Opening Protocol for Zoom Circles

Download a printable pdf file of the theme from this link.



If this is a Zoom circle with participants from different communities across Canada, choose a different person to read the land acknowledgment each week so that each person has the opportunity to research their land history and present it at least once during the ten-week circle. The participants only read the land acknowledgement, while the rest of the Opening Protocol is the responsibility of the facilitator.

If this is a Zoom circle where everyone is from the same community, having a different person read the land acknowledgement each week may not be necessary. However, Indigenous people may live in a city but have their home band elsewhere and may wish to acknowledge their First Nation land.

  1.  Treaty 1 example: “I would like to acknowledge that we are in Treaty #1 Territory, the traditional lands of the Anishinaabe, Cree and Dakota as well as the Birthplace of the Métis Nation and the Heart of the Métis Homeland.” (Adjust for your region of the country).
  2.  A different theme is presented during each of the ten weeks: Today’s topic will be “[INSERT].” Following the presentation of the theme, a general discussion will follow with each of you being given an opportunity to speak to the issue. You are encouraged to keep the seven sacred teachings of the Anishinaabe in your thoughts and words.
  3. (Instruction: The Seven Sacred Teachings are then read aloud by one of the facilitators or one of the participants.)

LOVE: it is important to care for one another
HONESTY: better to fail with honesty than succeed by fraud
RESPECT: give it, earn it, receive it.
TRUTH: it is always easiest to speak the truth
HUMILITY: to be humble about your accomplishments is to be strong
COURAGE: let nothing stand in the way of doing the right thing
WISDOM: with hard work and dedication will come knowledge

(Instruction: You do not need to read the following sentences verbatim each week but do address the content informally, especially # 6-10.)

  1.  After the presentation of the theme we will share around the circle. You will be asked to share according to the number assigned to you. Each week, the next number in order will begin the sharing. Should you wish to “pass” at that time, you will be given a chance at the end to offer your thoughts. While you may not wish to speak your participation is desired as each individual has gifts to offer the circle.
  2. We cannot pass a talking stick on Zoom, so your number is important to determine the order.
    Speak on behalf of yourself only and speak what comes from your heart and from your own experience.
  3. To non-Indigenous participants, reflect on the statement of Chief Commissioner Murray Sinclair: “Do not feel ashamed of the past; do not feel guilty. They don’t do any good at all. Do something about it!”
  4. It is very important that we all recognize that the feelings of an individual are neither right nor wrong. They are real and need to be respected.
  5. In accordance with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report, the four guiding principles for the new relationship are “mutual recognition, mutual respect, sharing, and mutual responsibility” (Interim Report, page 23).
  6. We ask you to be conscious of your sharing time so that everyone has a chance to participate. Because we have a number of gatherings, you will have ample opportunity to share your ideas and feelings. We will have to bring closure to our circle at (…o’clock).

Gathering Theme: Getting To Know You

Download a printable pdf file of the theme from this link.

Gathering Theme: First Gathering

Getting to Know You

Revised April 2020


Documents and Materials to bring (Facilitator’s checklist)
 Opening protocol
 Seven Sacred Teachings of the Anishinaabe
 6 copies of the closing protocol
 Talking stick
 Smudging tobacco, etc., or invocation (If desired)
 Refreshments
 Kleenex
 Small pads of paper and pencils for participants (if necessary)
 Other items unique to your group
 Materials on the Theme of the meeting

1. Opening Protocol (Facilitator)
2. Introducing the Circle format (Indigenous Facilitator)
Welcome! Our meetings are usually an hour and fifteen minutes, unless we agree to extend them. In that way those who wish to leave can do so without feeling they are disrupting anything. If others want to stay and discuss a bit longer, that is possible (as long as the facility does not have to be locked up). We ask you to be very conscious of your sharing time. We will be meeting many times, you will have many opportunities to share your thoughts and feelings.

There are five parts to a circle:

  • Opening statement (Facilitator reads)
  • The Seven Sacred Teachings (To be read aloud by one of the participants)
  • Presentation of a theme (12 to 15 minutes)
  • Passing the talking stick (45 to 50 minutes)
  • Closing protocol (To be read aloud by participants)

Non-Indigenous facilitator
3. Setting the tone for our circle

In this first gathering we want to establish a climate of “mutual recognition and mutual respect” to use the words of the Truth and Reconciliation Report. No matter what your background and life experiences we want to respect you, by listening to you and by recognizing the value of you as a person and what you have to bring to our gathering. So it is important that we agree on this respect for one another at the outset.

When a participant has the talking stick it is important that we all listen and not interrupt.

Over the course of our gatherings we will tackle a number of issues. There are 21 themes we have addressed so far.

The first four weeks we will address the following themes:

  • Week 1) Today, getting to know you
  • Week 2) Misconceptions about Indigenous People
  • Week 3) what is Reconciliation
  • Week 4) Intergenerational Trauma

For the following weeks, as a group we will then choose the themes we want to address.

For example:

  • The history and impact of residential schools.
  • The meaning of land for Indigenous people.
  • The sixties scoop and its ongoing reality.
  • The justice system and Indigenous people.
  • Métis Identity and Nationhood.
  • The Pass System
  • Etc.

Indigenous facilitator

  1. We urge you to plan to attend all meetings. The rhythm of the circle is disrupted if people come and go. Sometimes it is unavoidable but we ask you to recognize the value of coming regularly.
  2. We encourage you to go on the website. It changes virtually every week.
  3. When we decide the theme for the following week you can read it on the website before coming to the meeting if you wish. Also there are all kinds of resources on our website, including short and long videos.
  4. Does anyone need transportation either to come or to get home?

We have already held over 700 individual circle meetings. As we begin our circle we would like to share with you some of the feedback we have received from our participants. While most of the feedback has been very positive, there have been several concerns raised.

Non-Indigenous facilitator
Our non-Indigenous participants have expressed frustration when some Indigenous participants have not continued in the group after the first few meetings. We believe that we have all agreed to be part of this circle for ten weeks unless an important family, health or work situation arises, so we are hoping that our circle will remain full.

Indigenous facilitator
Our Indigenous participants also have some concerns. Some feel that too much burden has been placed upon them to share difficult moments of their past, while the non-Indigenous participants have not felt that same obligation. Some Indigenous people have not even shared some of their past with members of their own family, so why should they share them with strangers. Obviously there is absolutely no obligation to share, but when people do, we need to respect each other’s stories. Also, we cannot expect Indigenous participants to share if the non-Indigenous partners are not also willing to share.

Another concern Indigenous people have expressed is in the form of a question: “Why should we have to educate settlers about things they should have learnt in school or elsewhere? It is not our job to educate them”. The answer to that question is both simple and complicated. The simple answer is that settlers did not learn it in school due to the legacy of colonization. But now there are plenty of books, T.V. programs and media reports that are telling the stories. Non-Indigenous participants cannot be blamed if they did not learn it in school, but there is no longer an excuse to be ignorant.
Furthermore, a circle is not only about hearing the tragedies of the past, a circle is an opportunity to hear the wisdom, the resilience, the creativity of Indigenous people and cultures.

Non-Indigenous facilitator
In brief, Indigenous participants do not have all the responsibility to inform our circle group. While the personal stories of the Indigenous participants can be a very important part of this education of everyone in the circle, all of us in the circle have some responsibility to educate ourselves, to learn more, even beyond our circle. Participating in a ten week circle does not make us experts in Indigenous cultures. The resource section of our website has excellent information which would be a good starting point to educate ourselves beyond participating in this circle.
There is another dimension however: How are we able to respond and share when other participants have shared a very difficult experience? Obviously there is no simple answer. We need to be honest with ourselves and empathetic with others. We all have some personal history that we could share each week. How does my history relate (or not) to Indigenous people in Canada? Have I or my ancestors directly or indirectly benefitted from the oppression of Indigenous people?
As much as possible, it is important that we have sharing from all members of our circle.

Indigenous facilitator
There is another reason we encourage our Indigenous participants to be partners in our in our circles. This is the most important reason. We do not want Indigenous children and grandchildren to experience the racism, the ignorance of their culture that has been part of our Canadian history. We all have a responsibility to help end that with our participation. We hope you will grace us with your presence and participation. We need you!

Non-Indigenous facilitator
Our circles give us a wonderful opportunity to meet one another, to get to know one another, to hear the stories of one another and to “build and maintain that mutual respect” that the TRC states is the foundation of reconciliation. When we “honour the truth,” that is, know our past history, understand that many challenges remain today, and care about one another we can and must bring about change.
Our sharing can lead us to honour and to live by the treaties that our ancestors signed on our behalf.
Is there anything any of you wish to add that will help us create a very healthy sharing time? We don’t have to have rules as such, but it would be helpful if we agreed on how we will conduct ourselves.

