Together Today for Our Children Tomorrow: The Next Generation of Yukon Indigenous Politics

By Lianne Charlie

CHARLIE IMAGEIn 1973 when Chief Elijah Smith and a delegation of representatives from Yukon First Nations travelled from Whitehorse, Yukon, to Ottawa to present Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau with Together Today for our Children Tomorrow (TTFCT), they had my generation (and the many to follow) in mind: “This is a settlement for tomorrow, not for today…This settlement is for our children, our children’s children, for many generations to come.”[1] TTFCT, drafted by the Yukon Native Brotherhood on behalf of the “Yukon Indian People,” called for a “fair and just” settlement and spoke of our nations’ struggles with racist assimilationist policies, poverty, residential school, settler encroachment, dispossession, and unabated resource extraction that Indigenous northerners had been experiencing in our homelands for more than a century.[2] The document captured our desire, at the time, for redress, recognition (in the form of a legal “Settlement”), and a way of moving respectfully and responsibly toward a better future with Canada. In light of emerging critiques of Recognition Politics in Canada by Indigenous scholars, I explore the possibility of TTFCT taking on new meaning in resurgent Indigenous politics in the Yukon.

TTFCT had a profound effect on Indigenous-Canadian politics, at both the territorial and national level. Its presentation to Prime Minister Trudeau initiated our journey towards—what is now commonly known as—a “modern-day treaty” process, a form of political recognition. Political recognition seeks “acknowledgement of the existence, validity, or legality of something.”[3] An example would be a First Nation seeking recognition from Canada of its Aboriginal rights and title to land through modern-day treaty negotiations, comprehensive land claims agreements, self-government agreements, and/or through the courts. Continue reading

Strengthening the Nunavut Educational System

By Norma Dunning

In Canada there is an educational crisis. Within Nunavut the attrition rates of Inuk high school students is 51%.[i] The Inuit population is just under 60,000, making this a national disaster. Out of the three recognized Aboriginal groups Inuit remain at the lowest end of academic success. Within this country, in 2011, there were a total of forty Inuk PhD holders, twenty of whom are medical doctors.[ii] This number alone points to a system that is essentially flawed. My doctoral research examines the implementation of Inuit epistemology into Nunavut schools as the most logical way of strengthening the educational system. Educational policy input by both Inuk students and parents using their inherent ways of knowing and being will bring parity to Inuit communities within a system that has clearly proved itself to be ineffective.

On December 8, 2015, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced a “significant investment” towards First Nation Education. Indeed, during the course of the Liberal electoral campaign they promised funding of $2.6 billion over four years with an additional $500 million that would be funnelled into educational infrastructure. I caution Canadians to keep in mind that none of this money will be used in the area of Inuit or Métis education. This educational investment is exclusive to First Nations peoples. I do not say this with envy. I say this as most Canadians have historically and currently lump Inuit in with First Nations. Inuit are distinct. This distinction is something that was hard fought for, in the past Inuit were considered to be another brand of Indian.

Historically the Canadian government grappled with the identity of the Inuit, questioning how to legislate their identity. In 1924, the Indian Act was amended to include Inuit within the act as citizens of Canada – not wards of the state.[iii] Unlike First Nations, Inuit had the same rights and access to social benefits in the areas of health and education as mainstream society. This included the right to vote federally and to pay all taxes. The benefits extended to Inuit were cared for through various bureaucratic branches including an Eskimo Affairs Committee. It is not until 1951 that the Indian Act was further amended, removing the Inuit from the Act permanently. Continue reading

A Wrench in the Medicine Wheel: The Price of Stolen Water on Indigenous Cultural Continuity

by Anna Huard

Shoal Lake No. 40 [Online image]. (2014) Retrieved February 26 from

Shoal Lake No. 40 [Online image]. (2014)

