Topic: Education

12 Reasons to Learn Coding at School

Should we be talking about coding or programming in schools? 

The idea of teaching coding in school has generated unprecedented interest around the globe, with studies indicating that it is critically important, both educationally and socially, for students to learn how to code or program starting in Kindergarten. According to numerous research projects, the reason behind this is not simply to create a pool of skilled programmers to meet the needs of the job market; in fact, learning to code also enables children to use digital technology to develop their creativity. Furthermore, it helps students in our technology-based society to move from the role of ‘consumer’ to that of a ‘creator.’ In addition, students learn to develop algorithmic thinking which enables them to better understand, interpret, and assess the impact of such thinking on their lives. Some will even go on to take part in developing and guiding the use of algorithms in the world of the future. Coding also trains children to become independent citizens in a world where technology is ubiquitous. Finally, learning to code helps students better understand one aspect of the digital world in which we live and, in some ways, become better prepared for it. In short, this is why coding in school is important. Learning some coding basics at school now appears to be necessary to function in an increasingly digital world. 

The first thing to understand is that, for many years, there was no debate about the meaning of the verb “to program,” which means telling a machine, software program or Web page what to do – a feat that is accomplished invisibly by the mobile phones, computers and social media we use every day. Back then, only programmers knew how to program. However, with the growing popularity of digital technology in society as a whole and in schools, many individuals—some novices and some self-taught – began coding and calling themselves coders.

1. The first distinction to make between coding and programming is that, generally speaking, coders have no formal training in computer science. Coders are usually novices who learned coding on their own, or in elementary or high school. Job postings do not advertise for coders, they advertise for programmers

2. The second distinction that can be drawn between these terms is that coding is more closely associated with games and school (elementary or high school). Coding is fun; one often learns to do it at school or independently; one can code without being a real programmer; and one usually learns to code using applications designed for beginners, like Scratch Jr, Scratch, Swift Playground or Code Studio. 

Coding is thus the term more often used in schools. It appears less formal and more fun than programming, which could be seen as a more advanced, formal stage of this activity. 

Learning how to code: what are the key benefits for students? 

Research shows that teaching computer coding starting in Kindergarten generates many benefits for students. Here are 12 key benefits of learning to code at school: 


Generally speaking, it’s simple for any teacher or educator to reap the benefits of coding thanks to the availability of easy-to-use tools and applications. Here are a few examples of websites and applications for learning or teaching coding at school: 

11 Extraordinary Apps That Will Help You Teach Your Students How To Code is a non-profit dedicated to expanding access to computer science in schools and increasing participation by women and underrepresented minorities.

Kidscodejeunesse is  Canadian, bilingual, not-for-profit organization determined to give every Canadian child access to digital skills education, with a focus on girls and underserved communities.

Elbow River Camp, a stepping stone to understanding

“Camp life here, it’s interesting. The kids, the people – they get a taste of what life used to be,” expressed Siksika’kowan Hutch Sitting Eagle, the owner of the 2019 Elbow River Camp’s ‘Best Tipi’. It’s yellow, green, red, and brown, and six white dots are painted on the smoke ears in order to protect and honour the tribes children. As we talk, we face the poles of his tipi, which have already been tied up to a long trailer, hitched to a truck, and are about to make their journey back east to Siksika Nation. 

“We have an opportunity here to grow, and to teach our children,” Sitting Eagle said. “We have the opportunity to show these children, and not to use what has happened to us in the past as a crutch. When we went through residential school, it was an awful time, yes. We use that to get stronger. We use that to get better. We don’t say ‘okay, I’m like this because of that’. No. We say: ‘I’m gonna’ be a better person for my children so that I can be a better leader for them so that they know how to live in this day and age, and they know how to grow in the fast-growing global culture.”

Many Blackfoot, Dene, and Stoney youth come to this camp when seeking to understand their tribes history. Just sitting in the setting of an old tipi camp circle is so important. The camp has this essence generated from all of the families at the camp that sleep in their tipi’s for the 10 days. They adorn their tipi’s with pine, cedar, sage, mint, or sweetgrass to wash away negative energy. Inside, a home is made. Beds, big and small, encircle ashen firepits. A place of conversation, of night-time teachings. This place is an all around sanctuary that stirs blood memory, reminiscent of a time long ago. 

