Aboriginal Lessons

Native American Inukshuk road side stone marker.
image source: bigstockphoto.com

When we’re educating ELLs, how many of us have the opportunity to expose students to Canadian history? I love teaching history and having learners explore how we got to today. At times, I wish I were more like a history version of Ms. Frizzle (I kind of have the hair for it minus the red).

It’s common to talk about the government, Confederation, and the iconic symbols of Canada, but I have found that when I create lessons about our Aboriginal history,  it generates so much conversation.

I value the knowledge I have learned, and I share my knowledge as a way to respect all peoples who share this land with one another and to gain insight.

Talking Circles

I was first part of a talking circle during one of our departmental meetings where we had the manager of Aboriginal Services talk to us about their service. I walked into the room and all the tables had been moved to the walls and there were chairs placed in a circle. In the middle of the circle was a bear rug, a large drum, belts, and tools for smudging.

The manager said the circle format with only chairs allows us to be open and honest with each other and there is no ‘head of the table’ – there is nothing to hide behind. Each item in the circle represented a piece of history and it allowed us to reflect on how that history has impacted us today.  He made his way to current issues, but reminded us of how this is still connected to the past. He opened the door for us to reflect.

How to Achieve this:

  1. Connect with your local Aboriginal community or post-secondary institution’s Aboriginal Services and learn from them.
  2. Learn about the Wampum belts as they document our historical treaties and agreements.
  3. Look at this Talking Circles document for ideas in the classroom.

Language Lessons

I was inspired by November’s issue of Contact Magazine.  John Steckley wrote an article, “The Least You Should Know About the Ojibwa Language,” and I was drawn to the verb conjugation chart on page 27. I thought about how this could open some interesting dialogue with learners and gain insights into their language complexities.

I love how Steckley also introduces us to some common greetings in various Indigenous languages like Miigwech for thank you. It reminded me of when I studied the Te Whariki curriculum from New Zealand. Aspects of the Maori languages are taught alongside the English counterparts so that learners are exposed to it from an early age and it becomes part of their language development.

How to Achieve This:

  1. Review the Contact magazine article.
  2. Discover the common language of the Nations of your area and learn common greetings.
  3. Add the counterparts from some of the languages of your students.

Land Acknowledgement

Land acknowledgement is an amazing practice, and I think it is so relevant within our sector context.  This is a way for us to acknowledge and respect the Aboriginal Peoples who live or have lived on the land where we live and work.

Last summer I facilitated a writing workshop, and before I began, the professor did a land acknowledgement with the class. She does this at the beginning of each class, and there is a moment of silence for reflection and mindfulness. This act takes only a couple of minutes, but it exhibits our values and encourages dialogue.

How to Achieve This:

  1. Work with the Aboriginal community in your area or your post-secondary institution to learn about the Nations in your area and how to word your land acknowledgement.
  2. Check out this guide to acknowledging traditional territory.
  3. View the following lesson plans for more ideas.


Historica Canada has a great lesson plan for teaching about treaties: http://education.historicacanada.ca/en/tools/260

I’ve adapted this tool for a Land Acknowledgement Lesson Plan . After this lesson, you can continue to have this experience resonate every time you give your land acknowledgement at the start of each class.


What are some ways that you enable learners to explore our Aboriginal history and culture?


8 thoughts on “Aboriginal Lessons”

  1. Tamsin, thank you so much for this topic and the ideas you have organized here. I think it is so important for newcomers (and visitors alike), to understand our Aboriginal people, history and culture. It is what makes Canada so great. At my organization we had a drumming circle as part of a Christmas workshop. All the students in our group have a form of drumming and singing in their culture, so it was nice to see how this activity created a connection between people from different countries. They each demonstrated drumming from their culture as well, which was really interesting to see. It is a way to show appreciation for each other and create a sense of belonging in Canada.

    1. Hello Maria! It’s so good to see you on the blog again 🙂 I love that drumming activity and you’re right so many cultures use drums for a variety of symbolic reasons. Your comment reminded me of Pow Wows. My school’s having their annual Pow Wow this month, and I went to a workshop to learn more about what a Pow Wow is and the significance of the dances and important ceremonies. Maybe I could convince you to write an RFF about the drumming circle event??

  2. Hi Tamsin! Yes, I like to keep up with good reads from time to time! Let me find out if I can get permission use the images I took. I would like to learn more about these ceremonies myself. I would be to write an RFF about our activity! Send me the details. : )

  3. By extending the concept of bullying, I have successfully introduced the tragedy of the residential school system to my Pre-CLB/CLB 1 learners (mostly refugees). Learners are able to understand the inequity of the system, the consequences to generations of families and the negative impact on First Nations communities.

    Every spring, I share maple syrup with my learners and teach them the native origin of this Canadian iconic flavour.

    1. Wow! Thank you for sharing your ideas, Catherine. I love these lessons and activities. I can imagine how engaging and reflective the bullying theme would be in your classroom and how it comes in so many different forms of oppression. The Maple Syrup Festival just happened this past weekend by me and I’m sure many teachers talked about it in their classrooms. Is there a website that you get your information from for the lesson or would maybe you’d be willing to share tidbits from your lesson plan?

  4. Our class has recently been learning about Canadian history and Aboriginal peoples. We invited a guest speaker, the coordinator of the “Native Access Program” at Lakehead University, to our class. She used a talking circle as a simple way to introduce ourselves.
    We’ve also used literature., specifically “Shannen and the Dream for a School” by Janet Wilson. This book was a suitable level for my CLB 5-8 students. Through the story of a teenager in the Cree community of Attawapiskat, we explored the concepts of reserves, treaties, Aboriginal education, and more.

    1. Robin, this is amazing! I love book clubs and will add this to my list for classroom book clubs. Did you weave the concepts and the book chapters by each lesson or was it more of a cumulative approach where you did lessons on these concepts after reading the book? Thank you for this resource!

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