I wish to illustrate the severe negative cultural and spiritual impacts Indigenous people face when forced to reallocate from their traditional and sacred lands. Since the development in 1919, of a 100km aqueduct to transport drinking water from Shoal Lake 40 First Nation (SL40) to the City of Winnipeg, residents of a once flourishing and prosperous tract of land have been constrained to an island, and subjected to the adverse effects of this so-called “engineering feat.” Construction of the aqueduct, providing the City of Winnipeg with clean drinking water, ironically had a variety of negative effects on the quality of water available for the Shoal Lake First Nations communities. One negative environmental impact of this project includes the artificial increase of water levels in Shoal Lake1, which affects fishing and wild rice harvesting due to a rise in water levels by one meter, as well as diminished water quality.2 Lack of access to potable water has also left this community under a water boil advisory off and on over the years, most recently since February 1997. Simply put: the City of Winnipeg continues to benefit from the natural resources of SL40 at the cost of this Indigenous community’s cultural, ecological, and social well-being.

The most alarming aspect of this issue is the consistent (and very intentional) violations of human and Indigenous rights that SL40 has experienced over the last century. The injustice is so prevalent that SL40 has chronologically displayed the documentation on how they have been systematically wronged in their community centre, calling it the Museum of Canadian Human Rights Violations. I was fortunate enough to visit this exhibit with my research group last summer with the hope of delving deeper into the immediate perspectives of community members. Continue reading

Paved with Good Intentions: Simply Requiring Indigenous Content is Not Enough

by Adam Gaudry

Over the past year, the University of Winnipeg and Lakehead University have mandated that incoming undergraduate students complete an Indigenous degree requirement before graduating. This requirement takes the form of an Indigenous content class chosen from a number of options relevant to the student’s degree program. Given the popular response, many other universities are following suit, a byproduct of both the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s “Calls to Action” and an arms race to be at the forefront of progressive curricular reform.

Generally speaking, this is a good thing, and I believe that this is an effective strategy, especially at universities like these with substantial capacity to provide this curriculum. It is not my intent to critique those universities who have taken the lead on this, but I think that universities without this experience must move ahead cautiously. In the rush to get students learning about Indigenous-Canada relations, little friendly criticism has challenged this popular desire for curricular change. A sobering analysis by Daniel Heath Justice, however, shows just how difficult this project really is, and how poor implementation of a requirement could actually work against this goal. The stakes are high, much higher than benefiting good public relations in mandating an “Indigenization” program. In implementing an Indigenous content requirement universities need to think long and hard about how to do this effectively. Continue reading

“Not That Kind of Indian:” The Problem with Generalizing Indigenous Peoples in Contemporary Scholarship and Pedagogy

By Daniel Sims


As a recent hire at the University of Alberta’s Augustana Campus, the student newspaper, The Dagligtale, interviewed me. Upon reading the printed story – and much to my surprise – I found that my home community of Tsay Keh Dene had become Tsay Keh Dane, but that it was also a reserve. The first error, I attributed to autocorrect. But since I did not refer to reserves during the interview, I was left wondering if this characterization was based on the assumption all First Nations communities in Canada are, in fact, located on reserves. The editing of interview transcripts is a labourious and complicated task, riddled with complexities, including the adoption of editorial assumptions, biases, and beliefs, which, for instance, were recently seen in an Edmonton Metro article on Rhodes scholar-elect Billy-Ray Belcourt. Inversely, it can also lead to generalizations that cast interviewees as unwitting proponents of a cause or belief. Given the large readership that online and printed media outlets offer, authors and editors harness considerable power over how they and their readers portray indigenous peoples. These generalizations about indigenous peoples in Canada must stop!

Recently, academic debates have centred around the question of whether or not Indigenous Studies courses should be required for all undergraduate students. Almost immediately, some responded against this proposal arguing their field either did not need to know about such things or that the provincially-controlled primary and secondary school systems were already doing a sufficient job at covering this material. Yet in my experience as an instructor, I have repeatedly encountered not only students, but also staff with limited to no knowledge of indigenous peoples or colonialism. These individuals are the best, I find, because they know they tend to acknowledge their knowledge gaps and are – at the very least – willing to listen, if not learn. The worst are those individuals who think they know about the topic, when in fact their knowledge is composed of generalizations. Therefore they judge everything they hear with a confirmation bias based on misinformation that hinders the education process. This is especially troubling when one considers that many of these generalizations, although cloaked as well meaning, are based on the racist belief that indigenous peoples in Canada are all the same.