For example:

  1. It is very important that we all recognize that the feelings of an individual are neither right nor wrong. They are real and need to be respected.
  2. We ask you to be conscious of your sharing time so that everyone has a chance to participate. Because we have a number of gatherings you will have ample opportunity to share your ideas and feelings.
  3. Turn off cell phones.
  4. Be on time for meetings.

Are there any other suggestions about setting the tone for our meetings?

Today’s Theme: Getting to Know You

(facilitator reads)
We are calling this first session, a “getting to know you” session, where each of us can tell a bit about ourselves.

(Facilitators can google “Icebreakers for groups” and be free to choose the one best suited for their group. There are many choices. Here is the most common icebreaker for Getting to Know You:

“I suggest that we go around the group and in about 3-4 minutes each, share the following: a) Our name, b) where are you from, c) our cultural identity/background, d) why we decided to take part in these gatherings, e) what we hope to bring to our life from these gatherings. Let me begin…”

(One facilitator would begin by taking about 3 minutes to share so that participants would have a sense of the expectations. The facilitator then passes the talking stick, adding:)

At this point we are going to pass the talking stick around the circle. You are free to pass if you wish. Think about 3 to 4 minutes for sharing. Remember that you have a number of meetings upcoming when you will also have time to share.

Closing Protocol
Each of our meetings end with a closing protocol.

Five of the participants will now read one sentence from the Closing and all will join the 6th person in reading the last sentence of the closing.

Gathering Theme: Call to Business

Download a printable pdf file of the theme from this link.

Revised April 2020


Call to Business


Author: Raymond F. Currie

The title of our theme is a phrase borrowed from “Indigenous Works,” ( a national non-profit agency headquartered in Saskatoon that is focused on Indigenous employment. The phrase is part of their report on a national study of businesses and their interest in partnerships with Indigenous companies. It seems like an appropriate description of what we wish to address today.

In our Circle, in the next few minutes we will do four things;

  • First, read Call to action # 92
  • Second; reflect on the key points of this call to action
  • Third: Ask, why should business care
  • Fourth; reflect on how to move forward

Then, with the use of a talking stick, we will share on how we might proceed or are already doing so

First; let’s take a moment to read call to action # 92

Participant 1 reads:

Facilitator reads:

Call to Action # 92

We call upon the corporate sector in Canada to adopt the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as a reconciliation framework and to apply its principles, norms, and standards to corporate policy and core operational activities involving Indigenous peoples and their lands and resources. This would include, but not be limited to, the following:

Commit to meaningful consultation, building respectful relationships, and obtaining the free, prior, and informed consent of Indigenous peoples before proceeding with economic development projects.

Ensure that Aboriginal peoples have equitable access to jobs, training, and education opportunities in the corporate sector, and that Aboriginal communities gain long-term sustainable benefits from economic development projects.

Provide education for management and staff on the history of Aboriginal peoples, including the history and legacy of residential schools, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Treaties and Aboriginal rights, Indigenous law, and Aboriginal–Crown relations. This will require skills based training in intercultural competency, conflict resolution, human rights, and anti-racism.

For those of you who perhaps have never read this before, let’s summarize this Call to Action:

It addresses a number of dimensions under what the commission calls a “Reconciliation framework for applying the United Nations Declaration.” It asks for:

  • Meaningful consultations,
  • respectful relationships,
  • employment opportunities,
  • informed consent before moving to economic development projects,
  • access to jobs, training and educational opportunities,
  • benefits to aboriginal communities and not just to individuals,
  • education of management and staff on the history of Aboriginal peoples

Participant 2 reads:

What is level of involvement now?

In 2016, Indigenous Works, the company we mentioned above, commissioned a national study of 500 large and medium sized businesses in Canada. The result reported that 85 percent of companies have no relationships with Indigenous people. Only 2% of corporations were committed partners. (The full report can be found here: the situation is slightly better on the prairies, Manitoba has the weakest engagement with Indigenous people of the three prairie provinces.

Nationally, the study found:

  • Only half of the businesses wanted to do more business with Indigenous groups.
  • Less than half were prioritizing hiring Indigenous people
  • Only a third of businesses considered investing in Indigenous communities as a priority.

In 2020, Gladu and Hyder suggest that “Canada’s role in reconciliation is underappreciated”.

JP Gladu and Goldy Hyder, “Corporate Canada’s Role in Reconciliation is Underappreciated” (The Globe and Mail, Report on Business, Friday February 14, 2020, p. B4.)In a Globe and Mail article, they offer six examples of a trend towards “deeper and more engagement between Indigenous communities and corporate Canada”. However, in spite of these six examples representing billions of dollars, there much remains to be done.

Returning to the “Indigenous Works” document, the authors report that companies offer up to 20 reasons as to why they are not involved with Indigenous communities.

Here are some examples of responses from the corporate leaders:

“Never thought of it”,
“We need people with specific designations so that is our priority,”
“Not applicable to our business,”
“We would if they reached out to us,”
“Never occurred to us,” etc.

Five key factors were identified as to why businesses did not consider such engagement:

  • There are few indigenous people around our business, or if there are, we are unaware of them
  • Indifference; that is, we don’t’ discriminate, but we don’t reach out
  • There is limited value for us in being engaged
  • We don’t really know the situation of Indigenous people very well
  • It is costly to reach out, and we have limited capacity

Participant 3 reads:

Why should business care; the benefits

In October of 2017, Don Drummond, former senior economist with CIBC, now at McMaster University wrote that 52% of the future economic growth of Manitoba will depend upon Indigenous work force participation. In Saskatchewan that number is 72% and is 83% in the Northwest Territories. So, independent of the moral responsibility one could raise, there are economic benefits for business. The Drummond report (Don Drummond and Andrew Sharpe: “Closing Indigenous Socio-Economic Gaps Key to Raising Canada’s Economic Growth, Queen’s University, Kingston: Queen’s University, posted October 2, 2017. estimates that closing the gap would increase the size of the Canadian economy by $36.4 billion by 2031.

The research by Indigenous Works suggested some solutions.
Things that need to change:

  • Businesses want to be approached directly by Indigenous groups
  • Businesses need to see the employment and business potential
  • Businesses need more experience and knowledge on how to do this
  • Economic conditions and policies from government need to change

What supports do businesses need to change?

  1. Guidance from Indigenous groups
  2. Mentorship from experienced businesses
  3. Direction from third parties and from government
    a. On the government side, Drummond identifies several obstacles to be overcome;
    i. Lack of predictability in funding
    ii. Currently there is greater focus on social service funding to the detriment of funding that addresses economic needs
    iii. Lack of high speed broadband in many Indigenous communities
    iv. Need for greater Indigenous autonomy

Participant 4 reads:

So how can businesses proceed?

Let’s back up just a bit. Perry Bellegarde, National Chief stated recently in the Globe and Mail: “Before you try to build anything, build a respectful relationship.” The TRC report – the Truth and Reconciliation Commission formed to redress the legacy of residential schools – stresses over and over that respectful relationships are the beginning of reconciliation. And the TRC argues this starts with knowing the Truth. The title of the final report of the TRC is called “Honouring the Truth, Reconciling for the future.” A business man commented; why worry about the past, let’s just move on to the future.” The TRC refutes that. If we don’t honor the truth of the past, we will never have reconciliation. If we don’t know the past we will never understand intergenerational trauma.

Participant 5 reads:

Another common sentiment about residential schools is the following: “They didn’t know back then what we know now. They didn’t realize it was wrong” (CBC Radio, 2017). However, Dr. Cindy Blackstock, member of the Gitksan First Nation challenges this position by sharing the story about Dr. Peter Henderson Bryce. Dr. Bryce was the chief medical officer for the department of Indian Affairs and the department of immigration. In 1904, he was asked to report on the health conditions of children within the Canadian Indian residential school system in Western Canada and the Northwest Territories. When he released the final report in 1907, Bryce exposed the inhuman and unsanitary conditions of residential schools. Bryce revealed: “It suffices for us to know … that of a total of 1,537 pupils reported upon, nearly 25 per cent are dead,” and “of one school with an absolutely accurate statement, 69 per cent of ex-pupils are dead, and that everywhere the almost invariable cause of death given is tuberculosis.” He continued, “We have created a situation so dangerous to health . . . that I was often surprised that the results were not even worse.”(link to report)

The report was eventually leaked and appeared on the front page of the newspaper that is now the Ottawa Citizen, making the report public knowledge. Despite Bryce’s damning report, none of the report’s recommendations were immediately implemented.

As Cindy Blackstock passionately states, Dr. Bryce’s publicized report “puts a red hot poker stick into this myth that people in the period didn’t know any better back then.”

So we need to first honour the truth.

Participant 6 reads:

Once that truth is acknowledged, then Murray Sinclair’s, Chair of the TRC, message is loud and clear; he says: “Don’t feel guilty about the past, don’t feel shame, they don’t do any good at all, do something about it.”

