Speaking about Indigenous Rights in the Classroom

 In Classroom Practice, Resources

As teachers, we speak about many different rights in our classroom. We talk about the rights students have as learners, we talk about the Rights of the Child, the Rights of Citizenship, and Human Rights. There is another set of rights that should be talked about in schools much more than they are – Indigenous Rights

But what exactly are Indigenous Rights? And what is the difference between Human Rights and Indigenous Rights? Even with the guidepost of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), it can be daunting to wade into this topic. 

These resources, created in collaboration with Simon Jacob Memorial Education Centre, explore Indigenous Rights and UNDRIP. You can use them to introduce the differences between Human, Indigenous, and Treaty rights and to explore current debates about Indigenous Rights and their application. The final resource asks students to explore the relationships, rights, and responsibilities they have to the land around them. 

Indigenous Rights, and ways to advocate for these rights, has been in the news recently and your students may have been asking about this topic in relation to what they have been hearing and seeing about the actions and protests happening across the country. Using these resources with your students can give them some vocabulary to help them discuss Human and Indigenous Rights and the application of Indigenous Rights in their area, and across the country. Students will also have a base from which they can learn about and advocate for Human, Indigenous, and Treaty Rights within and for their communities. 

You can also use these resources as a springboard for discussions about Human Rights issues that your students may be facing in their communities. Knowing which rights are inherent Indigenous Rights as opposed to the rights they have as human beings can offer a different type of insight into the obstacles your students may face. 



Here is one idea of how you could use these resources in your classroom.

Before you Start

Activate students’ prior knowledge about ‘rights’, ‘Human Rights’, ‘Indigenous Rights’, and ‘Treaty Rights’. Consider using a graphic organizer like a word web or a Venn Diagram to organize students’ thoughts and/or to show connections between these terms. 

The First Resource

Show students the first resource: Indigenous Rights and Different Perspectives on Indigenous Rights.

Pause the video when questions are asked to allow students time to think about answers. You may ask students to discuss in large or small groups or to write individual answers to the questions for you to read later.

To Consider: As this is a video, you will need to ensure that all students are able to see and hear the video. Depending on your class make-up, this may include using a projector and speakers or providing devices and headphones to students. 

Continuation Activity

Consider showing your students a variety of types of media coverage for topics that touch on Indigenous Rights. Examine and analyze the coverage. How are Indigenous Rights portrayed? Consider doing the same thing for media coverage of Human Rights issues. Explore if there is a difference between the coverage of Human Rights issues overseas and here in Canada. 

The Second Resource

Show students the second resource: Indigenous Rights Case Study: Sources of Indigenous Rights.

Move through the slides as you feel appropriate, pausing to give additional information or explanation whenever necessary. You may wish to have students answer the comprehension and discussion questions as a class, in small groups, or individually. 

Second Resource: Indigenous Rights Case Study: Sources of Indigenous Rights

To Consider: As this is a presentation, you will need to ensure that all students are able to see the slides. Consider using a projector or interactive whiteboard to display the presentation so all students can see the slides and hear your explanations and information. 

Continuation Activity

Depending on the age level and abilities of your students, consider learning more about the Clyde River case with your students. Explore what other cases have been affected by this ruling. 

The case study focuses on the duty to consult which has been an important topic in recent months. Explore how the Government of Canada is currently approaching its duty to consult. Ask students to think about what the Government of Canada is doing right, and what they could improve on. 

The Third Resource

Show students the third resource: UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Play through the video pausing where appropriate to give additional explanations or information.

To Consider: As this is a video, you will need to ensure that all students are able to see and hear the video. Depending on your class make-up, this may include using a projector and speakers or providing devices and headphones to students. 

Continuation Activity

The video asks students to do some research to figure out why Canada did not immediately adopt UNDRIP. Consider allowing students the time to do so. Ask students to report back with what they’ve learned. 

To ConsiderYou may wish to have students do this individually or in pairs. Regardless of which you choose, you will need to ensure that there are enough devices for each student/group to perform their research. 

The Fourth Resource

Show students the fourth resource: Rights and Responsibilities in the Community. 

Go through the instructions for this activity with your students. Support students as needed.

Fourth resource: Rights and Responsibilities in the Community

You may wish to assign this as homework for your students so that they can go to a place around the community that is particularly meaningful for them, or you can organize a class outing to somewhere nearby that students can use as a basis for their reflections. 

To Consider: For this activity, you will need to ensure that each student has a copy of the handout. 

Suggestions to Extend Learning

There are many different ways you can extend this learning, and they will decide on the focus you want to take with your students. Some examples of further learning could be:

  • Consider asking them to explore UNDRIP in more detail to get a solid sense of what the rights included in the document are. Are there any inherent Indigenous Rights that are missing from the document?
  • Consider comparing UNDRIP and the American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. What is similar between the two documents? What is different? Why is there a need for both documents?
  • Ask students to explain the difference between Human and Indigenous Rights in their own words. Ask them if there is any overlap between the two.
  • As students learn about their rights as humans and as Indigenous Peoples, ask them to choose something to speak out about. What right do they feel most needs attention right now? Have students organize an educational session or protest to bring awareness to how this right is not being upheld sufficiently in their community. 


Have you used these resources in your class already? If so, how did you frame them? What types of discussions did you have with your students after they learned about Indigenous Rights? In what other ways have you addressed Indigenous Rights in your classroom in the past? Share your experiences teaching this important topic.