“Currently there are 617” federally recognized First Nations in Canada, not including the Inuit and Métis.[1] The key word when examining this number is “recognized,” as the number does not included unrecognized First Nations that exist in Canada. Often for simplicity’s sake, these 617 are categorized according to the regional environment of their traditional territory, although – depending on whom you ask – the number and name of these regions are subject to change.[2] Moving away from political and environmental approaches, in 2011 StatsCan found that there were more than 60 indigenous languages used in Canada, (including Inuktitut and Michif), falling into 12 language families.[3] When one considers the number of federally-recognized First Nations, adds in the number of excluded First Nation communities, and factors in differences and similarities in environment and language one is left with a complex understanding of the diversity of groups and individuals that historically fell under the category of Indian (based on Indian Act legislation).

Now one might successfully argue that the number of recognized First Nations is inflated due to the divide and conquer tactics of colonialism, but this argument does not mean diversity does not exist. Yet this diversity is not always recognized in contemporary scholarship and pedagogy in Canada. Granted, the term “Indian” is no longer acceptable on anything other than a federal Status Card, but the replacements (i.e. Aboriginal, Indigenous, Native, Amerindian, First Nations) are equally problematic when they are simply used to replace the concept of ‘Indian.’ This is because the concept of ‘Indian’ suggests a lack of diversity and a false homogeneity that willfully ignores all the evidence to the contrary. It can be used, or modified with adjectives in ways that reflect this diversity, but this has not always been the case. When replaced with new terms, problems remain. As a result language perpetuates not only the lack of recognition of diversity among indigenous peoples, but also stereotypes. Continue reading

Holding Our Lands and Places: The Everyday Politics of Indigenous Land and Identity

By Claire Thomson


On a warm September day, I looked down into a coulee from where my horse and I stood on a breezy prairie hill. Eight heifers crashed through the coulee, making a trail through the brush one after another. This was a tricky pasture to navigate since the hills are steep and rocky and also dense, filled with thick bush and trees. But it was a favorite pasture for the young yearling cattle and for me as well because of the beautiful scenery and bountiful berry bushes. My dad dropped Dee (my buckskin quarter horse) and I off with the truck and horse trailer in the pasture while he worked on the fence. Dee and I were on a mission to find all the yearlings to make sure none had escaped again to a neighboring pasture. My great-grandmother’s family had ranched the hills I rode that day; between 1876 and 1881, Chief Sitting Bull stayed there occasionally and possibly hundreds of Lakota tipis filled the valley.

The valley is only a couple miles from the Wood Mountain North West Mounted Police Post and not far from where Jean-Louis Légaré’s trading post stood at one time, which served Métis, Lakota, and settlers. I pondered the landscape, the history, my current mission, and how much better the world seemed from Dee’s back. I thought about how the land and that place, the history, my family, and even my horse came together to represent me. Land and identity are interconnected for all Indigenous people, but what I aim to show – and what is rarely acknowledged – is that the politics around these entities are an every day reality that affects everything we, as Indigenous people, do.

Vibrant fall colors of the Wood Mountain hills. Photo Credit: Claire Thomson

Vibrant fall colors of the Wood Mountain hills. Photo Credit: Claire Thomson.

Continue reading

Conversations with my Father’s paintings: writing my relations back into the academy

By Zoe Todd


My research engages the relationship between people, place, stories and time. This manifests in my doctoral work with examinations of human-fish relationships in the context of colonialism in the Western Arctic. But closer to home, in amiskwaciwâskahikan (Edmonton), my work examines people’s relationships to place through story and art — fish stories, land stories, stories of movement and sound and resistance in the face of settler-colonial aesthetics, architecture, planning and design. Revisiting the life’s work of my Dad, Métis artist Garry Todd, now that I am all grown up, is a huge part of my formation as a thinker, writer, scholar and activist.

