


Ask yourself:

  • To what extent has Canada, as a nation, fulfilled our Human Rights obligations to our Indigenous Peoples?
  • To what extent are our obligations being fulfilled at this time?
  • What actions are our Indigenous Peoples taking to improve their own access to Human Rights?
  • Why did the government of Canada decide to remove children of First Nations, Métis and Inuit families and force them to live in Residential Schools?
Residential School System - Warren Burton Green

The Gordon Residential School in Saskatchewan, the last federally run facility, closed in Nobember 1996.


The terminology used in Canada to refer to Aboriginal Peoples has been evolving in Canada. First, the collective noun Aboriginal People became popular when referring to First Nations, Inuit and Métis and was widely adopted by government and many national groups. In 1982, this distinction was made legal in the Constitution Act. Section 35 (2) of the Act states:

In this Act, "aboriginal peoples of Canada" includes the Indian, Inuit and Métis peoples of Canada.

Aboriginal Peoples was a fresh step although there was resistance to its usage from some groups, as discussed in “Indigenous vs. Aboriginal”.

At the present time, the federal government has moved to embrace the word Indigenous and all of its legal ramifications. By recognizing First Nations, Inuit and Metis as Indigenous Peoples, the government is acknowledging their internationally legal right to offer or withhold consent to development under the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Canada endorsed this declaration with conditions under then Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Not all Canadian provinces are currently replacing the word Aboriginal with Indigenous and it is still in use in our Constitution.

In Canada we have three broader groups of Indigenous peoples:

The First Nations, made up of over 630 distinct bands with the majority living in Ontario and British Columbia

The Inuit who inhabit the northern regions of Canada

The Métis, who are descendants of the first children of Indians and Europeans. Alberta has the largest Métis population.

Consider the reasons Canadian settlers of European descent thought Residential Schools were a good idea. Take a look at the cultural, religious and economic motivation of European Canadians at that time.

Aboriginal Peoples refers to those Indigenous people who populated land before the arrival of colonists who dominated them over time. Today there are about 370 million Aboriginal Peoples distributed across 70 countries. In almost all these situations the Aboriginal populations suffer from lack of representation in government, poverty, poor access to social services, and discrimination.

If you are interested in learning more about this terminology, here's a free ebook: Indigenous Peoples: A Guide to Terminology

Action 1


Stop and think!

How are the lives of Indigenous Peoples across the world affected by each of the following?

Are these stereotypes about Indigenous Peoples true?

Lack of Representation in Government


Generational Poverty


Lack of Access to Social Services





In October 2013, the United Nations sent Investigator James Anaya to find out conditions of Aboriginal human rights in Canada. Anaya said one in five indigenous Canadians live in dilapidated and often overcrowded homes and “funding for Aboriginal housing is woefully inadequate.” He said the suicide rate among Inuit and First Nations youth living on reserve is more than five times greater than that of other Canadians. One community Anaya visited had suffered a suicide every six weeks since the start of the year. Anaya said such problems persist even though Canada was one of the first countries to extend constitutional protection to the rights of Indigenous People, has taken notable steps to repair the legacy of past injustices and has developed processes for land claims “that in many respects are models for the world to emulate.” Anaya, who is planning to present a full report to the UN Human Rights Council, had several recommendations for Canada's government. He encouraged the government “to take a less adversarial” approach to land claim settlements “in which it typically seeks the most restrictive interpretation of aboriginal and treaty rights possible.”
(Associated Press writer Rob Gillies in Toronto contributed to this story)

Aboriginal Youth Group Discussion
Considering Stereotypes

We hear stereotypes about groups of people all the time. “This group is good at something. This group never does anything.” Stereotypes are used to categorize a group of people. A stereotype is a standardized mental picture that is held in common by members of a group. It represents an oversimplified opinion, prejudiced attitude, or uncritical judgment of another group.

Action 2


Stereotypes and You

Considering stereotypes about Indigenous or Aboriginal Peoples. (In Canada, Indigenous Peoples are those who are First Nation, Inuit or Métis). This activity will help you to consider stereotypes that you may have heard about Aboriginal cultures.

To begin, work independently to list five stereotypes that you think people have about Aboriginal peoples. Then, turn to a partner and compare lists. Write each item on a post-it note. Discuss with your partner which items were the most damaging and which were the least damaging. Next, work in groups of four. Arrange the post-it notes that have been offered and place them on a continuum on chart paper, using the following three headings.






