The Circle of Truth: History and Canada’s relationship with Indigenous Peoples

The first of the series of seven lectures, The Circle of Truth: History and Canada’s relationship with Indigenous Peoples lays the foundation for the succeeding topics. This session talks about:

  1. The History of the Indigenous Peoples of Canada
    • The first Europeans and their ‘discovery” of North America
    • The Doctrine of Discovery
  2. Treaties
  3. The Indian Act
  4. Residential Schools
  5. Truth and Reconciliation Commission

Workshop Slides

Presentation Notes

A discussion on the relationship between Canada and Indigenous peoples.

Hello, My Name is Karen Swan, I am from Lake Manitoba first nation, which is about 3 hours north from Winnipeg and is on treaty 2 territory. I would like to acknowledge that we are located on Treaty One land(Winnipeg) the traditional territory of the Anishinaabe, Cree, Dene, Dakota and Oji-Cree Nations and the homeland of the Métis.”

There is a dark history involving indigenous peoples and the Canadian government that many are unaware of. It was a very sad time in our history and continues to be today for indigenous peoples.

I think it is important to cover these topics to answer a lot of questions you may have.
In this discussion it is important for you to know this is a safe, judgement free space to talk about anything, there are no wrong answers. Whatever we talk about stays in the class and won’t be repeated.

The information I am going to share with you may be hard to hear, or some videos are going to be hard to watch. If at any time you feel like you need to stop, please take a break and do what you need to feel safe. If there are any questions, please write them in the chat box or stop me at any time. Great, let’s get started.

Let’s start with an activity:
Activity: in chat write some words or things you know about Indigenous people in Canada.
(Activity later played at end of class to compare how much they now know)

To understand Indigenous people and all you see going on around you in Canada we have to start the discussion about the relationship between the government and Indigenous people from the beginning.

Slide 1:
Christopher Columbus was credited for discovering the Americas, this a controversial subject in history. Some historians say it was the Vikings. When Columbus Arrived in 1492 there were already an estimated 50-100 million indigenous people on the land. But, because indigenous people were seen as uncivilized and not Christian the land was deemed terra nullius, which is a Latin expression meaning “nobody’s’ land”.

One year after Christopher Columbus arrived on the shores of what is now known as North America .The Doctrine of Discovery was written. This was the first document that took land away from Indigenous people. This document allowed for Christian explorers, to lay claim to territories that were uninhabited by other Christians (in this case Indigenous Peoples). If the lands were vacant, (which they were not), then they could be defined as “discovered” and then claimed by the king. Which now is the Government. The relationship was not always bad, at one point they were allies, and fought next to each other.

Slide 2:
Early treaties were peaceful negotiations and agreements between Indigenous Peoples and The Crown. The government felt it necessary for treaties so they could establish settlements and build the railway. The earliest known treaty was the Dish with One Spoon treaty. It was used to describe how land can be shared to mutually benefit of all its inhabitants. Here in Manitoba we have what they called five numbered treaties that cover the entire province. These treaties did not apply to the Metis people who were half European and indigenous, and left them displaced in Manitoba.

Slide 3:
Louis Riel who is known as the father of Manitoba fought for land for his people. The Metis people of Canada did not have a place in society, as they were not recognized as neither indigenous nor part of the settler community. They also faced discrimination from the Canadian government.

Louis Riel was born in the fall of 1844 in St. Boniface along the red river settlement, which is located along the red river by the Forks and Human Rights Museum. Riel fought to secure land for the Metis people and for future generations to come. He formed a provisional government and went to Ottawa to successfully negotiate his demands for a bilingual provincial government and to reserve 1.4 million acres for Métis offspring under what became the Manitoba Act of 1870. Riel and his resistance fought against the government of Canada that took down many European trading posts. Riel quickly became an enemy of the state, with accusations of plotting against them which caused him to become a fugitive. He was eventually caught, tried and hung for treason. The government had the intentions of controlling the indigenous population, which led to the creation of the Indian Act.

The Indian Act is a piece of legislation which allowed the government to control the movements and actions of the indigenous people, it essentially extinguished any remaining self-government for indigenous people and making them wards of the federal government. We will watch a video that gives. Some examples of what the Indian act governed:

(Up to 2:44)

After watching the video does anyone have any questions or comments?

