Using 11 key questions and answers, Gloria Galloway provides a concise information package on the the Assembly of First Nations, with a focus on its objections to the Conservative Government’s proposed First Nations education legislation.

Background material:

When the Assembly of First Nations pronounces on proposed federal legislation it usually makes the news, but many non-Aboriginal Canadians pay little attention, perhaps believing that the AFN has minimal clout in the grand scheme of politics. To some, the AFN seemed to come out of nowhere, appearing in our midst in the early 1980s.  In fact, Aboriginal people have been forming political organizations in North America since the 19th century, with the purpose of improving the conditions of their various First Nations. The Grand Indian Council of Ontario and Quebec was formed in 1870; the League of Indians in Canada was founded just after WWI, after which it evolved into the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations and the Indian Association of Alberta. A national lobby group, The North American Indian Brotherhood, was founded in 1948, followed by the National Indian Council in 1961 and the Native Council of Canada in 1967.

The latter formed the National Indian Brotherhood in 1969. The NIB organized to oppose then Minister of Indian Affairs Jean Chretien’s proposal to scrap the Indian Act, reject land claims and to continue to promote the failed 19th –century policy of assimilation.  Led by Harold Cardinal, the NIB actively opposed Mr. Chretien’s proposal. This surprised and impressed the Trudeau government of the day and when the NIB’s1972  policy paper, “Indian Control of Indian Education,” was presented, the Liberal government accepted it in large part. This paper is credited with giving the NIB national exposure on the subject of indigenous education and it is credited with helping to end the residential school system.

When the Trudeau government patriated the Constitution of Canada in 1982, the subject of how treaty and Aboriginal rights would be handled drove the chiefs of the NIB to form the Assembly of First Nations and to elect its first chief, David Ahenakew. Thirty-two years later, the Conservative Government’s proposed legislation on Aboriginal education has once again drawn the attention and objection of the AFN. AFN Chief Shawn Atleo initially supported the legislation, but when he met with strong opposition from his fellow chiefs, he resigned as president. Today, the AFN is preparing for the election of a new chief as it officially and formally rejects the new legislation.

Getting Started

Appropriate Subject Area(s):

Social studies, political science

Key Questions to Explore:

What is the AFN and what role does it have in Canadian politics?

New Terminology:

NIB, AFN, Metis, indigenous, aboriginal, treaty, policy of assimilation, confederacy

Materials Needed:

Globe article, the Internet.

Study and Discussion Activity

Introduction to lesson and task:

Students will work in groups to learn about the history and formation of the Assembly of First Nations. They will use the Internet to research answers to questions that help explain the Globe and Mail article.

Action (lesson plan and task):

Engage students in a short (10-minute) discussion about First Nations. Use the following questions/prompts to guide the discussion (answers can be found in the background piece, above, as well as in the Globe article):

  • If we are all part of the nation we call Canada, what are First Nations?
  • About how many First Nations are there in Canada?
  • What is the AFN?

Organize students into three groups. Provide each group with a copy of the Globe article. Number each of the 11 questions/answers in the article and assign group one questions 1-5; group two questions 6-9, and group three questions 10-11. Provide group three with the background piece above, as well.

For each set of questions/answers, the worksheet provides a subset of questions designed to clarify terms and to help students understand the handout information. Let students find the answers on the Internet on their own, or, if you prefer, provide your preferred websites for them to use. Each group will complete its own worksheet. Allow fifteen minutes at the end of the class for groups to present oral reports on their questions and findings.

Group One (Questions 1-5)

Have volunteers read the whole handout aloud to the group. Use the Internet to find answers to these questions:

From Question/answer one (Who are the First Nations?)

  • What does “indigenous” mean?
  • Why did Columbus call these people “Indians”?
  • Who are the Inuit and the Metis? Why are they not included as First Nations?
  • What does “ethnic” mean?
  • Name two First Nations that you think would be as different from each other as Greece is from Denmark.

From Question/answer two (What is the Assembly of First Nations?)

  • What does it mean for the AFN to be “subordinate” to the First Nations?
  • How is this similar to the United Nations model?

From Question/answer three (What is the role of the national chief of the AFN?)

  • What does the word “executive” mean when applied to person or group within an organization?

From Question/answer four (Who is the national chief now?)

  • Was Chief Atleo within his rights as president of the AFN to support the legislation? Why or why not?
  • List all the former chiefs of the AFN.

From Question/answer five (How will the next national chief be selected?)

  • How many votes would be cast if all First Nations chiefs voted (Using AFN’s figure for the number of First Nations in Canada)
  • Why is there a tradition of alternating national chiefs between BC and the rest of Canada?

Group Two (Questions 6-9)

Have volunteers read the whole handout aloud to the group. Use the Internet, if you need to, to find answers to these questions:

From Question/answer six (When will the new national chief be elected?)

  • How is the way the date is set for this election different from most political organizations?
  • Name a First Nation near Halifax. Which First Nation(s) lived on the plains where Winnipeg now stands?

From Question/answer seven (What is the First Nations Control of First Nations Education Act?)

  • What does the UN declaration on indigenous rights say about First Nations control over their own peoples’ education?

From Question/answer eight (How much money is on the table?)

  • Who was prime minister of Canada in 1996?
  • If funding for First Nations education increased by 2% annually since 1996, how much would it have increased in total by this year?
  • See if you can find out how much funding for your own school board has increased during the same period. Perhaps your teacher can connect you to your local school board’s financial officer via email.

From Question/answer nine (What have the chiefs decided about education?)

  • Explain what is meant by a “simple fiscal transfer to pay for on-reserve schools.”
  • Who or what is the “Confederacy” within the AFN?

Group Three (Questions 10-11, and from background piece)

Have volunteers read the whole handout as well as the background piece aloud to the group. Use the Internet, if you need to, to find answers to these questions:

From Question/answer ten (What is a Confederacy of First Nations?)

  • How might the Confederacy have been involved—given its official role—in the resignation of Chief Sean Atleo?
  • Who (which group) was Minister Valcourt calling “rogue chiefs”? What does “rogue” mean? Was he fair in his statement?
  • What does “slanderous” mean?

From Question/answer eleven (Why is education such a hot-button concern for the First Nations?)

  • When the writer says, “They, like the rest of Canada, realize…etc”, does she mean that all Canadians realize that children are not well-served by education on reserves? What do you think?
  • What is meant by “disparity of funding”?

From the background piece handout

  • Describe, in your opinion, the importance of the role of the National Indian Brotherhood in shaping the modern relationship between the federal government and First Nations.
  • Why do you thinkthe Liberal government of Pierre Trudeau was stopped in its tracks by the NIB objection to its proposed legislation?

Consolidation of Learning:

Have groups present oral reports on their work. Encourage discussion of these as time allows.

Success and Additional Learning

Success Criteria:

Successful completion of the group work exercises and oral reports.

Confirming Activity:

Evaluation of students’ completed work sheets.