As a group, discuss:
  • Which stereotypes were easy to place on the continuum?
  • Which stereotypes could be placed in more than one section (or between sections)?
  • Is it possible for a stereotype to be neutral? Positive?
  • If you yourself do not identify as an Indigenous person, consider how an Indigenous person might feel about these stereotypes.
  • Where do our stereotypes come from?
  • How can stereotyping be harmful?

Action 3


Wab Kinew
Gently smiling at the camera in front of a dark backdrop, Aboriginal musician Wab Kinew poses for a contemporary portrait photo. enlarge image
Wab Kinew

First Nations Canadian politician, musician, broadcaster and educator

Source: Rant by Wab Kinew http://bit.ly/wabkinewrant

Wab Kinew (pronounced: WOB ka-NOO and full name Wabanakwut Kinew) has been Leader of the Manitoba New Democratic Party and Leader of the Opposition in the Legislative Assembly of Manitoba since September 2017. He is also an award-winning Canadian musician, broadcaster and educator, best known as a host of programming on CBC Radio and Television. He hosted the acclaimed CBC Television series “8th Fire”. His hip-hop has won an Aboriginal Peoples Choice Music Award. He earned a BA in Economics from the University of Manitoba and is a member of the Midewin.

Wab Kinew’s Soapbox on YouTube was first shown on George Strombolopolus Tonight. His words may help people realize that the many stereotypes they hear about First Nations simply aren’t true.

Combating Stereotypes: Wab Kinew’s Soapbox on YouTube

For this activity you will have a chance to watch this YouTube Soapbox by Wab Kinew and consider some counter-arguments to existing common stereotypes about Indigenous Peoples. Following the viewing, work with a classmate to complete the following chart:

Stereotype Counter argument
Indigenous Peoples should get over the past  
All Indigenous Peoples have long hair: Many people think all Indigenous Peoples should look or should not look like the stereotype.  
Indigenous Peoples are getting too much Federal money  
Indigenous Peoples are getting a free ride  

Action 4


A Personal Response to Stereotypes

Are these stereotypes about Aboriginals true?

Stereotype Counterargument
Alcohol Alcohol addiction is a problem for everyone not just Indigenous Peoples. Poverty is the real problem. Poor people who suffer from this addiction do not have as many socially acceptable places to hide.
Indigenous Peoples should get over the past There is an important difference between moving on and forgetting and moving on with healing and restitution.
All Indigenous Peoples have long hair: Many people think all Aboriginal people should look or should not look like the stereotype His argument is that Indigenous Peoples are diverse and their diversity needs to be acknowledged. Indigenous Peoples have the same right to look the way they want to look that the rest of society has.
Indigenous Peoples are getting too much Federal money Indigenous Peoples don’t get as much per-capita Federal funding as the rest of Canada.
Indigenous Peoples are getting a free ride The stereotype is that Indigenous Peoples don’t pay taxes. Indigenous Peoples do pay taxes. Not only that, but they are waiting to receive what was promised to them by the treaties from 140 years ago.

A. What suggestions might you make to your school for dealing with the stereotyping of Indigenous Peoples?

B. A written reflection. You will have a chance to record your feelings in response to Wab Kinew’s Soapbox. The following questions can be used to guide your reflection:

  • As you watched and listened to this rant, how did you feel? What did you wonder about?
  • Do you agree that these are ‘the five things Canadians have to stop saying about Indigenous Peoples’?
  • For a counterargument to be convincing it should be consistent with evidence. To what degree are Kinew’s counterarguments to each stereotype convincing?
  • What do you think are significant consequences of these stereotypes for the everyday lives of Indigenous Peoples?
  • What impact do these stereotypes have on the creation of policies involving Indigenous Peoples?

A Brief History of Residential Schools: 1880s - 1996

Aboriginal (Indigenous) peoples are the first people to arrive and settle a land. When European explorers and settlers arrived they found vast numbers of Aboriginal peoples who were living in a variety of ways similar to those found in Europe at that time. There were the vast empires of Peru, and Mayan city-states. In what we now call Canada there were confederacies such as the Five Nations, (the Iroquois or Haudenosaunne were part of that confederacy), chiefdoms like the Haida and Kwakiutl, and small band communities of mobile hunter/gatherers (the Huron or Wendat and the Cree).

This really happened!

Indigenous Peoples were destroyed by European diseases and the policies of the European immigrants. By the time that Canada had established itself as a Confederation in 1867, Aboriginal communities were greatly reduced in number and occupied only a tiny fraction of their ancestral lands. English and French immigrants took control of those lands and formed a government without the participation of the Indigenous Peoples. The Canadian government began to question what to do about Indigenous Peoples who were now considered a problem that needed attention.

