First Nations, Métis, and Inuit Education 101

Tanya C. Leary

As the new Ontario Social Studies Curriculum unfolds this school year, educators should be asking themselves one critical question : How will I engage my students in learning about Canada’s Aboriginal Peoples?  Canada’s Aboriginal Peoples have long been studied as a “unit” in grades 3 and 6. The new curriculum, however, infuses First Nations, Métis, and Inuit (FNMI) perspectives into  all grades and all social studies/history/geography strands. As a province, we will no longer study “Aboriginals” as a people of the past, but rather we will embark on a new journey, of embracing First Nations, Métis, and Inuit content as a common thread in our elementary classrooms.

Brandon Hill, a Mohawk Language teacher with the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board states:

Some of the most common discussions heard in publicly funded professional learning communities across the province sound something like this:

Non-Indigenous educators often feel one of three ways. Firstly, some educators think that if they don’t have any Aboriginal students in their classroom, they don’t need to focus on FNMI curricula. Secondly, educators do want to teach FNMI content and perspectives regardless of their student body, but they don’t want to “get it wrong” or offend anyone, so they often shy away from it. Lastly, there are educators, both Indigenous, and non-Indigenous, that seem to have a natural flare for teaching FNMI curricula, yet continue to struggle with access to authentic resources for truly engaging teaching and critical thinking.

What are some of the solutions to these dilemmas?

Suppose educators made a commitment to becoming an Indigenous education partner. This simply requires an open mind, and a commitment to professional learning. The reality is that all teachers in Ontario need to be armed with a toolkit of knowledge, so that they have the skills and confidence to teach FNMI content in their classrooms.

Suppose educators learned the lingo. FNMI is yet another acronym to add to the teacher babble vocabulary. Here are a few more:

Aboriginal: the political term that encompasses all of Canada’s First Nations, Métis and Inuit people.

Indigenous: the term that describes the original people of the land in which they originated.

First Nations:  the political term used to describe the  First Peoples of Canada, Treaty, Status and Non-Status. First Nations people often refer to themselves as the Nation (formerly tribe) they are from – for example, Ojibwe, Mohawk, Cree, etc. There are over 600 Indigenous nations in North America, each with their own language and dialect.

Métis: the term used to represent a newer nation of people, who are of First Nations and European descent. They have recently been recognized by the government as having the same rights as First Nations people of Canada.


photo of computer desktop on projection screen

It’s an unusual experience for the children of the First Nations School (FNS) in Toronto’s downtown east end to have a bearskin, with the animal’s head still attached, spread out in their room.

elementary students sitting on log in the woods

Two times a week grades 3, 4, and 5 students, dressed for the bush, finish their lunches and load into the school van.