In his paintings, my Dad makes tangible the landscapes, stories and aesthetics of the lands on which he was raised. My Dad taught my sisters and me about these lands through walking-lectures he offered to us as kids growing up in the heart of Edmonton. We walked through ravines and gullies and learned about complex place-based histories. About the ‘re-wilding’ of the river valley, about the places where coal seams were mined and hills now slump over their cavernous carcasses. I came to know Edmonton, as a place and an idea, through the intertwined action of my Dad’s stories about the city and through the paintings he made of Edmonton buildings and landscapes when I was a child. I have written about these relationships to place, story and art elsewhere.[1]

Painting by Garry Todd, photography by Zoe Todd.

Painting by Garry Todd, photography by Zoe Todd.

Making sense of my relationship to Treaty Six Territory as a Métis woman is a major foundation of my ethical duties as an Indigenous scholar. Without an understanding of who I am and what I owe to my home territory, I cannot position myself ethically in relation to the Indigenous legal orders, stories and laws of the territories I move through, in other aspects of my personal and professional life. In thinking through, and enacting, the principle of ethical relationality that Paspaschase Cree scholar Dwayne Donald outlines in his own philosophical engagements with amiskwaciwâskahikan, I must position myself first and foremost as a citizen with reciprocal duties to Edmonton and its stories through space and time.[2] From this positioning as a citizen-with-duties, I can then imagine and build my ethical engagements with the academy and its operations. This ethical relationality is not just a duty for Indigenous people, but is something that settler Canadians must also engage in. What do the inter-related worlds of research, activism, art and politics look like when centre our roles as citizens with duties to one another (and centre our duties to the land(s) we inhabit)? Continue reading

A Smudgier Dispossession is Still Dispossession

By Leanne Betasamosake Simpson 


Photo by author.

The waning months of 2015 signaled a seemingly dramatic albeit likely superficial shift in Indigenous-state relations in Canada. When the fall began, the Prime Minister was steadfast in his refusal to call an inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, which surprised few, as it was beautifully consistent with the contempt, paternalism and outright hatred that characterized Harper’s interactions with Indigenous peoples in general. By the time December rolled around, the next Prime Minister and his Haida tattoo were flanked with Indigenous drummers and dancers, clouds of smudge seem to follow him wherever he went, and Indigenous territories were being acknowledged at the beginning of events. The inquiry had been called and meetings with families were held, and recommendations from the past Royal Commission and current Truth and Reconciliation Commission were set to be implemented. Harper lowered the bar to such a level that the tiniest bit of humanity impressed us, and Trudeau was providing us with the mother load.

The cynical, critical, and loving decolonial part of me believed Parliament was photoshopped with all the expertise of a Cosmo retoucher. It was as if the state read Red Skin White Masks, thought recognition was a (still) great idea to control Indigenous desire for freedom, and while they were reading the book we were binge watching Netflix and eating corn chips. “Our people are drunk on Trudeau tears! I round danced my ass off through Christmas of 2012-2013, and all I got was (more) neoliberalism? Holy crap I AM cynical!” I thought, but didn’t tweet. It’s easy to be united and critical when the state is overt, violent, and just plain mean. It’s harder when they are sort of sorry and trying on nice.

Then one day while I was spending my eighth hour of the week on the bleachers at my kid’s indoor soccer practice, I decided to “tap” into iMessages what substantive change might look like. I say “tap” because it was more like “finger punching”. This was by no means a bulletproof analysis. It was mostly a self-imposed project so I didn’t have to talk to the other moms about the tinsel and the toils of baking Christmas cookies. More importantly, it is an ongoing conversation that we should be having (and some are) in communities of Indigenous peoples, and not just the ones we agree with. In reality, Indigenous peoples have said everything on this list in some way before and I’ve tried my best to point you in the direction of deeper Indigenous analysis.

So what was on my non-comprehensive punchy iphone soccer list anyway? Continue reading

Politics and Personal Experiences: An Editor’s Introduction to Indigenous Research in Canada

By Crystal Fraser

A few summers ago, I was sitting along the Nagwichoonjik (Mackenzie River) at my family’s fish camp. I had hauled nearly fifty pounds of books with me – to, arguably, one of the most remote places in Canada – to continue reading for my PhD comprehensive exams. The presence of these academic monographs at an ancient Gwich’in fishing camp sparked new and intense conversations with my camp colleagues and passers-by. Debates about how to undertake ethical research, to be both Indigenous and an academic, and the politics of land coalesced over those ten days. This experience confirmed something I had long suspected: for Indigenous people, academic research is tenuous.