Slide 4:
In 1920, the Act was amended to combat low attendance by making it compulsory for status Indian children to attend residential schools, with consequences to those who hid their children. Parents or guardians who tried to hide the children were liable to be arrested and or imprisoned.

Residential schools allowed the government to forcibly remove children from their home communities to bring them to church-run schools away from their families. They used Indian agents, who at that time were called the NWMP which we known now as the RCMP, to go into communities and forcibly take these children to these schools. Once these children got to school, they were faced with horrible abuse and neglect. We are going to watch a video by a women named Ginger who tells us about her story and the effects she has suffered as a 2nd generation survivor.

(up till 7min 25 sec)

After watching that video, are there any comments or would you like to talk about what you saw? It’s really hard to watch how these things impacted so many people and most lived in silence. In the video she talks about reconciliation and what it means to her. This brings us to the next topic which is truth and reconciliation.

Slide 5:
The truth and reconciliation committee was launch after Stephen Harper’s apology on behalf of Canada.
-It sought to make recommendations of change the government needs to address towards indigenous people.
-It conducted many Interviews with residential schools survivors to make their stories heard.
The results were for 94 calls to action- included the child welfare system.
We will continue this discussion next Monday going into detail of the Truth and reconciliation process and to introduce a new discussion into murdered and missing indigenous women and girls.

Last activity:
Tell me one thing you know about Indigenous people?
Leaving here knowing more then you came here knowing is my overall goal for this class.
That’s the end of this class is there any questions or comments? Did anyone know this happened in Canada? Are there similar stories form where you come from? Would anyone want to share?


The Circle of Truth: History and Canada’s relationship with Indigenous Peoples: Vocabulary Words

Here are some words you will encounter during the session. We’ve listed their meanings here to help you understand them as they are used in the context of the topic:

  1. Forbidden

    – not allowed

  2. Indigenous

    – Native; Originating or occurring naturally in a particular place.

  3. Indian

    – The name given by Christopher Columbus to Indigenous Peoples of the Western Hemisphere. This is due to his mistaken belief that he had reached the shores of South Asia. “Indian” is also the legal identity of an Indigenous person who is registered under the Indian Act. Nowadays, most people in Canada use Indigenous Peoples as a collective noun to refer to First Nations, Inuit and Metis. When referring to a particular group, the best practice is to ask what they preferred to be called.

  4. Sovereignty

    – Supreme power or authority (Merriam-Webster). A sovereign can be a monarch – king or queen or other supreme ruler.

  5. Treaty (in the context of the course)

    – A treaty is a negotiated agreement that clearly spells out the rights, responsibilities and relationships of First Nations and the federal and provincial governments. (TRCM)

  6. Potlach

    – It is a gift-giving ceremony of various First Nations living on the Northwest Coast of Canada and the US. It functions to redistribute wealth, confer status and rank upon individuals, kin groups and clans, and to establish claims to names, powers and rights to hunting and fishing territories (Canadian Encyclopedia)

  7. Residential Schools

    – This is an extensive school system set up by the Canadian government and administered by churches. Its main objective was to educate Indigenous children as well as indoctrinate them into Euro-Canadian and Christian ways of living and assimilating them into mainstream Canadian society. It operated from the 1880s into the closing decades of the 20th century. (Indigenous Foundations)

  8. Reconciliation

    – As a noun it means to end a disagreement and start a good relationship again (Oxford English). In the context of the talk: “ Reconciliation is about establishing and maintaining a mutually respectful relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Peoples in this country. In order for that to happen, there has to be awareness of the past, an acknowledgement of the harm that has been inflicted, atonement for the causes, and action to change behavior.” (TRCM)

  9. Reserves

    – 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. (Indigenous Foundations).

  10. Regalia

    – Outfits worn in ceremonies for example Powwows.

  11. Ward

    – A person (usually a young person or a child) under the care and control of an appointed guardian (e.g. ward of the state). Based on the Indian Act legislation, Indigenous peoples in Canada remain wards of the Crown.

  12. Annexation

    – The formal act of seizure or taking over an area or territory and adding it to the domain.

Workshop Goals

Learning Goals

  • Learn about the history of the discovery of North America and how it affected the Indigenous Peoples
  • Know about Treaties, Doctrines and Acts that were enacted to regulate the relationship between the Indigenous Peoples and the Government of Canada
  • Learn about the effects of the Indian Act - The Residential Schools and TRC

Useful Links

External Links…

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