Grade Two Thematic Unit Part 2: Aboriginal Communities - Heritage and Citizenship

Part Two: Aboriginal Communities – Heritage and Citizenship

Background Information: This activity focuses on First Nation reserves. As a teacher, when teaching this section, you should be familiar with the present reserve system and the history behind the reserve system in Canada.

1) The History of the Canadian Reserve System

While reserve lands are located within Canada, they are unique in that they are Sovereign Nations within the Canadian Nation. During colonization, European Nations and Aboriginal people signed numbered treaties which were to provide Aboriginal people with their own land. However, these treaties were not respected by the European Nations. Instead, Colonizers proclaimed Aboriginals to be “Wards” of the State, enforcing domination over Aboriginal people’s sovereignty and independence, consequently oppressing Aboriginal people and their families. One area in which colonizers asserted control over Aboriginal people was the enforcement of a Pass System.

2) The Pass System

Prior to 1965, Treaty Indians were required by law to have a “pass” to leave an Indian Reserve. If a person was found off their reserve they faced high fines and jail time. It was stated in an 1893 North West Mounted Police report that “…the aim of the Department of Indian Affairs to confine the Indians on their reserves. (That) they do not allow themselves to be absent without leave. The Indians do not always comply with these regulations and in the end the police are asked to step in.” NWMP implemented the Pass system without having any legal foundation, enforcing it to eliminate independency and increase NWMP control. This enforcement was so domineering that the NWMP required a pass from a resident on the reserve if they wanted to go visit a nearby reserve, or if they wanted to go into town for awhile (Funk et al., 1991:24).

The Pass system was strongly resisted by some. A prominent example of this is Cree Activist John Tootoosis. John Tootoosis was a member of the Riel Rebellion and was determined to let the people living on reserves know their treaty rights. When he applied to the Department of Indian affairs for a pass to go and inform Aboriginal people of their treaty rights he was declined. Despite this, John Tootoosis chose to go on his mission without his reserve pass and soon was detained by police officers and told to go back to his reserve. Again, Tootoosis refused to listen and because the Pass system was not enforceable by courts, he was able to continue visiting reserves and teaching Aboriginal people about their treaty rights (Brown et al., 2008:144).


Sluman, N. & Goodwill, J. (1982). John Tootoosis: Biography of a Cree Leader. Ottawa: Golden Dog Press. Stonechild, Blair (2007). Treaty 4. Retrieved from

3) Farming

Farming did not come with colonization although a lot of literature states this. Farming a variety of vegetables, corn, beans, and pumpkins existed well before European contact, and it was documented when the De Soto’s Spanish exploration expedition came to the United States in 1539. De Soto’s expedition arrived in the Apalachee region, which is modern Tallahassee, here they stated the land was “cultivated with fields of Indian corn, beans, pumpkins and other vegetables, sufficient for the supply of a large army.” It was this food supply that kept De Soto’s four year expedition going. Without the generosity of the Apalachee people, this mission would have ended soon after their arrival for De Soto’s food supply was nearly gone. After European contact, Aboriginal farmers took up new crops like watermelons, peaches and figs.


Blackhawk, N., Waldman, C., Meltzer, D., Hirschfelder, A., & Griffin-Pierce, T. (2008). Native Americans of North America. Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia. Cherniack, P. (2003). Alternative Medicine for the Elderly. New York: Springer.

Beneficial Teachers’ Resources: For more information regarding farming prior to European contact read:

Ridington, R. (1993). Northern Hunters. In America in 1492: The World of the Indian Peoples Before the Arrival of Columbus. Alvin M. Josephy, Jr., ed. pp. 21-48. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

4) Farming after European Contact

The Colonizers’ implementation of the reserve systems was joined with continued attempts of colonizers to “civilize” the nomadic, “uncivilized” Aboriginal cultures through enforcing the pass system and providing the Aboriginal people living on the reserve lands with farming equipment and animals, yet this equipment was dismal in comparison to what NonAboriginal farmers were using. Despite this, many of these reserves became quite successful in farming and would sometimes become a competitor to other Non-Aboriginal farmers. Yet this competition was not met with good sportsmanship.

The Indian farmers were hindered from selling their farm items by the Pass system and by Indian Agents whose duty was to ensure that Indian farmers did not interfere nor compete with the general public. In order to ensure that Aboriginal farmers did not interfere with white farmers, the Department of Indian Affairs required Aboriginal Farmers to bring their grain to the grain elevators and have their earnings sent to the Department of Indian Affairs. These earnings were only accessible to the Aboriginal farmer upon request and accompanied by an explanation of the need for their profits. This control was also enforced on Aboriginal ranchers, whom were unable to get permits from an Indian Agent to sell their cattle until the cattle were three years of age and past their prime selling years (Funk et al., 1991:33-34).

