This content is also available in French. View the French version of the Stolen Lives book.

This chapter is from the In the Aftermath section of Stolen Lives.

The lives of the Indigenous Peoples of Canada are deeply intertwined with the colonial history of the country, during which they were robbed by the government and other agencies of rights afforded to them by legally binding treaties and of their land, which was illegally seized by the government and private developers. Today,indigenousindividuals and communities work to reconcile their worldview, traditions, and aspirations for self-expression and autonomy with the political and social reality of twenty-first-century Canada. But a larger and more universal issue is bound up in this. What makes us members of a free society? In democratic societies, the fundamental assumption is that individual rights, equality before the law, and a measure of protection from government interference in individual choices would ensure the greatest freedom to all. Some would argue that those defenses are also the best protection against prejudice and discrimination.

The indigenous struggle challenges some of these assumptions and forces us to look more closely at the ideas behind our democracies. Specifically, it exposes the tensions between individual and group freedoms. The strain exists because in a democracy, a person’s religious, political, or ethnic associations are viewed as secondary to his or her membership in the national community. For example, the government and parliament, as representative of the nation as a whole, are the bodies that make decisions about policies and new laws. Religious groups, ethnic minorities, and political organizations cannot impose their views on the rest of the nation. In fact, citizenship is given to everybody regardless of religious, political, or ethnic affiliation. However, many indigenous groups in Canada claim rights not only for their members as individuals but also autonomy inside or, to an extent, alongside the nation of Canada. They claim the right to exercise their autonomy as people in control of their own destiny, both as individuals and as a group of people.

What does the struggle ofFirst Nations,Métis, and Inuit for their pre-existing rights look like? What are activists and leaders hoping to achieve? The first part of this chapter explores the challenges we just discussed, and the second focuses on the Blue Quills First Nations College. In the last readings of this chapter, we will consider stories of how young people use their history and culture to build bridges to others and toward the future.

Guiding Questions

  1. Are individual rights enough to ensure freedom for all?
  2. What kinds of rights should a group have when its members seek to express themselves as a group, not just as individuals?
  3. Can the Canadian democracy accommodate Indigenous Peoples who argue that they are, in fact, asovereignnation?


  • indigenous : A generic term for communities of people who resided on territories before they were invaded and/or colonized (primarily by Europeans). Many descendants of these communities have a historical and cultural continuity with their pre-colonial ancestors. For some, the term indigenous is preferable to Aboriginal in reference to the First Nations, Métis, and Inuit in Canada.
  • First Nations : First Nations have lived in North America for tens of thousands of years. Today, the term refers to some 617 different communities, traditionally composed of groups of 400 or so. These nations enjoy a richness and diversity of identity, culture, and customs. Many view North America as their traditional homeland and do not recognize aspects of US and Canadian sovereignty. Alongside the Métis and Inuit Peoples, First Nations are part of a larger grouping officially called the Aboriginal Peoples of Canada.
  • Métis : The term broadly describes descendants of mixed European and First Nations ancestry. In a narrow sense, Métis refers only to the descendants of First Nations people and French settlers in Manitoba. The history of the Métis reflects the intermingling of their different ways of life during the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century North American fur trade. Eventually, these descendants developed distinct language, culture, and traditions.
  • sovereign : Sovereignty defines a state’s freedom to mind its own internal affairs and to govern its own people. Some notions of sovereignty are not exclusive: several notions of First Nations self-government can be (and in fact are) accommodated within the Canadian political system.

Search Our Global Collection

Everything you need to get started teaching your students about racism, antisemitism and prejudice.