So let’s return to the role of business. Call to action 92 suggests that as relationships grow, meaningful consultations will grow. The reverse is also true. Honest consultations will lead to relationships. The first baby steps toward partnerships can begin. The most progressive companies are those that develop an internal business strategy as it relates to Indigenous peoples. They have a procurement strategy; an employment strategy. They have benefits sharing.

Participant 7 reads:

Call to Action 92 calls for informed Employment decisions; it calls on corporations to investigate where to find new talent, how to design training, and partnering to support employment of indigenous people; ensure cultural sensitivity, maintain an adoptive and innovative workforce. Companies don’t have to start from scratch. Here are just two examples of opportunities. Indigenous Works is a national non-profit social enterprise headquartered in Saskatoon with “a mandate to improve the inclusion and engagement of Indigenous people in the Canadian economy.” The Manitoba Construction Sector Council trains Indigenous people for jobs. Build, Inc. offers a training program for those Indigenous youth facing barriers to employment. Opportunities for Employment (OFE) is another agency that both trains and seeks employment for people, including Indigenous people. Amik provides employment services. Clayton Sandy, who is key to our Circles for Reconciliation conducts all kinds of workshops on preparing Indigenous people for employment.

Participant 8 reads:

Once reconciliation is on a business radar, business development decisions and community development decisions can also begin to be considered. On the business development side, those interested can being to think about how reconciliation can influence where to open new locations, how to market their business, their procurement policies, mutual development of their business and Indigenous businesses to grow market share, diversify products and service, strengthen reputations

Participant 9 reads:

Companies that begin to think about reconciliation can reflect on community development decisions, specifically what groups or events to sponsor, how to minimize their impact on environment, how to strengthen communities where they operate, invest in education, combine intelligence and information, and identify other opportunities for involvement.

Facilitator reads:

I am now going to pass out a list of possible personal actions and corporate actions you might take (Pass out the “Get involved sheet. Facilitator should have a copy for everyone).

These are examples only.

We are going to go around the circle reading the actions.

Now we will use a talking stick, passed from one to another. Please speak only when you have the talking stick. Let me remind you that we have to be finished by ____ (time) so as you share, please be mindful of the time and remember we want everyone to have a chance to share.

References and resources

  • Don Drummond and Andrew Sharpe: “Closing Indigenous Socio-Economic Gaps Key to Raising Canada’s Economic Growth, Queen’s University, Kingston: Queen’s University, posted October 2, 2017.
  • Indigenous Works
  • JP Gladu and Goldy Hyder, “Corporate Canada’s Role in Reconciliation is Underappreciated” The Globe and Mail, Report on Business, Friday February 14, 2020, p. B4.

Eagle feathers in law courts just small step

Eagle feathers in law courts just small step

We’re pleased to have received permission to print this insightful and informative article written by Niigaan Sinclair and published by the Winnipeg Free Press. Here is a link to the article on their website should you wish to read it in that form and appreciate the photos included.


Originally printed by the Winnipeg Free Press 09/27/2019

By Niigaan Sinclair
Forty migizii migwanag — eagle feathers — were honoured at a sunrise ceremony Thursday and later given to Manitoba justice officials for use during court proceedings. Now, for the first official time in history, anyone in a provincial court can hold a feather while testifying or swearing oaths instead of putting a hand on a Bible.

“The courts are committed to reconciliation, and the court acknowledges its responsibility to find a meaningful way to include Indigenous people in the court system and to build their confidence in the administration of justice,” said provincial court Judge Margaret Wiebe.

It’s a long time coming. The 1991 Aboriginal Justice Inquiry (AJI), for example, recommended that culturally centred practices be included and integrated throughout all elements of the justice system.

And, it’s a small gesture. The AJI also called for the creation of an Aboriginal justice system, an Aboriginal justice college, and all land claims to be settled.

So, a few dozen feathers, nearly three decades later, is really just a step, and a small step, especially considering the over-incarceration rates of Indigenous peoples. I know many in the Indigenous community who are suspicious that including a few feathers to the court system means nothing.

So, if migizii migwanag are now “an implement of justice in Manitoba,” as elder Ed Azure declared Thursday, it’s crucial we understand what this means.

The blessed eagle feathers were presented to the courts during a special joint sitting of the Court of Queen’s Bench and the Provincial Court of Manitoba on Thursday. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)
The first thing is: feathers aren’t religious. In fact, there is no Indigenous “religion” one can convert to. Indigenous peoples have spirituality. Spirituality is based in the real-life knowledge, history and lives of Indigenous peoples and manifested in ceremonies, songs and stories. It’s a living tradition.

So, an eagle feather is not a Bible, it’s more like a relative you travel with and learn from.

This is why an eagle feather is not something you take or buy, but something gifted to you. Feathers are designed to build community, which is why elders say they have two sides and a spine.

That’s why you find feathers in talking circles, healing ceremonies, or at a pow-wow. Chiefs also wear them in headdresses and elders give them to future leaders.

The meaning of migizii migwan is found in its name. The word migizii refers to the megis shell, one of our most sacred Anishinaabeg teachings. Anishinaabeg have carried megis shells for a long time, from our thousand-year migration from the eastern shores of North America to our lives in and around the Great Lakes.

Just like the megis, eagles teach us about where we have been and where we are going as a people.

The second word, migwan, refers to two words: miikwan, a verb meaning to “hit the target” and mikan, “to search.” Watching eagles will demonstrate these teachings the best.

People will now be able to hold an eagle feather in Manitoba court rooms while testifying and swearing oaths instead of putting a hand on a Bible. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)
Eagles, for example, fly highest in the sky — as high as 3,000 metres (10,000 feet). They travel hundreds of square kilometres and can spot other eagles and animals up to five kilometres away. Eagles see the “big picture” while pinpointing specific, tiny spaces where food and sustenance can be found.

Eagles protect their young and are territorial, especially when parenting. Mothers lay two to four eggs and share incubation duties with their lifelong partners. Eagle parents do not kick their children out of the nest to teach them how to fly, but coax them out supportively.

“There are no flying lessons,” Anishinaabe writer Richard Wagamese describes in his 2011 book One Story, One Song. “One day the young eaglets stand at the rim of their nest with their whole world in front of them. They can hear the call of their parents high above. To fulfil their destiny and become who they were created to be, each of them must make that first frightening jump.”

An eagle knows that she cannot fly for her child, it must fly for itself.

When in conflict, eagles are fearless and tenacious. They face problems head-first and refuse to run.

So, an eagle teaches us to see the big picture and everything in it, including the needs of tomorrow’s generation. After this search, one can return home and, without fear, tell the truth of the journey.

If this doesn’t hit the target of justice I don’t know what does.

An eagle feather is not something you take or buy, but something gifted to you. Feathers are designed to build community, which is why elders say they have two sides and a spine. (John Woods / The Canadian Press files)
But this isn’t the only reason eagle feathers are important for justice.

“Eagle feathers are made up of thousands of tiny filaments,” Wabaseemoong Anishinaabe elder Jack Kakaway explains. “An eagle has to control them all, whether the wind is blowing or the air is still. Only that skill will keep the eagle aloft.”

Anyone who has touched a feather knows what Kakaway means. A feather is like a living being, thriving even after leaving an eagle. The oil in its spine keeps its filaments connected. When they are separated, all one has to do is gently stroke the middle spine and distribute the oils so the filaments reconnect.

When eagles experience this, such as when they get wet or in a fight, they will rub against a rock or another eagle, caring for itself. If an eagle shows enough patience and care for herself, she can fly again.

When people speak the truth, no matter how hard it is or how much it hurts, they also repair the filaments. They connect people, heal harms and create a positive path to the future.

Like the feather citizens can now hold in a Manitoba court room, people will now be able to bravely help us all come together, soar to the highest heights and see the big picture.

This is how, just maybe, migizi migwan will teach us all to fly.

Niigaan Sinclair is Anishinaabe and is a columnist at the Winnipeg Free Press.


Gathering Theme: The Indian Act – Disempowering, Assimilatory and Exclusionary

revised April 2020

Download a printable pdf file of the theme from this link.

Gathering Theme

The Indian Act: Disempowering, Assimilatory and Exlusionary

Jeremy Patzer
University of Manitoba

Opening common to all gatherings

Presentation of the theme

(Facilitator reads)
The Indian Act has come to be known as the primary mechanism by which the federal government instituted a legal power for itself and its Indian agents over the lives, rights, and identities of First Nations peoples. The terms of the act apply only to those recognized as having Indian status—the legal recognition by the Crown that one is in fact an “Indian”—and the federal government does not, and has never, recognized Indian status for all people of First Nations descent within the boundaries of what is now Canada. The purview of the act also does not extend to Métis or Inuit peoples. This is largely due to a history of the federal government seeking to limit the liabilities flowing from its constitutional responsibility for Indigenous peoples. The very nature of the act as scrutineer and bestower of Indian status thus created the status/non-status divide, and is why we even have a concept of “non-status Indian” in the first place.
Thus, the Indian Act is profoundly 1) disempowering, 2) assimilatory and 3) exclusionary.