Abbott, Frederick H. (1915). The administration of Indian affairs in Canada. Washington. Retrieved from:

5) Residential Schools

Aboriginal people wanted their children to be educated and to learn the written word. However, once education was implemented, it became apparent that the Aboriginal view of education was different than that of the colonizers, who were more interested in “civilizing” the Aboriginal people than providing a meaningful education. Based on the belief that Aboriginal people needed to be “civilized”, colonizers implemented Residential schools, where cultural assimilation was the mandate (Funk et al., 1991:40-42).

Residential schools were built away from Aboriginal communities; colonizers removed children from their families and communities and forced them to attend these schools. This removal and placement of Aboriginal children in residential schools was resisted by the Aboriginal population. This was countered by Indian agents withholding families’ food rations in order to enforce attendance (Titley, 1996:78). The agents rationalized their actions based on the belief that they were “saving” the Aboriginal children from their “harmful” and “uncivilized” families and lifestyles (Tobias, 1976:21-22).

CBC News (2008). A timeline of residential schools. Retrieved from: -reconciliation-commission-1.724434

Further Recommended Readings for Teachers: Miller, J.R. (1996). Shingwauk’s Vision: A History of Native Residential Schools. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

6) Infrastructure of Aboriginal reserves in Canada

The majority of reserves share some common infrastructure and these usually are the following: school, band office, band hall, church, health clinic, store, water/sewage treatment plant(s), education office, arena, day care centre, teachers’ houses, public/private housing and public works.

INAC (2008). Community Infrastructure. Retrieved from:

Social Studies: Mapping your Community

Time Frame: 60 Minutes

Objectives: Students will be able to learn about First Nation communities often called reserves due to the Canadian Indian Act of 1867.


  • Mapping
  • Discovery
  • Interaction
  • Small groups
  • Direct Instruction


  • Map Handout
  • Overhead Projector
  • Map on Projection paper
  • Crayons or Markers
  • Rulers

Space Requirements: The classroom


  1. OFF RESERVE Instructions:
    • a. Read through and discuss the background information which makes a reserve a unique community. Ask students to reflect about how it would feel to not be allowed to leave the community in which they live now? Ask the students to raise their hands if they have never left their community even for a day. Ask the students to raise their hand if they leave their community once a week, once a month, once a year... (10 minutes).
    • b. Prior to this lesson inquire about where the closest reserve or First Nation Community is to your community. Provide the students with a rudimentary map with their community and that of a First Nation community and its proximity to them. You could make a handout or just put it on the overhead projector. Through research on the Internet or by phoning the local reserve’s band office find out about the infrastructures located on the reserve. If possible, it would be nice to get a map of the reserve’s main buildings sent to you. If not you could still do this exercise by making a map of a theoretical reserve community. There are many sites online that have maps of reserves contained within them.
    • Optional: If a reserve or First Nation Community is located in close proximity you may want to invite someone from Public Works to come to your classroom and talk to your students about the buildings on their reserve and what it is like to live in a reserve community. You should phone your inquiry to the band office and find out what the protocol is for inviting someone to come speak at your school.
    • c. Provide your students with the map handout and the map key. Have your students map out a First Nation community. Ensure that each student has a ruler and a pencil to begin the project. When the map is completed the student can then colour it in. Provide an opportunity for students to share their map with others. Have students compare this map with a map of their own community. What is the same? What is different?
  2. ON RESERVE Instructions:
    • a. Check at the band office or the school or at public works if there is a rudimentary map of your First Nation. Have students brainstorm all the buildings they would find in their community. Have students talk about natural landscapes (creeks, trees, swamps, etc.) they have in their community. (10 minutes).
    • b. Read through the background information you have been provided and ask the students how their community now differs from a historical reserve? Ask them how they would feel if they could never leave their community. Ask them how many times they leave their community per week, month and year. (10 minutes).
    • c. Provide your students with the map handout and the map key. Have your students map out their First Nation community. Provide an opportunity for students to share their map with others.

Evaluation: An evaluation rubric and checklist can be found at the end of this unit.

Resources: Microsoft ClipArt Culminating Activity-Mapping My Community. Retrieved from:

First Nation Community Mapping Symbols

You can use the following buildings by cutting them out and pasting them on the map or you can come up with symbols and buildings of your own.

mapping symbols

Houses to place on the map. Colour the houses before cutting them out to paste them on the map.

community map