“For me, I love coming to the Stampede, don’t get me wrong, but what I love more is once I’m done here I get to go to my Sun Dance,” Sitting Eagle is talking about the Siksika Sun Dance at the end of July. After inviting me, an opportunity I most definitely accepted, he smiles and says: “Stampede is just a stepping stone for some of our children, and in the end they get to go to the Sun Dance and see what a real camp is like.” Every year, so many youth experience the Elbow River Camp and “say: ‘well, I was at the Stampede. Now I want to really learn’.”

The Stampede’s First Nation Princess, Astokomii (meaning ‘Calling Thunder’ or ‘Voice of Thunder’ in Blackfoot) Smith expresses that she sunk more into herself during the Stampede, and gained more confidence during her reign. “I used to be very scared to speak in front of a crowd, but the other day I spoke in front of over 20,000 people, and I wasn’t nervous at all.” She averaged 12-15 events per-day, working about 16 hours for each of the 10 days. 

Another youth, Lucas Healy, worked at the camp as a Junior Interpreter, working everyday 10am til 4pm. “It was a great experience working with my people and getting to know more about my culture,” he says. “Now-a-days you don’t really get to have that kind of environment around as much.” We really don’t here in Calgary. Setting up a tipi here can easily be mistaken for a protest. So the Elbow River Camp is a welcome opportunity to put such misconceptions to rest.

“Our purpose here is to share who we are so that people from around the world know who we are,” says Sitting Eagle. “To respect that we were here first. To respect that we are real. You don’t have to go to a museum to see us. We’re here. We’re a living culture. We haven’t died. Our language isn’t gone, it’s just been put away for a while. Our culture isn’t gone, it’s been put away.” 

The Treaty 7 tribes include the Blackfoot Confederacy, comprised of the Siksika, Piikani, and Kainai nation; the Sioux, who reside around the gateway to the Mountains – Stoney Nakoda; the Dene, whose Tsuu’Tina Nation lays on the outer curve of Calgary. Coming together as the ever representative Elbow River Camp, these tribes teach the public of the oldest human culture/history/knowledge/interpretation/essence of these prairies, foothills, mountains, and rivers. 

Experiencing the Elbow River Camp is a great stepping stone to true understanding. The next steps are taken when we seize opportunities like sleeping in a tipi, going to a Sweat Lodge, experiencing a Sun Dance, attending a Pow-wow, reading about First Nations history, listening to an elder speak, learning a/your tribes language, or even simply taking a hike through nature. Take that step, it’s so important. 

Honouring Dr. Emily Faries In Light of Her Retirement

Dr. Emily Faries

Dr. Faries is an Associate Professor within the University of Sudbury Indigenous Studies Department, and has been at the institution since 1995. She is retiring at the end of June 2019. Her contributions have been numerous over this time period, and her dedication to Indigenous education deserves to be honoured. 

At the University of Sudbury, Dr. Faries was a key player in the James Bay project, which helped bring postsecondary education on site, to some of the James Bay Coast communities. She helped build the community support for the project leading up to the first course offered. She taught many of those on-site courses, despite all the travel involved. Her great dedication could be seen by actions such as providing extra help for students on Sundays and helping them with their bursary applications. She knew how to hold students to a high standard and, as a gifted teacher, helped every student reach new heights.

Dr. Faries is a quiet, undemonstrative person in most of her interactions – but very passionate when it comes to education of Indigenous people. Many students, both in Sudbury and James Bay, have expressed great appreciation for Dr. Faries. She has had a great impact not only within the University of Sudbury community, but on a larger scale, as demonstrated by her Indspire National Aboriginal Achievement Award, to name one of her accomplishments. 

We wholeheartedly thank Dr. Emily Faries for all she has done for University of Sudbury students, and wish her all the very best in the next steps of her journey.

Here’s your degree, what next?

Shelly Moore-Frappier
Photos courtesy of Laurentian

Students Encouraged to Utilize Indigenous Resources Post-Graduation

As college students prepare for graduation, the future can often seem uncertain, if not ominous.

Colleges and universities across Canada are trying to subvert those fears by providing employment guidance and preparing them mentally for the transition from dorms to the eight hour workday.

Universities Canada reported in 2017 that within its 96 member schools, 86 per cent provided support systems specifically for Indigenous students. Those included peer mentorships and academic counselling.

Over one-third of the member schools had transition programs for their students.