(Participant 1 reads)
The Indian Act was neither the sole nor the first legislation to envisage the paternalistic control and assimilation of First Nations. Both prior to and just after Confederation, instances of pre-Indian Act legislation were enacted that envisaged a “civilizational” process of assimilation that was meant to eventually remove all legal distinctions between Indians and the Crown’s Canadian subjects. In the shift from the pre-Confederation to post-Confederation legislation, the efforts at assimilation became more acute.

Enfranchisement is a very important historical term. It means the removal of Indian status—It went from voluntary to involuntary, although it had been forcible from the beginning for wives and children of husbands who were enfranchised. It precluded First Nations women from the leadership and political life of their communities, and also provided for the automatic enfranchisement of women (and their children) when they married a man not recognized as an Indian.

The post-Confederation act also enabled the government to impose its own style of band council in cases where it desired to remove the traditional governance structure of a First Nation. This is the heart of the recent struggle in British Columbia over the building of the Coastal GasLink pipeline. Protests across the country supported the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs who opposed the pipeline while the elected band council has been in support. Who is in charge?  The answer is complicated. Basically some bands did not accept the disenfranchisement of their traditional governance structure and continue to have hereditary chiefs who oversee the management of traditional lands. Their authority predates the imposed colonial law of an elected band council. According to the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (RCAP), not only was the style of imposed governance structure assimilative, but so was its limited scale. In effect, there “was simply no provision for traditional groupings going beyond the individual band level. In fact, the goal of the measures was specifically to undermine nation-level governance systems and the broader nation-level associations of Indians more generally.”

(Participant 2 reads)

It was not until 1876, nine years after Confederation, that An Act to amend and consolidate the laws respecting Indians was passed, modifying and consolidating much of the former legislation into Canada’s first incarnation of the Indian Act. Cora Voyageur encapsulates the act’s functions as “to define who was and was not an Indian, to civilize the Indian, and to manage the Indian people and their lands.” According to John Leslie, “it touched on all aspects of Indian reserve life.” It preserved the assimilatory and discriminatory provisions of its predecessors, even expanding on some of them.

The original Indian Act retained the federal government’s power to remove traditional Indigenous governance structures and added to the list of reasons for which the federal government could remove chiefs from band leadership. The federal government did exactly this to the Six Nations band within the Haudenosaunee Confederacy in Ontario, purely because the band created anxiety within the Canadian government through their travels to London and Geneva, seeking recognition of their sovereignty. Duncan Campbell Scott, the deputy superintendent general of Indian Affairs, secured approval from Cabinet to remove the confederacy council that governed Canada’s largest reserve. According to the account of John Borrows and Leonard Rotman:

Without prior notice to the chiefs, they were removed from office by an order-in-council on the morning of October 7, 1924. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police seized the wampum used to sanction council proceedings, and posted a proclamation on the doors of the council house announcing the date and procedures for an elected government on the Six Nations reserve. (A wampum is a ceremonial belt used as a gift, as currency, and for recording treaties and historical events).1

The cleavage created within this First Nation by the government’s imposition of a second, competing governance structure has remained for generations.

(Participant 3 reads)

The Indian Act also retained compulsory enfranchisement (that is, loss of status) and extended it to individuals if they were to earn a university degree or become a doctor, lawyer or member of the clergy. It even aspired for the voluntary enfranchisement of entire bands through a process that planned for the surveying and subdivision of reserves. It was theoretically feasible, then, if history were to progress as the federal government had desired it, for all reserves to be subdivided into individual lots and, through the assimilatory processes of enfranchisement, the entirety of any given reserve to be eroded away into private lots held by owners with no Indian status.
By the end of the nineteenth century, as John Leslie notes, the lack of tangible results in assimilating Indigenous peoples encouraged officials to become even more interventionist:

In the view of government officials, a relatively effortless way of dealing with the apparent lack of progress was to revise the Indian Act to give more powers to local Indian agents and to heavily penalize Indian people for persisting in the old ways.

For example

  • In the 1880s, Indian agents acquired additional powers as justices of the peace in order to prosecute Indians.
  • In April 1884, the Indian Act was amended by section 3, which placed a ban on dances and traditional ceremonies.
  • In 1894, section 11 gave the Minister of Indian Affairs the power to direct industrial or residential schools, and made school attendance compulsory, with strict truancy penalties.
  • In 1914 an amendment required western Indians to seek official permission before appearing in “Aboriginal costumes.”
  • In 1918 allowed the government to lease out uncultivated reserve land to non-Indigenous farmers.
  • In 1930 an amendment prevented pool hall owners from admitting Indians

The additions and amendments in this vein are too numerous to explore in their entirety, but the sheer number of them gives a sense of how the Indian Act has been used as a multifaceted instrument of control and assimilation for generations with varying applicability on and off-reserve—from the 1880s through much of the twentieth century.

(Participant 4 reads)

A 1927 amendment to the Indian Act brought a unique element, since governments were anxious that some First Nations might manage to bring claims for legal title over their own lands before the courts. Such anxieties were especially acute in British Columbia. Section 141 of the 1927 Indian Act therefore made it illegal to raise funds for the benefit of First Nations who sought to pursue claims against the Crown in court. (Relatedly, a 1906 amendment to the Criminal Code had “provided that it was an offence to incite or ‘stir up’ Indians to riotous or disorderly behaviour. Indeed, it was even an offence to incite them ‘to make any request or demand of government in a disorderly manner.’”)

It is essential to note the interwoven chronology of treaties and assimilatory legislation of the Indian Act. Canada began, in earnest, the honing of the law as a tool of assimilation prior to Confederation. This is prior to any of the Numbered Treaties signed from Ontario westward from 1871 to 1930. In fact, the Indian Act was used numerous times to contravene treaty promises. The government failed, of course, to spell out in direct terms the provisions of the Indian Act that contravened the treaty promises it was making. This is significant because, according to RCAP, First Nations were assured orally in the treaty negotiation process “that their way of life would not change unless they wished it to. They understood that their governing structures and authorities would continue undisturbed by the treaty relationship.”

(Participant 5 reads)

The Indian Act of today is not the same as the one first consolidated in 1876, or even what existed in the first half of the twentieth century. Many of the most controversial amendments mentioned above were eventually removed from the act, and multiple legislative efforts since 1985 have begun a long and imperfect process of removing gender discriminatory provisions in the act that saw generations of Indigenous women and their children lose their status.
Enfranchisement and assimilation continue as a fundamental element of the current Indian Act, however, through a mechanism referred to as the second generation cut-off. This essentially means that if two generations in a row have children with non-status partners, then Indian status is not carried beyond that second generation. In addition, legal scholars John Borrows and Leonard Rotman still consider the act to be a major obstacle in maintaining Indigenous governmental diversity and autonomy, given that its “provisions narrowly define and heavily regulate their citizenship, land rights, succession rules, political organization, economic opportunities, fiscal management, educational patterns and attainment.”

Getting beyond or removing the Indian Act, however, is not as simple as it sounds. The paradox of the act is that it is also integral to securing the legal protection of reserve land for the common use and occupation of First Nations—and there remains very little Canadian territory that is set aside specifically for Indigenous groups. For First Nations, the only way out from under the Indian Act is through the negotiation of self-government agreements, a process that is itself subject to some staunch criticisms.


Borrows, John and Leonard Rotman. Aboriginal Legal Issues: Cases, Materials & Commentary. 4th ed. Markham: LexisNexis Canada, 2012.

Canada. Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples: Volume 1, Looking Forward, Looking Back. Ottawa: Supply and Services Canada, 1996.

Foster, Hamar. “We Are Not O’Meara’s Children: Law, Lawyers, and the First Campaign for Aboriginal Title in British Columbia, 1908-28.” In Let Right Be Done: Aboriginal Title, the Calder Case, and the Future of Indigenous Rights, edited by Hamar Foster, Heather Raven, and Jeremy Webber, 61-84. Vancouver: UBC Press, 2007.

Leslie, John. “The Indian Act: An Historical Perspective.” Canadian Parliamentary Review 25, no. 2 (2002): 23-27.

Voyageur, Cora. “Female First Nations Chiefs and the Colonial Legacy in Canada.” American Indian Culture and Research Journal 35, no. 3 (2011): 59-78.

Closing common to all gatherings

Gathering Theme: Dispelling the Misconceptions about Indigenous People (Manitoba Version)

Download a printable pdf file of the theme from this link.

