Chapter 1

The Relationship Between Being Indigenous and Education

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Who Are Aboriginal Peoples?

The term Aboriginal is an umbrella term adopted by the Canadian federal government to include Indian, Métis and Inuit peoples. It is recognized in the Canadian Constitution Act, 1982, section 35. Furthermore, Section 35 recognizes and affirms Aboriginal and treaty rights. However, due to the vague terminology of S.35.,(1)(2) the existing aboriginal and treaty rights of the aboriginal people in Canada are recognized and affirmed, but there is an ongoing debate of what fits under the term 'aboriginal right', such as whether Aboriginal knowledge, culture and heritage are Aboriginal rights protected under the Constitution. Aboriginal people should be able to preserve their cultures, languages, customs, and knowledges as an Aboriginal right.(3) If protection was included, the Canadian government would have a fiduciary responsibility to provide the means of preservation similar to the Francophone Canadian population, however this understanding has yet to be recognized for Aboriginal Peoples.

According to Stastistics Canada, in 2011 the Aboriginal population made up 4.3% (1,400,685) of the Canadian population.(4) First Nations (includes both Status and non-Status Indians) people comprised 60.8%, Métis comprised 32.3% and Inuit made up 4.2% of the total Aboriginal population.

The terminology can be confusing. Indian is a legal term, as in 'Status Indian'' who is someone that is registered in the Indian Registration list kept by the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada and is eligible for services provided by the federal government including education. A Non-Status Indian is someone who self-identifies as being Indian but is not registered in the Indian Registration list, and thus is not eligible for federally provided services. Education is provided at the provincial level. The term First Nations is not a legal term, but it is becoming a more commonly used term by Status Indians when referring to their specific community or band. Métis is a term used by people who are of First Nations and other ethnic ancestry. Métis also recieve education through the provincial system. There is ongoing discussion on who can call themselves Métis, how far back the First Nations ancestry is for one to be Métis, ancestry to the Red River area in Manitoba, or to the allocation of land through Scrip. Indigenous is a term that has become more common, as it is a term used by the United Nations and it is also a term that can be inclusive without the colonialistic tinge of being 'named' yet again by the colonizer.

On April 14, 2016, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that Métis and Non-Status Indians are 'Indian' under the constitution and should be afforded the same rights as status Indians. However, the Indian & Northern Affairs of Canada (INAC) website states that the ruling does not provide Métis and Non-Status Indians with the ability to register as Status Indians.(5) INAC further states that it is working with Métis and Non-Status Indian groups to work out what the ruling entails in terms of fiduciary responsibility.

Indigenous peoples have an inherent system of self-identification, which is a part of their cultural and social identity and is strongly interconnected with their lands, languages and knowledge systems. Historically, this knowledge has been ignored within the educational system, both provincial and federal, and even attempted eradication through the residential school legacy. The following modules will present a historical overview of Indigenous education.

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(1) Kesler, Linc. Aboriginal Identity & Terminology. Retrieved online at
(2) Government of Canada. What is Indian status? Retrieved online at
(3) Battiste, Marie & Henderson, James (Sa’ke’j). (2000). Protecting Indigenous knowledge and heritage: A global challenge. Saskatchewan: Purich Publishing Ltd.
(4) Statistics Canada. (2016). Aboriginal peoples in Canada: First Nations people, Metis and Inuit. Retrieved online at
(5) Indian & Northern Affairs Canada. (2016). The CAP/Daniels decision - Frequently asked questoins. Retrieved online at