Education and First Nations

One solution was to use schooling as a way to assimilate Aboriginal children into white Christian society. It was hoped that eventually all these peoples would be assimilated. This process would strip them of their culture, languages, heritage and spiritual beliefs.

The Indigenous Peoples of Canada were considered by many of European descent to be childlike and culturally inferior. The government believed that the best approach to this goal was to take children from their parents and immerse them in schools which taught the European/Canadian culture. In the 1800s, one Canadian politician summed up these beliefs when he said that the objective of the Residential School policy was to continue until there was not a single Indian left in Canada that has not been absorbed into the larger culture.

Residential schools were run by the Canadian Government in partnership with various religious groups. Anglican and Catholic churches as well as some Protestant churches became the administrators of the schools. Religious organizations believed that it was their duty to bring the First Nations children into their Christian faith in order to civilize them. Generally, children were taken from their parents around the age of four years and continued in the Residential Schools until the age of sixteen. They returned to their parents each summer for two months and were forbidden to speak their own language. Parents were fined or jailed if they did not send their children to these schools where often their education was substandard. Many schools focussed education on teaching tasks that would enable the children to do manual tasks to support other people’s businesses. Over 40% of the teachers in Residential Schools were not trained.

We know from those who attended Residential Schools that many lived in below standard conditions. The food was not nourishing and sometimes rotten. Children suffered physical abuse which some teachers believed was essential to civilize them. Many stories of sexual abuse in Residential Schools have been recorded.

Action 5


The Effect of Action

Further Considerations:

  • Why did the Government of Canada take First Nations, Métis and Inuit children from their parents to live in Residential Schools?
  • What was the impact of Residential Schools on the culture of First Nations?
  • What is the Canadian Government doing to address the effects of Residential Schools?

The Effect of Residential Schools on First Nations Culture

"When an Indian comes out of these places it is like being put between two walls in a room and left hanging in the middle. On one side are all the things he learned from his people and their way of life that was being wiped out, and on the other side are the white man’s ways which he could never fully understand since he never had the right amount of education and could not be a part of it. There he is, hanging, in the middle of two cultures: he is not a white man and he is not an Indian."
John Tootoosis, Cree leader and former student at the Demas (Thunderchild) Indian Residential School, Demas, Saskatchewan

Life in the Residential Schools impacted those children who lived in them in ways similar to the way Post Traumatic Stress Symptoms affects some combat soldiers. In most First Nations families, the impact of this trauma was passed on to the next generations. Children taken from their homes at an early age had no concept of family to pass on to their children. As adults, some developed a culture of alcoholism in an attempt to forget their experiences. Others so disliked their lives in Residential Schools that they would not encourage their children to pursue education. The long list of effects of physical and sexual abuse suffered by those who were victims of Residential Schools has led to multi-generational trauma. Many First Nation, Inuit and Métis are now developing systems to work with several generations of families. The survivors of Residential schools are being encouraged to tell their stories.

Political Response and Responsibility—
How the Government of Canada is addressing the effects of Residential Schools

The following quote is taken from the formal apology by Prime Minister Stephen Harper on behalf of the Government of Canada for the harm caused to many generations of First Nations, Métis and Inuit families by the Residential Schools, delivered in the House of Commons,June 11, 2008. The treatment of children in Indian Residential Schools is a sad chapter in our history.

"For more than a century, Indian Residential Schools separated over 150,000 Aboriginal children from their families and communities. In the 1870s, 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."

In early 1998, 79,000 Residential School survivors sued the Canadian Government for compensation for their suffering in the Residential Schools. As a result of this action the government agreed to financial compensation for the survivors, and they also agreed to the establishment of The Indian Residential Schools Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. The mandate of this commission is to make sure that all Canadians are aware of the experiences of children in the Residential Schools and the impact of those experiences on the survivors, their families and future generations. The commission, supported by the Government, encourages survivors and their families to come forward and to tell their stories so they can be documented. The telling of the stories of survivors is seen as a part of the healing process for the victims but it also considered that Canada as a nation cannot move forward until these stories are documented.

"Prime Minister Steven Harper offered a full apology on behalf of Canadians for the Indian Residential Schools Statement:
Formal statement of Apology by Prime Minister Steven Harper on June 11, 2008.
Youtube video Apology.

