Significance of historical events

What is significant?
Decide what makes an event significant to people (criteria for significance). Use personal examples, if needed, to help students identify relevant criteria. For example, share examples of events that help illustrate relevant criteria (e.g.., long versus short-lived impact, exhibit great harm or great benefit, number of people affected—individual versus all or most of a cultural group). Ask students if and why the events are/not important. Record their responses, which can serve as an evolving list of criteria to guide their evaluations of significance of events.

For example, criteria for determining the significance of an event include:
Effects were/are long lasting
Effects touch many people
Event is associated with great harm or great benefit
Effects would not happen without this event
Connect to students’ lives.
After modeling and guided practice, invite students to work with a partner to apply their criteria by testing events that have personal relevance (student generated) for degree of fit with their criteria. (e.g., actions that harm your personal belongings, tease you or someone you care about, help you in some way, save one life; save many lives; that make you feel members of your family, class, or community are bad and need to be fixed—your language, protocols, dress, ways of learning, stories, and ways of meeting needs and wants). Invite students to share their responses and reflect on insights they gained, if any, from the activity.

Application to the Nisga’a totems
Use criteria to evaluate the significance of the loss of the totems to the Nisga’a ways of being (strong, moderate, weak). Explain your conclusion by providing support to show how strong the event you selected reflects criteria for significance. See samples below.
The instructor might use similar but different samples to a) model expectations, and b) use for guided practice prior to independent application. For example:

Significance of Historical Events Chart

This example is for clarification for the instructor of one possible response:

Chart illustrating possible response for Significance of Historical Events Exercise

Reason for conclusion of the overall strong significance of the ruination of the totems on the Nisga’a ways of life: The ruination of the totems had significant impact on Nisga’a ways of life because the totems were artifacts that provided a means of communication about lineage, contracts, commemorating someone special or a memorable event, boundary markers, symbolizing welcome, artistic expression--a way to preserve symbols and ideas that were and still are valued. Without totems, the main concrete record of their history, the Nisga’a lost part of their cultural past and even today are still recovering/rediscovering a sense of their past. The loss of the totems affects all Nisga’a, other First Nations groups, and the larger society—most of whom are just now learning about the enormity of the injustices that were done.

Relative Significance of Events: After discussion to motivate students, teacher modeling and guided practice, invite students to work independently alone, with a partner, or in small groups to address the following:
Getting informed. Focus on 3 events: 1) ruination or removal of totems during Christian revival; 2) banning of events that were part of Nisga’a feasts; 3) residential schools.
Use documents/artifacts on this website and beyond, and your prior knowledge, to inform you about these events. It may help if you use a graphic organizer to record what you learn about the 3 events so the information is easier to see and analyse.

Evaluating fit of each event with criteria for significance. Build on what you learned to help you test each event for strength of fit with each of your criteria for significance (weak, moderate, strong). It might help to use a chart to record your evaluations.

Relative significance. Now decide which event, if any, you think had more significant impact for the Nisga’a ways of life.
Suggestion: Compare 2 events at a time. Decide which of the 2, if any, you think had more significant impact on the Nisga’a ways of life. Now compare this event with the third event. It may help to assign points: 3 points for a strong fit, 2 points for a moderate fit; 1 point for a weak fit. Add the scores for each event across all relevant criteria to obtain a total score.

Missing criteria? You may find that in spite of your evaluation scores, you want to choose an event with a lower score as more significant. If so, ask why you think it is stronger in significance. Your reason may represent a criterion you had not initially identified. If so, add it to your list of criteria and apply it to each event to see if it impacts your decision about which of the 3 events had potential for the most significant impact.

Making and supporting your decision. Decide which of the 3 events, if any, you think had the most significant impact on the Nisga’a ways of life. Use what you learned about the 3 events to help you support your conclusion. If you decide that all events are equally strong in significance of impact, use what you have learned to provide compelling support for your decision. Share decisions and reasons.
Reflections. Provide time for students to reflect on and share ideas about:
Understanding how events have and can have significant impact
Developing criteria to help consider the significance of events
Using graphic organizers for recording information and/or evaluating fit with criteria
Using points to represent strength of fit with criteria.
Other potential applications for these tools?
Apply insights learned from these activities to other cultural contexts.
What can we learn from these past events to help support more harmonious relationships among people now and in the future?



First Nations Journeys of Justice (separate volumes for grades K to 7). (teacher’s guides deal with concept of justice from an aboriginal perspective—keeping safe, being responsible, being fair, and getting along)

Shared Learnings: Integrating BC Aboriginal content K-10 (1998). Victoria, BC: Aboriginal Education Initiative, BC Ministry of Education. (Cross-curricular lesson plans, resources, and historical notes).

Marlena Dolan (Editor) (1994). Just Talking About Ourselves, Vol. 1 and Vol. 3 (Vol. 2 out of print). Penticton, BC: Theytus. (Moving poems, short stories, essays, and art by First Nations youths, ages 10 to 21 years, about issues relevant to all First Nations people).

Sylvia Olsen with Rita Morris and Ann Sam (2001). No Time to Say Goodbye: Children’s Stories of Kuper Island Residential School. Victoria, BC: Sono Nis Press. (A fictional, moving account of 5 children inspired by 6 former students of Kuper Island Residential School).

Beverly Slapin and Doris Seale (Editors) (1992). Through Indian Eyes: The Native Experience in Books for Children. Gabriola Island, BC: New Society Publishers. (A collection of powerful poems, short stories, and essays, most by First Nations authors; also includes book reviews, samples to help identify stereotypes, and a list of resources).

Calder, Frank (1993). Nisga'a: People of the Nass River. Vancouver: Douglas and McIntyre.

Rupert Ross (1996). Returning to the Teachings: Exploring Aboriginal Justice. Toronto, Ontario: Penguin Books. (See Chapter 5, Watch your language, for powerful insights into how differences in our uses of language can impact relationships across cultural groups, and contribute to misconceptions in our interpretations of other cultures).

Robin Fisher (1990). Contact and Conflict: Indian-European Relations in British Columbia, 1774-1890. Vancouver, BC: UBC Press. (See Chapter 6, the Missionaries).

Charles Lillard (Editor). Mission to Nootka, 1874-1900: Reminiscences of the West Coast of Vancouver Island. Sidney, BC: Gray’s Publishing. (The personal diary of Father Augustin Joseph Brabant; Lillard notes while it misrepresents known facts, it is important as one eye-witness account among others by religious men who witnessed and contributed to the collapse of various Indian cultures.)

R. Muckles (2007). The First Nations of British Columbia: An Anthropological Survey, Second Edition. Vancouver, BC: UBC Press.


First Nations: The circle unbroken series, Volumes 1-7 (1993-1998). Vancouver, BC: National Film Board. (4 video tapes, 13 programs, and teacher guides). Education as We See It is one program that includes speakers sharing their experiences of residential school)

Nisga’a: Dancing in both world (2007).Vancouver, BC: BC Treaty Commission. 44 minute DVD of the Nisga’a pursuit of the Nisga’a treaty to establish their rights to land and to self-determination.

Shaping the Future: The treaty process in BC; A resource guide for grades 9. 10. and 11 teachers. Resource guide and video. Victoria, BC: Government Publications Services.


David Rattray (member of the Tahltan Nation, long time Secondary School level Aboriginal Counselor in the Peace River North School District, and respected workshop presenter on First Nations Content in the Classroom.
(websites include information about the impact of residential schools and public schools)