Shelly Moore-Frappier is director of the Indigenous Sharing and Learning Centre at Laurentian University in Sudbury, which opened in 2017. She says around 1100 students identify as Indigenous at Laurentian, which houses one of the oldest Indigenous Studies programs in the country.

Moore-Frappier says it’s important for students to remember that as they prepare for graduation, the support systems don’t stop. They offer opportunities such as career fairs, resume writing, and one-on-one transition work.

It can be intimidating for students to enter into the workforce after college, and Moore-Frappier says Indigenous students especially have hurdles to overcome as they graduate.

Her advice? It comes down to relationships.

“I think that students who use our center have a strong relationship with many, or sometimes one or two people in the center, which can really help them in finding careers because number one, it’s networking,” she says. “Number two, it’s about that sense of support, that cheerleader on their side.”

Photos courtesy of Laurentian

Provincial and Federal Programs Reach Out To Youth

Indigenous Services Canada provides several programs for youth entering the workforce. They invested around $100 million over three years, starting in 2017, for their First Nations and Inuit Skills Link and Summer Work Experience programs.

The Skills Link Program is available to Indigenous youth, from 15 to 30 years old, enter the labour market, develop “employability skills” such as problem-solving and teamwork, as well as giving wage subsidies for work experience or mentorships.

Many provinces provide direct support for Indigenous peoples.

Manitoba developed employment “action plans” over the years, developed with Indigenous people and educational stakeholders. Their 2008-2011 action plan, titled Bridging Two Worlds, works to educate, train, and employ Indigenous peoples. Their goal was to provide “meaningful participation” in the labour market, increasing the province’s representation in the workforce, with a specific focus on youth employment.

Millennial Skills Put To Work

The computer skills that are inherent in college-aged youth can come in extremely handy.

Employers have recognized the growing demographic of Indigenous youth and create specific digital opportunities.

Job boards such as Aboriginal Job Board and Careers Indigenous Link showcase job opportunities across the country, searchable by trade and location.

Schools also encourage students to stay connected as alumni, even if they’ve found work after graduation. The University of British Columbia provides an entire alumni resource guide on their site, including a LinkedIn group, involvement opportunities, and alumni perks.

Moore-Frappier says her centre often posts to social media for job opportunities. She says it’s important that if students begin to doubt themselves and their abilities, places like Indigenous students centres can help them navigate that mental transition.

“Don’t be afraid to reach out to your student centers, even if you don’t have a relationship with them,” she advises. “You can reach back and say, oh I need help finding a job, or they can tweak their interviewing skills, their resume. All those things we’re here to support and help them be successful.”

Indigenous Ingenuity wins a Major Award from the Canadian Association of Science Centres

Montreal – On Friday, May 10, in Halifax, the Canadian Association of Science Centres held their annual CASCADE Awards Gala. The Montréal Science Centre was awarded Best Exhibition or Show – Large Institution for Indigenous Ingenuity.

A success in more ways than one

The Indigenous Ingenuity exhibition is an interactive quest exploring innovations created by Indigenous Peoples across Canada. Launched in 2017, during the celebration of Montreal’s 375th anniversary and Canada’s 150th, the exhibition was a tremendous box office success – so much so that it was remounted in 2018-19 after touring to British Columbia. In total, it enabled more than 250,000 visitors to discover the ingenuity of our First Peoples. “One of our goals was to foster a sense of pride in our Indigenous visitors and to build bridges between cultures. We now can claim: mission accomplished!” said Cybèle Robichaud, Director of Programming at the Montréal Science Centre.

The fruit of a rigorous collaborative process

The success of Indigenous Ingenuity can be attributed in great part to a collaborative process with members of Indigenous Nations  who were involved in every stage of the development of the exhibition. In addition, representative Indigenous people were featured at the heart of the interactive quest: Elisabeth Kaine, Jacques Kurtness, Monique Manatch and Marie-Josée Parent, to name a few.

Indigenous Ingenuity was realized with the financial support of several organizations, including the Science Centre Foundation, Canada Lands Company, the Government of Quebec, the Society for the Celebrations of Montréal’s 375th, and Canada 150.

About the Montréal Science Centre

The Montréal Science Centre is a complex dedicated to science and technology, with more than 700,000 visitors annually. It is characterized by its accessible, interactive approach and its showcasing of local innovation and know-how. Its partners are Volvo, TELUS, La Presse+, Rhythm 105.7, 92.5 The Beat, 96.9 CKOI and 98.5.