In September 2013, the Indigenous communities held a ‘Walk Across Canada.’ This Residential School Reconciliation Walk ended a week-long Truth and Reconciliation Commission event. All people who love peace were encouraged to attend the march which hoped to help heal by gathering and sharing stories and to express a commitment to moving forward.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada completed its reports in 2015. Links have been provided to poignant documents like The Survivor Speaks. Here is an excerpt:

A Survivor is not just someone who “made it through” the schools, or just “got by” or was “making do.”A survivor is a person who persevered against and overcame adversity. It came to mean someone who could legitimately say “I am still here!” For that achievement, survivors deserve our highest respect.

The reports of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, 2015 offer the following for public use:

Walk for Reconciliation, Vancouver - September 2013 enlarge image
Photo: Walk for Reconciliation, Vancouver - September 2013

As you can see in the picture, the Walk across Canada was very successful and large numbers of people participated.

Permission: Darryl Dyck, Canadian Press

Action 6


Listening to History
  • Why do you think many survivors do not want to tell their stories to the commission?
  • What supports would you provide to survivors to help them come forward?
  • Should the Government and the churches which ran the schools be punished in some way for the actions of the ancestors in the Residential Schools?

According to the Legacy of Hope, “From the early 1830s to 1996, thousands of First Nation, Inuit and Métis children were forced to attend Residential Schools in an attempt to assimilate them into the dominant culture. Those children suffered abuses of the mind, body, emotions, and spirit that are almost unimaginable.

Over 150,000 children, some as young as four years old, attended the government-funded and church-run Residential Schools. It is estimated that there are 80,000 Residential School survivors alive today.”

The 60s Scoop

The removal of Indigenous Canadian children from their homes and birth families to adoptive home during the 1960s, and up until the 1980s. On a large scale and often without parental and band consent, children were adopted across Canada, in the US and some in Europe, into mostly non-Indigenous middle-class families. This resulted in a loss of cultural identity and longterm effects.

Update: The federal government will pay $800M as compensation to victims of the '60s scoop. The settlement will go to approximately 20,000 victims across Canada who will be paid between $25,000 and $50,000 each.

Based on what you have learned from the timeline and your own experience of conflict, work in your group to create a pie graph that shows how much each of the following elements caused this mistreatment: Power, Greed, Fear, Ignorance and/or Racism.

Example of pie graph with sample percentages (your values will be different and should total 100%).
Example of pie graph with sample percentages (your values will be different and should total 100%).

1. Legacy of Hope

2. Canada’s First Nations, A History of the Founding Peoples from Earliest Times, par Olive Patricia Dickson avec David T. McNab, Oxford University Press, quatrième édition, publié en 2009.

Be ready to explain why you gave the values you did to each of the five components. As you learn more about Canadian history note if your opinions change.

An old black and white photo of a young Aboriginal boy having his blood taken as a sample for nutritional experiments by an older, white woman who is a nurse. enlarge image

A nurse takes a blood sample from an Aboriginal child for nutritional experiments
The Toronto Star August 22, 2013.

Photo Credit: Library and Archives Canada/Canadian Press

Hungry Canadian Children were used in Government Experiments

Hungry Canadian aboriginal children were used in government experiments in the 1940s, researcher says”. The Toronto Star August 22, 2013.

The Toronto Star, reporting on the research of nutritional scientist, Ian Mosby, wrote that “For over a decade, aboriginal (sic.) children and adults were unknowingly subjected to nutritional experiments by Canadian government bureaucrats.”

“Aboriginal children were deliberately starved in the 1940s and ’50s by government researchers in the name of science. Milk rations were halved for years at Residential Schools across the country. Essential vitamins were kept from people who needed them. Dental services were withheld because gum health was a measuring tool for scientists and dental care would distort research.”

This racist treatment of a group of people who have been disenfranchised and are considered unworthy of basic human rights is not unique. During the Holocaust experiments were conducted by Nazi doctors on Jewish people, and others, like the Roma, whom they considered racially undesirable.

Action 7


Reading through Rationalizations and Justifications

As you read the article at this link Hungry Canadian aboriginal children were used in government experiments during 1940s, researcher says try to imagine how the scientists at the time justified what they were doing. When you have finished reading discuss in your group the answers to the following questions:

  • Why would upstanding scientists and organizations like the Red Cross participate in what sounds to us now like unethical behaviour?
  • What reasons does Mosby give for the compliance with this research?
  • What do you think would have happened if the Red Cross had suggested doing this research at an expensive private boarding school instead of a Residential school for Aboriginal children?
How was this injustice rationalized?