Revised January 2020

Gathering Theme

Dispelling the Myths About Indigenous People (Manitoba Version)

The majority of this document comes from a publication “Indigenous Workforce Participation Initiative,” Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, 1998, with updates from Statistics Canada, and from “Indigenous Strong, Manitoba Strong: Indigenous contributions to the Manitoba Economy” (2019)

Many misconceptions about Indigenous peoples in Canada are based on stereotyping and lack of information. These misconceptions have serious consequences and are often at the root of racism and discrimination that Indigenous peoples continue to experience today. For employers, ongoing misconceptions about Indigenous peoples can adversely impact the effectiveness of their Indigenous workforce participation initiatives.

Dispelling the misconceptions and myths is one step towards building relationships based on mutual respect and trust. Here are 10 common misconceptions about Indigenous peoples, along with factual information that will help to dispel them.

(When presenting this theme at a circle, it is often effective to have each of the participants who are willing, to read one of the myths. Be sure participants feel free to pass and not read a myth if they don’t feel comfortable.)

1. MYTH: All Indigenous peoples are the same.

The Facts:

  • The Indigenous population is very diverse:
  • It is composed of First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples – each with a different history, culture and society.
  • In Canada today there are 11 major language families with over 50 forms. Some Indigenous languages are as different as Spanish is from Japanese.
  • British Columbia alone is home to 60% of Indigenous languages in Canada. In that Province there are 34 distinct languages involving 61 dialects.
  • Indigenous peoples live in many different parts of Canada -in geographically diverse locations such as urban centres, rural communities and remote locations. As of 2016, half of Status Indians live in urban areas.
  • There are 634 recognized bands in Canada and 3,100 Reserves. The band is the people and the reserve is the land. The band includes all the people in a community and its unit of government (the Chief and the council), all subject to the Indian Act. A number of bands may have several Reserve lands. For example, some bands have urban and rural reserve lands.
  • Not all Indigenous people do Pow Wows, potlatches, smudges or sweats.
  • Wampum belts were used as a guide by the Haudenosaunee Confederacy to narrate their history while in the West coast, weaving often performed the same function.

2. MYTH: Indigenous peoples have always had the same rights as others in Canada.

The Facts:

  • Only recently have Indigenous peoples begun to obtain the same rights as other people in Canada.
  • In 1880, an amendment to the Indian Act provided for automatic loss of status of any Indian who earned a university degree or any Indian woman who married a non-Indian or an unregistered Indian. Loss of status was not officially repealed until 1985.
  • In 1884, an amendment to the Indian Act instituted prison sentences for anyone participating in potlatch, or other traditional Indigenous ceremonies.
  • Indigenous people were denied their right to organize politically.
  • Amendments to the Indian Act in 1927 made it illegal for First Nations people or communities to hire lawyers or bring about land claims against the government without the government’s consent.
  • Registered First Nations peoples only obtained the right to vote in 1960.
  • The Nisga’a Treaty was only ratified in 2000. It is the first modern-day treaty in B.C. and it served as a model for many First nations seeking self-government and modern treaties in Canada.
  •  In 2016, The Supreme Court declared that Métis (and non-status Indians) must be considered “Indians” in the Constitution and thereby fall under federal jurisdiction. This did not include remedial action, but in conjunction with agreements with provincial governments, this opens the door for Métis rights and land claims.

3. MYTH: Indigenous peoples are responsible for their current situation.

The Facts: Many factors have contributed to the situation of Indigenous peoples in Canada:

  • Prior to European contact, Indigenous societies were strong and self-sufficient.
  • While Indigenous peoples were never conquered, the process of colonization resulted in complete loss of control and dependency. For example:
  • According to article 32 (1) of the Indian Act “a transaction of any kind whereby a band or a member thereof purported to sell, barter, exchange, give or otherwise dispose of cattle, grain,… or plants or their products from a reserve.. to a person other than a member of that band, is void unless the superintendent approves of the transaction in writing.”
  • Policies of displacement and assimilation (e.g., residential schools and banning of potlatch) deprived Indigenous peoples of their traditional, social, economic and political powers.
  • Indigenous peoples are now re-establishing control through a process of healing, negotiation and partnership.
  • The Pass system, in place for over 60 years until its repeal in 1941, required written permission from the Indian agent for a person to leave a reserve, to fish, hunt, sell their crops, get married, etc. The pass indicated why they were allowed to be absent, for how long and whether or not they could carry a gun.

4. MYTH: Indigenous peoples have a lot of money.

The Facts:

  • Indigenous individuals have lower incomes than others in Canada:
  • In 2010, the median income for Indigenous peoples was $20,000—compared to $27,600 median income for the rest of Canadians. While income disparity between Indigenous peoples and the rest of Canadians narrowed slightly in a decade, at this rate it would take 63 years for the gap to be erased.
  • Although Indigenous incomes rise with increased education, even highly educated Indigenous people still face a considerable income gap relative to non-Indigenous people.

5. MYTH: Indigenous peoples have everything paid for; they don’t have to pay for their housing, education or medical expenses.

The Facts: Certain services are paid for. What these are, and who they are for, is defined by statute or agreement:

  • Registered First Nations peoples have certain services paid for. These are part of the federal government’s responsibilities as outlined in the Indian Act. Indigenous people did not ask for the Indian Act.
  • When a registered First Nations person leaves the community, access to these rights are limited. And as the federal government cuts spending, items admissible under these statutory obligations also diminish.
  • The national Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, now called Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada, provides certain services to the Inuit through its Indian and Inuit programs. The department funds services for these communities that other Canadians receive from their provincial or municipal governments. These services include education, social services and community infrastructure.
  • There is a strong link between education and income levels.
  • Only in 2016 was the annual cap of 2% increase in on-reserve funding for education ended.
  • Nobody gets a free education in Canada. We are not subsidizing free education for First Nations people as the myth says. Their schools actually receive far less tax money than schools for non-Indigenous children in Canada. In 2017, the Parliamentary Budget Office estimated the gap between on reserve schools and other schools in Canada is $665 million. That is even worse than in 2012, when the gap was $595 million.
  • Outside of the items defined by statute and agreement, Indigenous peoples pay their own expenses.

6. MYTH: Indigenous peoples do not pay taxes.

The Facts: Personal tax exemption occurs only in confined cases. Indigenous peoples pay significant amounts of tax every year:

  • Inuit and Métis people always pay taxes.
  • First Nations peoples without status, and registered First Nations peoples living off-reserve, pay taxes like the rest of the country.
  • Registered First Nations peoples working off-reserve pay income tax, regardless of where they reside (even on-reserve).
  • Administrative costs incurred by registered First Nations peoples claiming tax exemption for off-reserve purchases under $500 discourage requests for reimbursement. In these cases, most registered First Nations peoples opt to pay the sales tax.
  • Registered First Nations peoples are sometimes exempted from paying personal taxes. Tax exemption is part of the federal government’s statutory obligation as outlined in the Indian Act.
  • There are many taxes beyond personal income taxes: income taxes on corporations, and unincorporated businesses, federal and provincial sales taxes, and federal excise taxes. Based on 2016 data, Indigenous people in Manitoba contributed over $230 million in taxes annually (57% federal and 43% provincial).

7. MYTH: Indigenous peoples cannot interface with, or adapt to, life in the mainstream.

The Facts: Indigenous peoples have extensive and effective relationships with the rest of Canadian society.

  • Indigenous peoples attend, and graduate from, a wide range of colleges and universities.
  • There are over 40,000 businesses owned and operated by Indigenous people in Canada. There are 706 in Manitoba.
  • “Indigenous businesses are estimated to have spent $6 billion in 2016. This spending contributed $1.1 billion to Manitoba’s GDP” (p.31)
  • Indigenous businesses form joint ventures (and other business arrangements) with non-Indigenous businesses.
  • The Indigenous economy is the second largest component of the major industries in Manitoba
    ◦ Agriculture = 5.3%
    ◦ Indigenous =3.9%
    ◦ Manufacturing =2.7%
    ◦ Accommodations and food industry = 2.7%
    ◦ Mining, oil and gas = 2.0%
  • The Indigenous component contributes $9.3 billion to the Manitoba economy annually
  • Of all self-employed Indigenous people in Canada, women make up 37%, and even 51% of Indigenous small– and medium-sized enterprises are owned in whole or in part by Indigenous women.

8. MYTH: Indigenous peoples do not have a good work ethic; they have high rates of turnover and absenteeism. They are “lazy.”

The Facts: Indigenous peoples are skilled, productive and reliable employees who are valued by their employers:

  • Indigenous peoples participate extensively in work-oriented education and training programs.
  • Indigenous peoples are valued as stable, reliable employees who contribute in many ways to corporate performance.
  • Flexible work arrangements may be established to allow Indigenous peoples to pursue their traditional ways, the timing of which differs from statutory holidays.
  • There are 71,440 First Nations people employed in Southern Manitoba, and 16,000 in the North.
  • There are 92,800 Indigenous people in Winnipeg (2016 census). In the 2015 survey of homelessness in Winnipeg, there were about 1,400. Almost 800 were Indigenous. Where are the other 92,000 Indigenous people? Working, at home caring for their children, their elderly, volunteering, etc.

