Lesson One Structured Debate

The Impact of Federal Policies on Aboriginal People

Teacher Note: Depending on the length of class time available, this lesson may take 2-3 sessions to complete.

Learning Outcome

Students will

  • evaluate the impact of western expansion and federal policies on Aboriginal people.
  • assess and defend a position on a controversial issue.

Steps to the Lesson

  1. Discuss key vocabulary.
  2. Watch a video on How Federal Policies Impact an Aboriginal Population.
  3. Complete a Graphic Organizer while viewing the video.
  4. Conduct a class debate. (Please see note below)
  5. Reflect on debate process.



  • Students will analyze how federal policies and legislation have affected a regional Aboriginal group in southern British Columbia.
  • Students will debate and understand both sides of a controversial issue.


Students will conduct a structured debate on the impact Canadian federal government policies have had on a British Columbia Aboriginal population; understanding both sides of the issue.

Activate Prior Knowledge:

Students brainstorm the skills needed to conduct an effective debate. See list of Collaborative Skills for Debate for suggestions. Teacher records ideas on the board for reference.

Predict and Question:

The Indian Act of 1876 established the framework of how Aboriginals live in Canada and the Act still governs Canadian Aboriginal populations to this day. A number of government policies enacted since 1876 have had profound effects on Aboriginals in Canada, such as residential schools and the banning of traditional ceremonies.

What are the students wondering about how Aboriginal people have been affected by government policy?


Video Guidelines:

Before viewing the video, students need to understand the meaning of the following terms.

Key vocabulary to discuss: attorney, crux, enfranchise, insurgents, matrilineal, patrilineal, prohibition, relocation, sanction, vehicle (Definitions)

Students watch the following video and track their thinking using the Graphic Organizer. Students should try to identify some key effects and implications of federal policy on the Sinixt Nation.

Reminder: It is important to stop throughout the story and give students (A/B partners) opportunity to talk or respond to the story.


Federal Policy Video

Click above to view video 

Having viewed the video above, students need to share their ideas from the video Graphic Organizer (A/B partner recommended). Have student pairs share their main ideas and generate a list of ideas and evidence on the board or overhead. Teacher leads class discussion on the significance of the ideas generated (and those not generated) and how they impact Aboriginal people.

In preparation for the class debate, students need to identify key points on both the Government and Aboriginal sides of the debate question:

“Be it resolved that government policy and legislation should be for the good of the many even at the expense of the few.”

Using a Debate Planning Sheet, students list key debate points with supporting information.

For information on the Aboriginal Side of the debate, a number of Grade 10
school textbooks contain information on the 1867 Indian Act. Two references available are the following:

Francis, D., Garrod, S., Hobson, J., Smith, G., Smith, J. (1998). Canadian Issues – A Contemporary Perspective (p. 274). Toronto: Oxford University Press Canada.

      • Teachers print and distribute the page from the textbook. Allow 5 mins for students to read the text page and then conduct a class discussion on how the 1969 White Paper negatively affected Canadian Aboriginal populations.


Nelson, N., & Silvey, D. (1999). From Time Immemorial: Teacher’s Guide (p. D207-D212). Gabriola, B.C.: Pacific Edge Publishing Ltd.

    • In this reference, the authors have taken the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and compared it line by line how Canadian Federal Policy has impacted the rights of Canadian Aboriginal populations. In student A/B partner groups, students read the information, highlighting evidence how Aboriginal populations have been affected by federal policy. Once completed, student partner groups report out and add to the class information list for the debate.

For information on the Government side of the debate, again, a number of Grade 10 textbooks contain information on the 1876 Indian Act. Students can research the Indian Act using their class texts or use the following references as a source of information. Students separate into groups of four, with each student selecting one section to read and report back to their small group. Students should look for reasons the Canadian government implemented the specific policies on the Aboriginal populations. As in the previous exercise, student groups report out to the entire class and add to the information list for the debate.



Using the information collected in the previous section, students conduct a structured debate around the statement:

“Be it resolved that government policy and legislation should be for the good of the many even at the expense of the few.”

Using a Canadian Aboriginal population (ie. Sinixt Nation) as a basis for discussion, teachers can use a formal debate structure where one group of students takes the side of the government and the second group takes the side of an Aboriginal population. For a formal example of a class debate process, please view the following link on using Academic Controversy in the classroom.

(Note: Conducting a structured debate in class can be very involved and needs a degree of practice in debate process – ie. active listening, accepting the ideas of others, disagreeing in an agreeable way. Practising some simple debates before conducting this lesson would be an asset if one is unfamiliar with the process.)

Depending on class size, teachers can split the class into groups of four/five students to establish teams that are either for or against the debate question. Using the completed Debate Planning sheet as a reference, teams take ten minutes to prepare their arguments and then start the debate process. Teachers should give ten/twenty minutes for student teams to state and defend their positions. Once the first round of the debate is completed, student teams should switch their positions to take the opposite side of the debate question and repeat the process.

For evaluation, teachers can evaluate the students’ Debate Planning sheet for content and the quality of the students’ participation in the debate process.

(Note: In this debate activity, it may be difficult for student groups to argue FOR the debate question as the reasons for implementing the 1876 Indian Act were predicated on very racist and Euro-centric ideals. Therefore, a general class discussion on the Indian Act and its origins would be another alternative to a formal class debate.)


Upon completion of the debate, students complete a Debate Reflection Sheet to reflect on what they liked/disliked about the debate process and how their thinking towards Federal Government policy and the Sinixt people has changed.

Extend learning or next lesson

Write a research essay identifying how other ancient global societies became ‘extinct’ or experienced severe population decline. (ie. Aztecs, Incas, Mayans)