More than ‘just another project,’ larger than simply a ‘job,’ and far greater than the working hours that confine us to our offices, our research penetrates almost all aspects of our lives. Indigenous people are so intimately connected to what we study, because we are continually trying to improve our very existence. Scoffing at the concept of “objectivity” – a favourite among historians – we are incapable of undertaking ‘apolitical’ projects because the political is always present. Treaties. Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. Clean drinking water. Forced sterilizations. Hunting rights. Cultural appropriation. Stereotypes. The Indian Act. First Nation, Métis, or Inuit: Indigenous people in Canada are connected the settler-nation state and consistently question how this state attempted and continues to attempt to legislate, oppress, and categorize us.

Reading for PhD Comprehensive Exams at Diighe’tr’aajil, Northwest Territories, with the Nagwichoonjik in the background. Photo Credit: Crystal Fraser.

Reading for PhD Comprehensive Exams at Diighe’tr’aajil, Northwest Territories, with the Nagwichoonjik in the background. Photo Credit: Crystal Fraser.

This ActiveHistory series demonstrates the commitment that Indigenous people make to academia, our communities, and our families. Although we engage in these debates for different reasons, we are united by highly intimate and personal processes that guide each of us. Here, contributions are made by Inuit, Métis, Dakota, Dene, Cree, Anishinaabe, Ojibwe, Lunaape, and Tutchone scholars spanning from the University of Hawai’i at Manoa across the western plains into central Canada to Carleton University. Indigenous Studies scholar Leanne Betasamosake Simpson begins our week with her provocative post entitled, “A Smudgier Dispossession is Still Dispossession” and UWinnipeg historian Mary Jane McCallum offers her final thoughts to close the week. Eight other posts are written by Indigenous graduate students and early career scholars, demonstrating the vibrancy and path-breaking direction of Indigenous research in Canada.

Our Indigenous histories, worldviews, and approaches are sometimes exceedingly different, but shed light on the fraught and immensely important nature of Indigenous research in Canada. Tackling the persistence of widespread stereotypes, highly personalized experiences, nation-to-nation relationships, contemporary dilemmas that will affect future generations, as well as vital concerns about how we teach our disciplines, and the role of Indigenous people in that process are the some of the themes you will read this week.

This Indigenous History week at ActiveHistory has been an unfolding process over the last several months. With the goal of incorporating a greater level of diversity and perhaps broadening readership beyond a settler-Canadian audience, I took on the role of guest editor for the week to invite contributors, work with them to develop posts based on their interests, and coordinate this series. All of these authors were very happy to share their research and contribute to the conversation, but we also had ongoing (and persisting) conversations about difficult topics. What are the implications of sharing our research? How can we convey to readers that these are not ‘controversial issues’, but our lived experiences? What role should my own community play in my research? Where do I, as an Indigenous person, fit into academia – a system built and maintained on white privilege and settler colonialism?

As the posts unfold over this week, I encourage ActiveHistory readers to embrace them with an open heart and an open mind. As a way to engage and further the conversation with each other, we will be tweeting under #AHindigenous.


Crystal Fraser is Gwichya Gwich’in, originally from Inuvik and Tree River, Northwest Territories. Currently a PhD Candidate at the University of Alberta, her research investigates the history of residential schools in the Inuvik Region during the second half of the twentieth century. You can find her on Twitter at @crystalfraser

Engaging the Public at Living History Sites

Active history is proud to present a video each week from New Directions in Active History. The conference took place at Huron University College on October 2-4, 2015 and brought together scholars, students, professionals and community members to discuss a wide range of topics pertaining to active history.

This week, Wendy Rowney, Assistant General Manager at Black Creek Pioneer Village and a member of our opening plenary roundtable, suggests ways to make the learning of history engaging for the public. Rowney shares insight from 2014 research in which she and a colleague investigated what attracted visitors to museums and what encouraged them to return. Rowney offers six suggestions to meaningfully engage the public at living history sites.