The Art of the Weld

When you think of art forms, welding is not a medium that comes to mind. The work of Ralph Courtorielle creates a compelling argument for its inclusion. A journeyman welder, Ralph completed his welding training at Northern Lakes College and is currently teaching Pre-Employment Welding at the College.

Ralph had been working in the trades for over ten years, doing the work but not getting the wage he would as a journeyman welder, compelling him to enrol in the First Period of Welder Apprenticeship at Northern Lakes College. Welders work in diverse fields including oil, gas, or mills, and there are many opportunities to be self-employed. Though now a journeyman welder with a Red Seal designation, a national certification that allows him to weld throughout Canada, Ralph is a perpetual student and continues to learn. “Every year there is something new or more efficient in the field of welding, and I find this interesting,” he observes.

This love of learning has translated into a passion for teaching. Ralph takes great pleasure in passing on what he has learned. He considers himself a mentor, not only teaching the technical aspects of welding that lead to employment, but also the artistic aspects of the trade.

“I think the reason that I am connecting so well with the pre-employment students is that I am a product of pre-employment training myself. When I first picked up the welder, it was as though I was meant to do it. I want to show students that, though welding can be taxing on your body and physically demanding, there is a lot of room for the creative. It is not all hard work; there is fun involved.” Ralph enjoys turning a flat sheet of metal into something useful or beautiful.

For those, such as Ralph, with an artistic gift, welding can also be a creative outlet. When he and his family were unable to find a headstone they liked for his mother’s grave, Ralph donned his welding mask and gloves. He lovingly created a custom headstone, incorporating meaningful aspects of Indigenous culture and spiritual beliefs, to honour his mother’s life.

Originally from Grouard and now living in High Prairie, Ralph is married and the father of three sons. He enjoys playing baseball and spending time with family. Over the last few years, he has played in baseball tournaments all over Alberta and has gone to national championships as far away as Montréal.

Ralph reminisces about his time studying at NLC and the support he received from his instructors. “Passing the red seal journeyman exam was harder than anticipated. The College instructors provided us with excellent exam preparation and review in class. Instructor Chris Montgomery-Hewett was very thorough and drove home the details like the safety aspects and the math that is involved in welding. Jeff VanWyck and Jody Rees both helped me along with welds for my third year exams, in particular stick welding.”

With his artistic approach to welding, don’t be surprised if you see his work featured in an exhibition at some point. Until then, he will continue to pass on his passion for the trade to up-and-coming welders.

Bringing Trades to the People

Photos by Kassandre Jolin at Canadore College

Trades programs are coming to Indigenous people in unique ways, from unions and workers associations, to mobile schools and government outreach.

Alternative education to postsecondary institutions can be vital to gaining employment. According to Statistics Canada, Aboriginal people who completed postsecondary education had an employment rate of over 75%, but those with less than high school were at a rate of just over 40%.

The Indigenous population is the fastest growing in Canada – and that translates into more need of representation in the workforce. Over the next decade, of those aged 25-64, the Indigenous labour force will grow four times more than those who aren’t Indigenous.

Skilled trades and apprenticeships are becoming more tailored to Indigenous communities. Some outreach programs are literally coming to their doorsteps.

The Nicola Valley Institute of Technology has two campuses in Merritt and Vancouver, but it offers a third option for learning. Their Bridging to Trades program brings two 53’ mobile trailers around the province for a 12-week, pre-foundational training in one of four trades.

The idea is to introduce skills in electrical work, plumbing/pipefitting, machining, and welding before a student decides if they want to continue on that path and go to a trade school.

Dr. John Chenoweth, Associate Vice-President, says the program has been going strong for 10 years. They’ve visited around 45 to 50 communities around the province and complete 60 hours in each trade, plus 60 hours of employment readiness.

“The biggest things we want to achieve out of this, is a lot of these students probably haven’t graduated from high school,” he says. “They probably don’t have a thought in their mind that they have the ability to do those things.”

Chenoweth says one of the neat things about the program is that some of their instructors also haven’t finished high school, but they have 30 to 40 years in successful careers as tradespeople.

He says even the students who don’t end up going into the trades still come out of the program with skills and a confidence they didn’t have before.