9. MYTH: There are no qualified Indigenous peoples to hire.

The Facts: Indigenous peoples have the education, skills and expertise required for jobs in all economic sectors:

  • Almost one-half (48.4%) of Indigenous people had a postsecondary qualification in 2011, including 14.4% with a trades certificate, 20.6% with a college diploma, 3.5% with a university certificate or diploma below the bachelor level, and 9.8% with a university degree. (In comparison, almost two-thirds (64.7%) of the non-Indigenous population aged 25 to 64 had a postsecondary qualification in 2011.)
  • Indigenous peoples work in many occupations. First Nations peoples work in all parts of the Manitoba economy
    ◦ 20% healthcare and social assistance
    ◦ 13% education
    ◦ 11% public administration
    ◦ 10% construction
    ◦ 10% retail trade
  • A young and growing Indigenous population represents an opportunity for economic development in Canada. The growing cadre of young Indigenous people represents a supply of new workers, entrepreneurs and professionals.
  • Many services are available to help employers find qualified Indigenous employees.
  • Canadian population, and almost 7% of Manitoba’s population, and over 5% of Saskatchewan’s population.

10.MYTH: Métis people have the same rights as First Nations.

The Facts: This is false.

  • Indigenous people with registered Indian status have special rights attached to treaties and their status that are currently unavailable to non-status folks and Métis people.
  • This should change with the outcome of the Supreme Court Decision that states that Metis & non-status folks are considered “Indian” in section 91(24) of the Canadian Constitutions.(Supreme Court Decision, Daniels v Canada (2016). The federal government has jurisdiction over First Nations, MN,Inuit, Métis.)Therefore, it should only be a matter of time before non-status and Métis get similar rights to First Nations people with status (e.g. some financial assistance with post-secondary education, non-insured health benefits, modern treaties, etc).
  • Note, this has nothing to do with the Indian Act and does not mean Métis people will get registered Indian status or be placed on reserves.


  • Our “Resources” section of our website provides a direct link to the full 2019 report on Indigenous contributions to the Manitoba Economy:
  • “Indigenous Strong, Manitoba Strong: Indigenous contributions to the Manitoba Economy” (2019).
  • The publication is very consistent with other similar documents, such as the 2012 publication by TD Bank called “Debunking 10 myths surrounding Canada’s Indigenous population.

Gathering Theme: Treaties – Our Nation to Nation Partnerships

Download a printable pdf file of the theme from this link.

Gathering Theme

Treaties: Our Nation to Nation Partnerships

Author: Dr. Tricia Logan

Revised June 2020

Treaty making processes are sacred, legal and ceremonial events that  involve many, but not all First Nations and Indigenous communities across Canada. Treaties in Canada have been signed before Confederation (1867), after Confederation and in the modern era, including treaties signed since 1975. From a First Nations perspective, treaty making involves sacred ceremonies and a tripartite deal between the First Nation, the colonial representative and the Creator. Treaties did not “surrender or cede land”; they are considered sacred agreements between Nations, which covered more than just a transfer of territory. They are living documents that continue to influence legal struggles and decisions over Indigenous rights and land today.

Participant #1: 

Various First Nations communities across Turtle Island (North America) had and continue to have existing traditions and laws that govern land rights and what would be considered “human rights” in European law. Ceremonies often include Wampum Belts, pipe ceremonies or an exchange of gifts. A Wampum Belt is typically made from round clam shells formed into beads and woven with threads; it is a symbol of peace and often signaled an invitation or the beginning of a meeting between nations. Knowledge of these ceremonies and agreements are passed on through several generations, so records of these laws are used today in First Nations communities through oral histories. They date back to times before the earliest contact with Europeans.

It is important to remember that Indigenous nations view land differently from European philosophies. Those beliefs of private property and land ownership did not translate well into Indigenous languages or worldviews. Treaty making did not consider how First Nations established their relationships to the land, as well as how sacred that relationship is.

Participant #2: 

Royal Proclamation of 1763

The Royal Proclamation of 1763 was issued by King George III of England and granted “ownership” of North America to Britain. It is still broadly considered an important document that represents the historic relationship between Indigenous peoples and Europeans in Canada. The document states clearly that the title Indigenous people have to the land has always existed and continues to exist after the Proclamation. It is also referenced in section 25 of the Constitution Act of 1982. This provision dictates that nothing in Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms diminishes Aboriginal peoples’ rights as expressed in the Royal Proclamation. The reference to the Proclamation in the Constitution Act ensures that its interpretation will remain an important part of any attempt to clarify Aboriginal rights in Canadian law.

Participant #3:
It is a myth that all treaties look the same and also that all the First Nations that signed treaties are similar. The 11 numbered treaties (1870-1921) are often what we refer to when we consider that “We are all Treaty People,” but there are treaties that pre-date the numbered treaty era. Here are some of them:

1725-1779 Atlantic Peace and Friendship Treaties
Focused on settling peace and trade relationships, treaties were signed between the Maliseet, Mi’kmaq and other First Nations, and the British in territories covering Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, the Gaspé region of Québec and Nova Scotia. The treaties were necessary for both the British and Indigenous people because the Indigenous groups had primarily been aligned with French settlers. The transfer of territory to Britain led to violence between 1725-1779, which was often directed at Indigenous groups in the region. First Nations did not surrender any land or rights to the British during these Atlantic treaty-making processes; they sought peace and safety in their territories. Peace and Friendship Treaties in the Maritime Provinces still provide context and a legal basis for Indigenous rights to land, hunting and fishing.

Participant #4:

Manitoba Act (1870)
Métis in Manitoba and western Canadian provinces often consider the agreements made with Canada in the creation of the Province of Manitoba as the first treaty signed with Indigenous peoples in the West. The creation of Manitoba in 1870 pre-dated the signing of Treaty #1 in 1871. Métis citizens led by Louis Riel and a prominent Métis council in 1870 fought to preserve Métis rights to education, language and land in the province of Manitoba. Métis were granted land through certificates called “scrip.” The scrip process was unlawfully administered, and like other land agreements signed with Indigenous nations across Canada, the agreements were not addressed fairly for the Métis. Land was quite often sold to land surveyors for a fraction of the value or was simply taken from Métis using dishonest methods of land transfer. Métis fought the government of Canada until 2013 for adequate compensation promised to them in the original Manitoba Act and the distribution of scrip.

Today, at public events, talks or sporting events, when we acknowledge that we are on Treaty territory and where applicable, the Homeland of the Métis, we recognize these early agreements like the Manitoba Act and the creation of the Métis Settlements of Alberta (1935).

Participant #5:

Numbered Treaties (1871-1921)

Treaties are not a fixed description of the promises made or the promises broken. They are relevant, living documents and no two treaties contain the same agreements. Treaties numbered 1 to 11 were signed between 1871 and 1921 and cover areas in Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, Northern British Columbia, and portions of the Northwest Territories and the Yukon.

After the devastating loss of buffalo and their existing economic systems, many First Nations were provided few options to protect their lands, economies and communities during this period of colonization. The first six treaties pre-date the introduction of the Indian Act and many First Nations in Treaty 1-6 territories consider the agreements in the treaties to be the original terms of their agreements with Canada, before the Indian Act further constrained their rights and movements. The numbered treaties included provisions for land ‘ownership,’ control over goods and education on reserves, agricultural equipment, hunting and fishing, and treaty payments. The unmet expectations and broken promises that followed these treaties are notorious in Canadian history. The legislation has been amended many times, including “over twenty major changes” by 2002.

It is true that treaties requested and promised education on reserves. However, what was promised and what was delivered as education did not meet agreements or expectations. The level of neglect, abuse, death and aggressive assimilation provided in residential schools was not agreed upon in treaties.

Participant #6: 

Modern-Day Treaties (1975-present)

The Government of Canada currently recognizes 24 modern-era post-Confederation treaties that are not included in the original post-1867 numbered treaties. These modern treaties are also often referred to as ‘comprehensive land claim agreements.’ Negotiations started in the early 1970s to provide access and protection to lands and rights that were not covered in any previous agreements. These modern comprehensive claims and negotiations are also protected by the constitution, continue to seek an end to ambiguous language in original agreements, and include provisions for recognizing self-governance.

These comprehensive land claim agreements include areas in Quebec, Nunavut, the Yukon, Alberta, Labrador, and British Columbia, but there are still a number of unsettled land claims. Between 2016 and 2018, 48 different types of agreements were signed between the Crown and Indigenous peoples. Signing an agreement, however, does not necessarily lead to the government changing its behaviour. For example, when the Métis were declared to be “Indians” by the Supreme Court in 2016, no remedial action was attached; the door was simply now open for Métis rights and land claims. In 2020, four First Nations wanted to temporarily stop additional outside workers from arriving to build a dam on the Reserve, due to fear of infection from COVID-19. Instead of recognizing the rights of the First Nations on their land, the government went to court to stop the blockade. The dispute was soon settled out of court.

