First Nation, Métis and Inuit Studies AQ – Response #2

I am in week two of learning in our Ontario Additional Qualification course: First Nation, Métis and Inuit Studies.  This week we have four questions to consider, summarize and reflect upon.

How are First Nation, Métis and Inuit People distinct from one another?

First Nation people include both Status (registered as an Indian under the Indian Act) and non-Status indigenous people, who may or may not belong to a band, or live “on-reserve”. There are more than 630 First Nation communities in Canada, representing more than 50 Nations and languages. They are diverse in their language and traditions.

Métis people self-identify, are members of a present-day Métis community, and have ties to a historic Métis community. They have a unique culture and nationhood. “In Powley, the Supreme Court of Canada stated the term Métis …does not encompass all individuals with mixed Indian and European heritage. Rather it refers to a distinctive peoples who, in addition to their mixed ancestry, developed their own customs and recognizable group identity separate from their Indian or Inuit and European forbearers. The Métis communities claiming Aboriginal rights must have emerged in an area prior to the Crown effecting control over a non-colonized region.”

Inuit people live in the Arctic, from the Yukon to Labrador. They speak Inktut throughout, with distinct dialects in each region. They have a unique culture, core knowledge and beliefs, and live in a distinct homeland.

What forms, and contributes to, First Nation, Métis and Inuit identity?

Identity is formed by personal experience and family history. Colonization and the loss of communal land has had repercussions to this day. There is a shared experience of loss, oppression and multi-generational trauma, that impacts the identity of all three groups. Forced assimilation resulted in the loss of languages and faiths, particularly through the practice of residential schools which removed children from their families. In some regions indigenous people remain the majority, as in Nunavut and the Northwest Territories. While they now represent more than 15% of the population in Manitoba and Saskatchewan, they are less than 8% of the population in the remaining provinces of Canada.

Compare the historical rights of Indigenous Peoples in Canada using the Indian Act and your learning in class to the contemporary rights of Indigenous Peoples in Canada. What rights do Indigenous People in Canada hold today?

Historical RightContemporary Right
Self-governmentImposed electric chief and band council system
Full status for womenIndigenous women have fewer rights than men, or of non-indigenous women
Traditional LandsReserves
Full status as “people”Status jeopardized by enfranchisement of grandparents
Access to landExpropriation permitted, without band approval
Use of traditional names – hereditary, family, clanImposed Christian first and surnames
Free tradePermit-to-sell, until repealed in 2014
FreedomImprisonment of anyone inciting to riot three or more indigenous persons
Alcohol as barter/trade itemSuppression of liquor sales until 1985 – now controlled by band council bylaws
Education of childrenMandatory residential school attendance to 1969. Now federally-funded, either on reserve, or by agreement with local school boards.
Use of home languagePolicy that forbade home language in residential schools has resulted in a loss of oral histories and severing of connections to culture.
Access to uncultivated landsLeasing of reserve lands to non-Indigenous permitted until 1985. Inadvertently led to sales of lands, permanently lost to bands.
Freedom of entertainmentGovernor General has authority to regulate pool rooms, dance halls, and other places of amusement on-reserve.
Right to vote granted at Confederation, but only if treaty rights and status given up.Right to vote granted in 1960.
Royal Proclamation of 1763 recognized First Nations as owners of the lands occupied by Europeans.Shift from nation-to-nation relationship to view of Indigenous peoples as wards of the Crown, faced to assimilate.
Each nation had full rights.Treaties affect only half of Canada’s First Nations, so rights are not clearly stated, nor consistent.
Summary from Joseph, Bob. (2018). 21 Things You May Not Know About the Indian Act. Port Coquitlam, BC: Indigenous Relations Press.


How might this impact students that you work with (both status and non-status)?

Students we work with are diverse in their cultures and experiences. The impact of multi-generational trauma will take many different forms. Our students’ understanding of their family history will also vary greatly, with some having been cut off, while others have strong connections with their traditional communities. As a cis-gendered, white woman my identity has the potential to create barriers rather than build connection, so I must work with respect and continue to learn to support my students. I will need to be mindful of micro-aggressions that might occur in my classroom, and address them directly. I also need to examine our educational policies and practices which may discriminate against First Nation, Métis and Inuit students, either overtly or covertly. For example, compulsory school attendance, particularly within the current pandemic restrictions, is one that I believe needs to be examined, and addressed in a culturally-responsive manner.

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