“One of the most positive things we see is students say, yeah, I’ve learned that I don’t want to be a tradesperson, but I didn’t realize I was such a good student at math. Maybe I want to go into business, or get my grade 12 and become a teacher,” he says. “It’s almost like an awakening program for students who feel like, I can do anything. That’s what that program does, ultimately.”

Working on a shed
Photos by Kassandre Jolin at Canadore College


In 2016, Canadore College in North Bay, Ontario announced its Aboriginal Women in the Trades program. Women will participate for 12 weeks and learn on of four trades: electrical, plumbing, construction, or carpentry.

The program is unique: tuition is free. The Ontario Poverty Reduction Fund partnered with community members so women receive training, materials, and bus passes to remove any barriers to participating.

The certificate program has a cultural foundation, using holistic approaches to learning and academic support.

Judy Manitowabi, Manager of the First Peoples’ Centre at Canadore, said that increasing these women’s capacity for skilled labour lays a positive foundation for growth in Indigenous communities

“This is intended to be an introduction to help women find the path best suited to them,” she said in a school statement. “Upon completion, they will have basic skills to rely upon, but they will also be qualified to further their education in the skilled trades at the postsecondary or apprenticeship level.”

Photos by John Chenoweth at NVIT


The Government of Canada has also invested in making trades programs more accessible to Indigenous people. Last month, the government announced funding for Indigenous apprenticeships in New Brunswick. More than one million dollars will be provided to MAP Strategic Workforce Services (MAPSWS) for its First in Trades Program.

MAPSWS will open up 18 to 20 Indigenous apprenticeships positions within 14 unions of the New Brunswick Building Trades Unions.

In Alberta, the Flexibility and Innovation in Apprenticeship Technical Training (FIATT) program funded a welding program in partnership with Red Deer College and the Montana First Nation. Starting in 2018, it will teach 50 Indigenous apprentices from rural communities to become certified welders.

Rhonda Stangeland, Project Coordinator of FIATT at Red Deer College, said the partnership has allowed students to explore new career pathways.

“The project combined the use of a redesigned curriculum delivery model and learning technologies to prepare 50 Aboriginal learners for a career in welding,” she said in a press statement. “Now many of them have completed their technical training and are on their way to finding jobs in their chosen trades.”

Photos by John Chenoweth at NVIT

UBC Pre-med Workshops Taking Applicants

Staff/Faculty Members with Indigenous MD Graduates, Class of 2018

One eight-word phrase that no person likes hearing is, “You should really see a doctor about that.” But when we do hear it, we’re thankful there are medical professionals to help us. Young Indigenous people interested in becoming a doctor should mark their calendar for July 24-26. This is when the Faculty of Medicine at the University of British Columbia (UBC), will hold its 16th Annual Indigenous MD Pre-Admissions Workshop.

One eight-word phrase that no person likes hearing is, “You should really see a doctor about that.” But when we do hear it, we’re thankful there are medical professionals to help us. Young Indigenous people interested in becoming a doctor should mark their calendar for July 24-26. This is when the Faculty of Medicine at the University of British Columbia (UBC), will hold its 16th Annual Indigenous MD Pre-Admissions Workshop.

James Andrew is the UBC MD undergraduate admissions coordinator. He spoke with First Nations Drum about how the workshop evolved the last 16 years. “When we first started out, we delivered our pre-admissions workshop only at the UBC campus in Vancouver. We now deliver the workshop at each of our program sites every other year,” said Andrew. “For example, last summer’s workshop was held at our Island Medical Program site in Victoria. Next year’s workshop will be at the Southern Medical Program in Kelowna.”

Since the workshop began, Andrew said they are noticing that many med students who attended as pre-med students are participating as chaperons and role models for workshop participants. On workshop focus points, Andrew said, “Students get a preview of the medical school curriculum and visit the multi-purpose lab like medical school students. They also try to help solve a case in a case-based learning session like the real medical students experience.”

First Nations Drum asked Andrew if there’s been a high level of interest by high school students and if these students followed-up and continued on their path to working in the medical field? “Yes, definitely. When we first started our workshop in 2004, we were only targeting the Indigenous post-secondary students. As time went on, we noticed several high school students showing interest in attending,” said Andrew. “In 2010, we decided to open up four spots for high school students completing Grades 11 and 12.”