Participant #7: 


Today, it is agreed and understood that treaties provide the foundation for a nation-to-nation partnership. First Nations, Métis and Inuit have spent centuries fighting for their right to be seen as nations. Acknowledging that “We are all Treaty People” existing in nation-to-nation partnerships supports Indigenous sovereignty and encourages decolonization. It is important to recognize that non-Indigenous settlers and newcomers benefit from living on the land shared with Indigenous peoples.

Another misconception is that treaties are only historical documents.

Treaties, while sometimes written over 100 to 200 years ago, are living partnerships and relevant documents today. Canadians are asked to learn about treaties and engage with Indigenous communities, embracing “We are all Treaty People” in an effort to better understand the partnership we have on shared land. Treaties represent promises made to Indigenous Nations that, in many cases, are simply not kept.

Participant #8: 

Who is an Indigenous Person?

Two realities are particularly helpful in understanding the evolving relationships between Indigenous people and the Government of Canada.

The first addresses who is determined to be “Indian” or “Indigenous.” The Indian Act of 1876, which is still in effect, is a foundational document, but non-status Indians, Inuit and Métis were not part of the Act.

In 1939, the Supreme Court decision brought the Inuit within the definition of “Indian.”

In 2016, again the Supreme Court decision declared that Métis and non-Status Indians must be considered Indians in the constitution.

The Crown-Indigenous Relationship Today
A second reality is the evolution of the name of the department in the Federal government responsible for “Indian affairs.” 1In 2019, its title was changed to “Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Development Canada,” which suggests an increasing recognition of the nation to nation relationships that will allow for reconciliation:

Participant #9:

A bill passed by Parliament in 2019 began as follows:
“Whereas the Government of Canada is committed to achieving reconciliation with First Nations, the Métis and the Inuit through renewed nation-to-nation, government-to-government and Inuit-Crown relationships…” ”

This act established two ministers: a Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations (currently Hon. Carolyn Bennett), who focuses on treaties and other agreements between the Crown and Indigenous peoples, and a Minister of Northern Affairs (currently Minister Dan Vandal), who focuses primarily on the social, economic and health dimensions of Indigenous life..

After the end of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the 7-volume final report’s 94 Calls to Action were presented to Canadians. There are several Calls to Action that refer to our Treaty agreements.

Call to Action #94

94. We call upon the Government of Canada to replace the Oath of Citizenship with the following: I swear (or affirm) that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, Queen of Canada, Her Heirs and Successors, and that I will faithfully observe the laws of Canada including Treaties with Indigenous Peoples, and fulfill my duties as a Canadian citizen.

Gathering Theme: After the Circles: Practicing Solidarity and Living Reconciliation

Download a printable pdf file of the theme from this link.

Revised April 2020


After the Circles: Practicing Solidarity and Living Reconciliation

Authors: Mary Kate Dennis, Heather McRae and Maya Simpso

(Facilitator reads)
Some non-Indigenous Canadians may struggle with the facts and experiences revealed through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). Indigenous people were subject to many forms of colonization and assimilationist policies, characterized as cultural genocide, with the central element of the establishment and operation of residential schools (TRC, 2015). Fortunately, there are Canadians who wish to honour the experiences of the Indigenous survivors of residential schools and are committed to building new relationships with Indigenous people that are based upon respect and reciprocity. In today’s circle, we will look at some ways non-Indigenous people can begin to understand their unique roles and responsibilities in the lifelong journey towards reconciliation.

(Facilitator reads)
Illustrative example of Dr. Peter Henderson Bryce

Commonly, when talking about residential schools, the following sentiment it is often shared: “They didn’t know back then what we know now. They didn’t realize it was wrong” (CBC Radio, 2017). However, Cindy Blackstock, member of the Gitksan First Nation and the executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada, challenges this position by sharing the story about Dr. Peter Henderson Bryce. He was a physician whose work helped document the mortality rate of Indigenous children in Canadian Indian residential schools.

In 1904, Dr. Peter Bryce, the chief medical officer for the Department of Indian Affairs and Department of Immigration, was asked to report on the health conditions of children within the Canadian Indian residential school system in Western Canada and the Northwest Territories. When he released the final report in 1907, Bryce exposed the inhuman and unsanitary conditions of residential schools. Bryce revealed: “It suffices for us to know … that of a total of 1,537 pupils reported upon, nearly 25 per cent are dead,” and “of one school with an absolutely accurate statement, 69 per cent of ex-pupils are dead, and that everywhere the almost invariable cause of death given is tuberculosis.” He continued, “We have created a situation so dangerous to health . . . that I was often surprised that the results were not even worse.”

The report was eventually leaked and appeared on the front page of the newspaper that is now the Ottawa Citizen, making the report public knowledge. Despite Bryce’s damning report, none of the report’s recommendations were immediately implemented.

As Cindy Blackstock passionately states, Dr. Bryce’s publicized report “puts a red hot poker stick into this myth that people in the period didn’t know any better back then. And we really need to lift up people like Dr. Bryce, who spoke up and spoke out to save children’s lives at a time that was critical” (CBC Radio, 2017). On Dr. Bryce’s legacy, the First Nations Caring Society states, “The Story of Dr. Peter Henderson Bryce is an important part of our history and demonstrates to us the importance of speaking out for what is right and just, even when it is difficult to do so” (Wattam, 2016, p. 1).

(Participant 1 reads)
Allyship Defined
Reconciliation must be grounded in the voices, experiences and aspirations of First Nations, Metis and Inuit people of Canada. Since the release of the TRC’s Final Report, many Indigenous peoples and their allies have started to talk about reconciliAction (Ubokudom, 2017). Truth-telling, empathy and listening are instrumental to reconciliation but without action, reconciliation will gradually lose meaning and become another token response to systemic injustice.

PeerNet BC states that allyship “begins when a person of privilege seeks to support a marginalized individual or group.” Allyship requires a commitment to unlearning and learning about privilege, power and oppression and involves a “life-long process of building relationships based on trust, consistency and accountability with marginalized individuals or group.”

Allyship is hard. Ally is a verb that requires action. Allyship is not an identity, nor is it a performance. Allyship is a practice. Allyship requires an ongoing commitment to working in solidarity with Indigenous peoples. Allies are not self-defined but are recognized and affirmed by Indigenous peoples. To practice solidarity, non-Indigenous people must be accountable and responsive to the voices, needs and political perspectives of Indigenous peoples (Walia, 2012). Allies must recognize how they have participated in and benefited from colonialism while working towards supporting Indigenous self-determination.

(Participant 2 reads)
Responsibilities while practicing allyship:

Actively acknowledge your privileges (race, economic class, sexuality, gender, ability, religion, etc.) and openly discuss them. Here are some examples of white privilege:

  •  I can be pretty sure that if I ask to talk to “the person in charge,” I will be facing a person of my race.
  • If I should need to move, I can be pretty sure of renting or purchasing housing in an area which I can afford and in which I would want to live.
  • I can go shopping alone most of the time, pretty well assured that I will not be followed or harassed. I can do well in a challenging situation without being called a credit to my race.
  • I can criticize our government and talk about how much I fear its policies and behavior without being seen as a cultural outsider.
  • If a police officer pulls me over, I can be sure I haven’t been singled out because of my race.
    Listen more and speak less
  • Work with integrity and direct communication
  • Do your own research: Do not expect to be educated by Indigenous peoples Build your capacity to receive criticism
  • Embrace the emotions that come out of allyship (discomfort, guilt, shame, etc.)
  •  Acknowledge that the needs of non-Indigenous allies are secondary to those of Indigenous people with whom you seek to work
  • Do not expect awards or special recognition (PeerNetBC)

(Participant 3 reads)
Pitfalls and Responsibilities for Allies
Two key pitfalls to avoid are taking leadership and self-identifying as an ally.

From an anti-oppression perspective, meaningful support for Indigenous struggles cannot be directed by [non-Indigenous peoples] (Walia, 2012). Circles for Reconciliation is an example of this principle. Circles for Reconciliation is a full and equal partnership between Indigenous people and non-Indigenous people. Our advisory committee, our circles, our facilitators, and our staff have an equal number of Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. We are a partnership in practice. Consistent with Truth and Reconciliation Commission, we practice mutually respectful relationships. Our leadership is shared.

The second principle of self-identifying as an ally highlights the importance of “building long-term relationships of accountability and never assuming or taking for granted the personal and political trust that [non-Indigenous peoples] may earn from Indigenous peoples over time” (Walia, 2012). This speaks to why an ally must be acclaimed or identified as an ally by Indigenous peoples.