Mosby believes that the existence of this research has stayed hidden for the following reasons:

  1. That meant, in addition to the fact that there were problems with some of the studies’ methodologies, they were not cited in journals and were therefore forgotten.
  2. The researchers felt they weren’t doing anything wrong.

Which of these reasons do you think was most important?
What other reasons might there be for this research to remain hidden?
Why might it be important for this research to be known?
What ideas underpin Western science allowing hurtful research?
How important are the news media in protecting the human rights of individuals?
Who controls what is reported in the news?
Which of the Rights of the Child outlined in the UN Declaration have been abused by the researchers?

What agencies are available today to children in Canada who feel that their rights are being abused?

Read about the reaction of one First Nations community to the news of the experiments done on them when they were children:

Do you think they are justified in their requests?

Action 8


Visual Reading
This black and white photo is of Aboriginal students sitting at their desks at one of Canada’s many infamous Residential Schools. At the center of the picture, a young boy peers at the camera with a disgruntled look on his face. enlarge image
Image of Senior Classroom, Residential school. 

Credit: GENERAL SYNOD ARCHIVES, Anglican Church of Canada

This photograph shows a classroom in a First Nations Residential School. Look at the faces of the students in this class. Look at their posture. What can you learn from looking at the picture? If you go to youtube.com and search the title, Indian Residential Schools many images depict the story of First Nations Residential schools, often set to First Nations music and poetry.

Look at this picture of the classroom. Use the following chart to guide you:

QuestionEvidence for your inferences
Question Evidence for your inferences
Who is in the picture?  
Where was this picture taken?  
When was the picture taken? Who might have taken it?  
Who was the intended audience for this picture?  
What was the photographer’s message about the content of the picture?  

Action 9


Different perspectives on the same story

Newspapers and other media often present only one side of a story that has many sides. When governments do this in order to promote or publicize a particular political cause or point of view, we call this propaganda. Discover other possible sides to a story about Indigenous Peoples.

Action 10


Make Connections!
  • Move around the classroom and share your picture with other students.
  • Talk to three people with the same picture and at least three people with different pictures.
  • Make predictions! How might your photo relate to someone else’s? Does your photo connect to an idea already studied in class? How is your snapshot different from the others?
  • Share your inferences and connections with your classmates.
  • Record your inferences. Complete the AFTER section of your organizer by explaining what you learned from the discussions and the connections you made.
  • Check the chart you have made to see if you want to change any of your first inferences.

Action 11


… In their shoes

You are a reporter working for a newspaper on a series called “The True Story of Residential Schooling”. The pictures you’ve discussed tell one story of Residential Schooling but the editor of your paper feels that the pictures do not tell the whole or even a true story of Residential Schools. She wants her reporters to explore the stories the pictures don’t tell.

Choose from the list below, and rank in order, three people who will tell you another side to the story of Residential Schooling.

  • An Inuit woman in her 70s who was at a Residential School for five years from the age of four.
  • A woman, aged 70, of European ancestry (not religious) who taught at a Residential School for two years.
  • A woman aged 80, of European ancestry (not religious) who taught at a Residential School for fifteen years.
  • A priest responsible for a Residential School for ten years.
  • A First Nations man whose father, now dead, attended a Residential School for ten years.
  • A First Nations woman who attended a school with her sister who died while there.
  • An Aboriginal Elder who has been counseling members of her nation who attended Residential Schools and consider themselves survivors.
  • A male teacher of European ancestry who taught shop and coached the hockey team at a Residential School.
  • The doctor who was occasionally called in to see to the health of children at the school.

Explain why you chose the people you did.

Of three people, choose one to interview for the paper. Prepare five compelling questions to ask in your interview.

Are these stereotypes about Indigenous Peoples true?


Go to the Legacy of Hope website to find out as much as possible about what Indigenous Peoples say happened at the Residential Schools. Legacy of Hope Foundation

Choose one section of the website, or some other information you have found in your research that you want to share with the class.

Action 12


Case studies in the media

Further resources:

Ian Mosby’s paper
Experiments on Aboriginals

Toronto Star editorial
Canada Admits Abuse

Opinion piece by Phil Fontaine, Bernie Farber and Dr. Michael Dan in Toronto Star
Genocide of First Nations

Link to CBC’s radio show,“ As is Happens”
Aboriginal Children Experiment

Ipperwash Provincial Park and the contestation of ancient burial grounds.
Ipperwash Crisis

The Idle No More movement
Idle No More Story
Idle No More Movement 

Residential School History
Truth and Reconciliation Commission Findings