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First Nations Diary: Documenting Daily Life

by Jackie Underhill, 2004 Governor General's History Award Recipient

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Grade 7 & 8/ Health, History, Language Arts, Visual Arts


Awareness of First Nations and their way of life; quality of life, how individuals met physical, social and group needs (somewhat determined by the environment)


This plan incorporates the use of technological tools and can be extended with the use of guest speaker. There are opportunities for cross-curricular learning and team-teaching methodology.


Students will:

  • increase their understanding of the First Nations historical way of life;
  • be equipped with research tools and information that they can collect into note format;
  • develop effective note-taking strategies and become experts on a topic that they then share with others;
  • use graphic organizers in a meaningful way to collect and organize information;
  • synthesize knowledge obtained through discussion, research and note-taking to create a detailed creative journal/diary that accurately displays the way of life of for the First Nations;
  • develop writing skills in a cross-curricular manner.


Approximately six to eight hours are required.


When Europeans first colonized Canada they encountered various First Nations peoples. Students will review several of the major groupings of First Nations peoples and how these people meet their needs. As follow up later in the unit, students will learn how the First Nations influenced settlement and colonization of Canada.

1. Suggestions for introduction:

a. Create questions for students to answer based on content beginning with a KWL chart (see Appendix 2).
b. Contact local Aboriginal groups and request a guest speaker visit school to share with students information about historical ways of life
c. Read native folklore aloud.
d. View National Film Board For Angela as an opening to a discussion of racism in Canada today.

2. Students label location of First Nations groups on a MAP OF NORTH AMERICA, eg:
Corn Planters: Southern lakes area and St. Lawrence River Valley
Potlatch People: The Pacific shores of Canada and the United States from Alaska to Washington to Oregon
Buffalo Hunters: Area between the Mississippi and Rocky Mountains in the United States and the southern part of Canada from the Rocky Mountains in Alberta to the Manitoba border

3. Use chart format and text to teach note-taking. Complete Corn Planters as a sample with whole class and then individuals complete chart notes for Buffalo Hunters and Potlatch People while focusing on the question, “How did Aboriginal Peoples meet their physical, social and group cultural needs?” Notes are evaluated on the basis of use of student’s own words, accuracy, and completeness.

4. Using resources in small groups complete in-depth notes on Buffalo Hunters, Potlatch People, or Corn Planters. Students become experts on a concept, such as physical needs and then teach it to the group.

5. Round circle with students in character as elders of the First persons group they studied in-depth. Focus the discussion on the question: “Which Aboriginal group was able to meet their needs most successfully?” In groups of three, list qualities an ideal society should have. Share results with the whole class.

6. To encourage higher order thinking and allow students additional opportunity to interact with their notes prior to writing their journals, students are encouraged to complete either a Venn Diagram that compares two of the First Persons cultural groups studied or use a program like “Inspiration” to web the physical, social and political needs of one of the First Persons groups studied.

7. Complete DIARY/JOURNAL assignment (see Appendix 1).

8. Additional background information could be obtained from an Aboriginal guest speaker. Prepare students by generating discussion and interview techniques and questions.

9. Extension Activity: How can the Canadian government best deal with First Nations’ concerns today, e.g., land claims?


  • McConkey, Lois. Sea and Cedar. Vancouver: Douglas and McIntyre, 1994
  • Campbell, Maria. People of the Buffalo. Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre, 1983
  • Ridington, Jullian and Robin. People of the Longhouse. Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre, 1993
  • Prouty, Daniel and Nancy Trites Botkin. For Angela (21 min 20s). National Film Board of Canada, 1993

For Angela by Nancy Trites Botkin & by Daniel Prouty, National Film Board of Canada

About the Educator

Jackie Underhill’s teaching calls for high levels of critical thinking and appeals to a variety of intelligences. From First Nations political organization to current events, Jackie’s unit on Canadian Political History incorporates student-created board games, political cartoon analysis, editorial cartoon creation, and debates. Students are expected to demonstrate a high degree of analysis, interpretation and synthesis. They rise to the challenge and gain an appreciation for Canada’s past.


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