The workshop takes place at the Vancouver Fraser Medical Program at the University of British Columbia’s Point Grey Campus, Vancouver BC. The purpose of the workshop is to provide Indigenous students with the necessary tools to be successful in their application process into and then completing the undergraduate MD program. Workshop presentations will be given by Indigenous and non-Indigenous physicians, medical students, residents, university staff, and faculty members.

Indigenous Students completing Grades 11 and 12 or attending college or university in BC are encouraged to register. There is no cost to attend, and accommodations and some meals will be provided. Travel to and from the workshop is the student’s responsibility.

Quotes from previous workshop participants:

“I enjoyed myself at UNBC; everyone involved in putting the pre-med workshop did an excellent job. See you in three years.”

“I am going to be a doctor!” – One of the program’s first graduating students from 2008 who is now a family physician in Northern Alberta.

“This was a life changing experience for me. You all helped me to feel proud, hopeful, and most importantly, wanted by the program and UBC. The respect and love I experienced from everyone was truly moving. I hope to do you all proud and bring honour to my family and the Métis Nation. Thank you.” – Class of 2009 student who is now an ear-nose-throat specialist.

Participants will meet current Indigenous medical students and practicing Indigenous physicians.

Program space is limited. Apply ASAP. Registration deadline is Friday June 21.

Northern Lakes College Collaboration Results in Creation of the Atoske Community Educational Health Lab

In October 2018, the Atoske Action Group (AAG) and Northern Lakes College (NLC) celebrated the grand opening of the Atoske Community Educational Health Lab located at the Northern Lakes College campus in Wabasca. This was made possible when AAG received a contribution of $450,000 from the Government of Canada through Western Economic Diversification Canada to train community members who want to pursue health careers. AAG dedicates its work to increasing the skills, abilities, and size of the local work forces within its communities, which include Bigstone Cree Nation, Chipewyan Lake, the MD of Opportunity, Peerless Trout First Nation, Sandy Lake, and Wabasca-Desmarais. “Atoske” is the Cree word meaning, “to work”.

In 2015, The Bigstone Health Commission reached out to the AAG to assist in promoting health careers to community members. Roundtable meetings between AAG, Alberta Works, Bigstone Education Authority, and NLC resulted in the development of a plan that supports community members to pursue Health Care Aide training.  

The Honourable Navdeep Bains, Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development and Minister responsible for Western Economic Diversification Canada comments, “Access to local community training programs creates new opportunities for life. Through effective partnerships with Indigenous Peoples, the Government of Canada is helping to remove barriers to success by ensuring local citizens are able to obtain the skills they require to fully participate in the economy and strengthen their communities.”

Art Bigstone, Chair of AAG comments, “A crucial aspect of the Atoske Action Group vision is to provide meaningful and accessible training through key partnerships. The Atoske Community Educational Health Lab and its associated programming are only possible because of the partnership between the Atoske Action Group, Bigstone Cree Nation, the M.D. of Opportunity, the Western Diversification Program, and Northern Lakes College.”

“Educating local residents in the health professions will be a real asset to the MD of Opportunity when we open our seniors’ health facility in the fall of 2019,” enthuses Reeve Marcel Auger, MD of Opportunity No. 17.

NLC President and CEO Ann Everatt says, “The College’s ongoing commitment to access and quality results in the reduction of educational barriers faced by northcentral Albertan’s. The Atoske Community Educational Health Lab ensures that community members will have access to the lab experiences required for the Health Care Aide program right here in the community. As a part of the larger initiative to increase capacity for Health Care Aides in the community, the creation of the customized Health Preparation Program ensures that local students receive the educational preparation required to enter into the Health Care Aide program.”

The Complicated History of Hereditary Chiefs and Elected Councils

Douglas Sanderson | University of Toronto Faculty of Law

Douglas Sanderson | University of Toronto Faculty of Law

The recent internal struggles between the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs and elected council has many wondering: what powers rest with whom?

The Wet’suwet’en nation is made up of five clans, and within those, 13 houses. The five hereditary chiefs representing the clans are all opposed to the Coastal GasLink pipeline running through their territory, while the elected council gave their go-ahead.

Elected chiefs and council generally hold authority over reserve lands and their infrastructure. Traditional chiefs oversee the territories and hold ceremonial and historical importance to First Nations.

