Aboriginal Title and Rights: Lesson Plan


The purpose of this unit is to introduce students to Indigenous perspectives on land and territory and to explore the concept of Aboriginal Title in BC. Students will gain an understanding of Indigenous Peoples’ perspectives on land ownership, territory boundaries, access to and management of natural resources, as well as why these understandings have conflicted with those of the provincial and federal governments. Through electronic, web-based reading and research activities, students will learn the historical legal contexts that have constructed contemporary discussions and negotiations of Aboriginal Title lands in BC.

Introductory activity

To begin, gather students as a group or in small groups and discuss the following questions:

  1. What does "territory" mean?

  2. On whose traditional territory do you reside?

  3. Why do you think Indigenous people regard the land you are currently residing on as their “traditional territory"?

Read the following two excerpts (both authored by the Union of BC Indian Chiefs) to the class:

(2007) Aboriginal Title and Rights 

Indigenous Peoples’ concept of territory is very different from that recognized by provincial and federal governments and Canadian law. For Indigenous People, territory is understood as Aboriginal (original) Title to the lands, water, and resources. Indigenous People believe that “Aboriginal Title flows from the fact that the Creator placed our Nations upon our territories, together with the traditional laws and responsibilities to care for and protect those territories.”

(1978) Aboriginal Title and Rights Position Paper

“The Sovereignty of our Nations comes from the Great Spirit. It is not granted nor subject to the approval of any other Nation. As First Nations we have the sovereign right to jurisdiction rule within our territories. Our lands are a sacred gift. The land is provided for the continued use, benefit and enjoyment of our People and it is our ultimate obligation to the Great Spirit to care for and protect it.

"Traditionally, First Nations practised uncontested, supreme and absolute power over our territories, our resources and our lives with the right to govern, to make and enforce laws, to decide citizenship, to wage war or to make peace and to manage our lands, resources and institutions. Aboriginal Title and Rights means we as Indian people hold Title and have the right to maintain our sacred connection to Mother Earth by governing our territories through our own forms of government. Our Nations have a natural and rightful place within the family of nations of the world. Our political, legal, social and economic systems developed in accordance with the laws of the Creator since time immemorial and continue to this day.

"Our power to govern rests with the people and like our Aboriginal Title and Rights it comes from within the people and cannot be taken away."

Ask the group/groups the following questions:

  1. What do you notice about the Union of BC Indian Chiefs’ statement on Aboriginal Title and Rights that may differ from your understandings of territory or the rights to access resources extending from the territory?

  2. What do you think of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs’ claim for Aboriginal Title? Do these rights described by the Union of BC Indian Chiefs’ exist as you understand them?

  3. Why do (or do you think) that Indigenous People have legal Title and Rights to the land and resources that you live on?

Web-based research activity

Have students research the web (or your school library if available) for a map distinguishing all of the territorial boundaries within BC. The BC Ministry of Education's First Nations Peoples of BC Map is a good starting point.

You can also have students visit the "Our Culture Lives in the Land" narrative in Union of BC Indian Chiefs’ online resource "Our Homes Are Bleeding" digital collection. Students can click through the narrative and investigate the A/V materials. 

Class project: A debate

Students will stage a debate to present the case of Calder v. Attorney-General of British Columbia (1973) to the Supreme Court of Canada.

Students will divide into four groups: one will represent Dr. Frank Calder and the Nisga’a community, one will represent the Attorney-General of BC, one will represent the debate mediators, and one will represent the Supreme Court of Canada decision-makers.

The Calder/Nisga’a group is responsible for developing sound arguments to present to the mediators and decision makers. They are asked to consider why Aboriginal Title is negotiable through the Canadian court system and should be recognized and validated in law.

The Attorney-General of BC group is responsible for developing sound arguments to present to the mediators and decision makers. Students should consider why the case was brought beyond the BC Supreme Court to the Supreme Court of Canada, and why Aboriginal Title seemingly had been extinguished in the past and should not be recognized or validated in law.

The mediators and Supreme Court representatives are responsible for conducting background research on the Calder v. Attorney-General of British Columbia case and the history of Aboriginal Title and Rights in BC. They must develop an understanding of the historical context of the case to prepare themselves to hear each presenter’s arguments.

Students will present their arguments in formal debate fashion. Each side will be given an opportunity to present their arguments independently and will follow with formal rebuttal. Mediators are responsible for ensuring formal turn-taking and presentation protocol is followed. Supreme Court representatives are asked to make their decision based on whose argument and evidence presented to support argument is the strongest. The results of the case may not be congruent with that of the Calder v. Attorney General of British Columbia (1973) case.

Further resources

You can search the Union of BC Indian Chiefs’ online research catalogue, First Nations Digital Document Source (FNDDS), for documents related to the original Calder v. Attorney-General of British Columbia (1973) case.

The full text of the case is also available online at the Canadian Legal Information Institute. 

Students may also read the 2007 UBCIC paper on Aboriginal Title and Rights