(Participant 4 reads)
Example of Allyship in Action
According to Gaa wii ji’i diyaang (2017), a collective of Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples working towards reconciliation at the University of Manitoba, there are five key ways in which non-Indigenous people demonstrate their commitment to building new relationships with Indigenous peoples:

1. Awareness: are aware that social inequities exist and are rooted in social, economic, and historical contexts related to colonization
2. Recognition: recognize their own position within power relations and structures that uphold or disrupt inequity
3. Positionality: work to become fully grounded in their own cultural history and how it relates to colonialism
4. Accountability: are willing to engage in the difficult conversations around truth and reconciliation and recognize that their own mistakes and the mistakes of others are part of the learning process; they are, in fact, opportunities to grow
5. Embodied acts: practice their active listening skills, learn about past and present colonial structures and actions through self-reflection of allyship

(Participant 5 reads)
Questions for Reflection
We invite you to reflect upon the following questions, some of which you can address when you have the talking stick or reflect upon once you leave today.

For Indigenous participants:

  1. Have you had past experiences of working with an ally?
  2. In what ways did these people demonstrate allyship?
  3. What traits does an ally need in order to work with Indigenous people?
  4. What do you need from allies to work with them in solidarity?

(Participant 6 reads)
For non-Indigenous participants:

  1. What are some barriers for you to become an ally?
  2. In what ways have you benefitted from colonization?
  3. What skills and strategies have you used to challenge anti-Indigenous racism?
  4. What are some specific ways that you can work towards being an ally to Indigenous people?

(Participant 7 reads)
For all participants:

  1. During our circle talk, we have used the term “non-Indigenous,” what is your definition of a non-Indigenous person? Does it include the term settler? Who is a settler?
  2. How do Canadians go about righting the historic and ongoing legacy of harms related to Indigenous people?


We will now ask you to read an action that you can take on reconciliation from the following list.

(As an Individual; as a corporation)

Actions you can take as individuals

  1. Read the TRC’s 10 principles of reconciliation
  2. Read the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action.
  3. Read the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
  4. Sign a petition
  5. Attend a meeting or event
  6. Join a group such as Circles for Reconciliation
  7. Contact a politician
  8. Contact another government official
  9. Write a newspaper
  10. Form a group
  11. Become a mentor
  12. Make a donation
  13. Talk to your supervisor/employer about taking action on reconciliation
  14. Read a book about Indigenous history in Canada
    Three examples:
    – Thomas King, “The Inconvenient Indian”
    – Chelsea Vowel, “Indigenous Writes”
    – Richard Wagamese, “Indian Horse”
  15. Visit “Meet Me at the Bell Tower”. (A meeting every Friday at 6.p.m. At the Bell Tower at 610 Selkirk. It is all about hope and positive development for youth in the North End.)

Actions you can take as a business

  1. Host a Circle for Reconciliation
  2. Have your Indigenous employees invite non-Indigenous employees to form a circle.
  3. Contact the Treaty Relations Commission of Manitoba for a free speaker
  4. Contact the Aboriginal Chamber of Commerce
  5. Learn about Aboriginal Skills and Employment Strategy (ASET), federal government employment support for Indigenous people
  6. Learn about the Canadian Aboriginal and Minority Supplier Council (CAMSC)
  7. Reach out to an Elder or Indigenous leader for advice on how to proceed or contact
    Circles for Reconciliation
  8. Sponsor an Indigenous event
  9. Host an Indigenous celebration or event
  10. Promote the naming or renaming of sites to original Indigenous names
  11. Contact a business that has had success creating a partnership
  12. Contact “Indigenous Works” in Saskatoon
  13. Contact “Working Warriors”
  14. Invite an Indigenous person to sit on aboard you are on
  15. Other suggestions?

References and Resources

Bryce, P. H. (1907). Report on the Indian schools of Manitoba and the North West Territories. Ottawa: Government Printing Bureau. Retrieved from
CBC Radio’s Ottawa Morning. (2017, June 2). Ottawa doctor who sounded alarm on residential schools remembered with exhibit. CBC News. Retrieved from

Gehl, L. (n.d.). Ally Bill of Responsibilities. Retrieved January 18, 2017 from

Gaa wii ji’i diyaang (2017). Terms of Reference. University of Manitoba

Groundwork for Change website:

PeerNetBC (n.d). Allyship 101. Retrieved from

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (2015). Honouring the truth, reconciling for the future. Summary of the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada

Walia, H. (2012). Moving Beyond a Politics of Solidarity toward a Practice of Decolonization. Organize!: Building from the Local for Global Justice, 240.

Wattam, J. (July 2016). Dr. Peter Henderson Bryce: A Story of Courage. First Nations Child & Family Caring Society. Retrieved from

Ubokudom, D-A. (2017, November 15). UMSU encourages university to develop an Aboriginal language degree program. “ReconciliAction campaign to foster Truth and Recnociliation on campus”. The Manitoban. Retrieved from

van Dijk, T.A. (1992). Discourse and the denial of racism. Discourse & Society, 3(1), 87-118.

One girl, thousands of deaths, millions of accomplices

By: Niigaan Sinclair

I have a daughter.

She’s entering teen years.

She’s my life.
It’s hard not to think of her when reading about what happened to Tina Fontaine.

The details are haunting. I can’t talk about them objectively or without emotion. Anyone who can just doesn’t feel.

I especially can’t talk about the way Tina has been represented. She was not a broken person whose blood-alcohol level or choice or whatever resulted in her treatment — regardless of what media or a lawyer says.

Tina Fontaine is a girl who endured a brutal child-welfare system and many who failed her along the way.

She is, however, more than that.

She is a daughter, a niece and a beautiful Anishinaabe young woman who, by all accounts, had dreams, plans and hopes. She is an inspiring human being who not only brought love and light to all she met, but continues to do that today.

Tina Fontaine is someone stolen from all of us, and we are lesser as a result.

It’s hard not to condemn Raymond Cormier, the man charged with killing her. Regardless of guilt, at the very least, Cormier exploited an underage girl and — according to the Crown’s final argument — had a motive: to avoid a statutory rape charge.

Cormier treated an Indigenous girl as an object he could manipulate and exploit.

Maybe even something he could dispose of.

Certainly not a human being.

Raymond Cormier is a person in our community. He is someone’s son, someone who walked our streets, someone who voted. Someone who is a Manitoban and a Canadian. Maybe he is even someone’s uncle or father. I don’t know.

And so, here we are again, at the mercy of a jury determining if a Canadian is guilty of killing an Indigenous person.


Regardless of the verdict, Tina is still gone. The factors that led to her murder are still here. The treatment of Indigenous women and girls remains abhorrent, brutal and violent in all factors of society — from pop culture to policy. There are more Indigenous children in the child-welfare system than the number removed during the time of residential schools. The Indian Act is still here, hammering our communities into brutal, abject poverty.

Canada has a sickness when it comes to the treatment of Indigenous peoples, and Indigenous women and girls bear the brunt of it.

Tina’s death is a product of Canada.

It’s not just one person who did this.

So, as we wait for a verdict, there may come some sense of justice — for Tina’s family, particularly.

Forgive me if I don’t hold my breath after the Colten Boushie decision, though.

In the case of a not-guilty verdict, there may never be anyone held responsible for Tina’s murder. I hope this is not the case, but it just may be.

Injustice is too often a part of Indigenous lives.

Are we tired of living in a place where this happens yet?

Every single person in Canada should ask themselves what leads to the murder or loss of thousands of women and girls like Tina — and commit themselves to stopping it.

We must be better. Men, particularly. Indigenous and Canadian men. All men.

Don’t wait for a #MeToo hashtag to make you aware of the issue. Changing the way Indigenous women and girls are treated begins with us. Now. Today.

If we’re better brothers, uncles, grandfathers and fathers, that’s how to start. If we see Tina as one of our own, as family, that’s how we make sure the violence she lived in stops.

Then the real work begins. We must help educate others and join in a march together. We must help build families. Communities. Revoke, write and implement law. Consult meaningfully. Share land and resources. Demand change and never stop till it happens.

Actually become Treaty people and not just say it at a Winnipeg Jets game.

It all feels so hard to imagine — and even idyllic — because Canada has never been this place. It’s a violent place that creates experiences like Tina’s every day.

I know this, for some, is hard to hear. But it’s true.

And it doesn’t have to be this way.

Tina’s death is on all of us. Now we have to be part of the solution.

We have to listen — especially to Indigenous women. Learn. Act.

In coffee shops, boardrooms and classrooms we have to be better. All of us.

So, as we wait, remember this.

We have a daughter, a niece, a sister.

Her name is Tina.

We never really knew her until it was too late.

But she is our life.

She is our life.

Niigaan Sinclair is an associate professor in the Department of Native Studies at the University of Manitoba.

First published in the Winnipeg Free Press on 02/21/2018. Republished with permission.