Electoral systems are a result of the section 74 of the Indian Act, imposed upon First Nations by Canada. It was designed to eradicate the hereditary system and create something more recognizable for the western government.

Gina Starblanket, who is Cree and Saulteaux and a member of the Star Blanket Cree Nation in Treaty 4 territory in Saskatchewan, is an assistant professor in Indigenous Politics at the University of Calgary.  

She says that hereditary chiefs hold a symbolic role as well as a practical one. She acknowledges that it becomes particularly complicated when the question arises of who represents the nation’s voice in external relations, as in the Wet’suwet’en case.

“Hereditary chiefs are often recognized as traditional knowledge keepers, and in some contexts are recognized as having greater authority and rights relative to things like traditional territory or cultural knowledge and tradition,” she says. “But again, this varies from community to community and is also contested within communities.”

When it comes to where the authority lies, the answer is complex. The pipeline has just magnified the continual question of who controls what.

In a media release from the Wet’sewet’en, Chief Na’moks emphasized their rights to protection of their lands.

“The Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs have maintained their use and occupancy of their lands and hereditary governance system for thousands of years. Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs are the Title Holders and maintain authority and jurisdiction to make decisions on unceded lands,” it said.

Chief Kloum Kuhn said the hereditary chiefs will never support the Coastal GasLink project.

“Under ‘Anuc niwh’it’en, Wet’suwet’en rule of law, all five clans of the Wet’suwet’en have unanimously opposed all pipeline proposals and given no authority to Coastal Gaslink/TransCanada to do work on Wet’suwet’en lands,” he said.


Douglas Sanderson (Amo Binashii), a member of the Opaskwayak Cree Nation, is a professor at the Faculty of Law at the University of Toronto.

He says the answer is more an amalgamation of the hereditary and the elected systems, especially when it comes to working with those outside the community.

“I think what we need to do is find a way to bring these two things together, so that you just have a decision making body,” Sanderson says. “The problem is created because outsiders don’t understand our communities. They’ve never been there, they don’t know how to operate.”

He says it’s integral that companies like the Coastal GasLink pipeline know the communities they’re working with, and that the confrontation should have been obvious if they had met with the Wet’suwet’en.

“They obviously didn’t spend any time there,” Sanderson says. “So they shouldn’t be surprised that this is unraveling in the way that it is.”


The proposed Coastal GasLink pipeline will run through 20 First Nations’ territories and the company received approval from all of them, although they sought assent only from elected officials. Some hereditary leaders also gave the thumbs up, but ultimately the go-ahead came from signed agreements with elected officials.

The reactions were mixed, but public opinion seemed to strongly sway toward supporting the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs. Protests and rallies were held across Canada. Celebrities and musicians across North America voiced their support. Hereditary chiefs and elected council members from other bands wrote letters of encouragement.

Starblanket says this example of the clash between elected and hereditary leadership illustrates the problematic nature of electoral process.

“In many instances where those electoral systems were imposed, that was in an assimilatory process that was intended to undermine traditional leadership,” she says. “It also allowed for the imposition of patriarchal processes because it denied women’s jurisdiction and participation in selecting leaders.”

She emphasizes that she is from the prairie communities and doesn’t want to speak on behalf of the coastal communities.

“These electoral processes were imposed on all of us,” Starblanket says. “But also traditionally, they looked very different.”

Gordon Christie agrees on the fluctuations within Indigenous groups. He’s Inuvialuit and a professor at the Allard School of Law at the University of British Columbia, who studies Aboriginal rights.

“It can be variable, depending on the community or nation,” Christie says. “You’re talking about many First Nations communities that have resisted the imposition of band councils since day one, and they continue to today. Others resisted in the early stages, but then became comfortable with the band council system.”

He says there are First Nations that are comfortable with the band council system because that’s what they have known for generations.

“You’ve got a whole range of different histories. You have to go to each nation and find out what their story is,” he says.


Christie say the 1920s were a turning point for First Nations communities in Canada, when the country put its foot down, making it illegal to litigate and shut down a lot of legal outlets for Indigenous communities.

“That was a time of strong resistance,” Christie says. “Canada’s response was to get more harsh in its position, and in some communities, it moved in and physically removed the old hereditary system and put in place the band council system.”

For now, he agrees with the hereditary chiefs.

“For the Wet’suwet’en, you have the houses and the clans,” he says. “It makes complete sense to say that they have legal authority over their house territories.”