Indigenous Agency Timeline

Learning Action: Indigenous Agency Timeline

Please continue to refer to the following sections: Our PhilosophyLearning Actions, and Facilitator Principles.

Framing the Learning Action

The following two Learning Actions are adaptations of the Racism Timeline and focus on the specific, longstanding history of Indigenous peoples' agency, activism, and resistance to imperialism and racism in the territories now overlain by "Canada." These actions are designed to move participants' thinking away from seeing Indigenous peoples as mere victims, from thinking that Indigenous "protest" is a recent or isolated phenomenon, and towards recognition of:

  • The foundational and persistent systemic, legislated racism towards Indigenous Canadians, and

  • The remarkable resiliency and agency of Indigenous communities in maintaining traditional ways of knowing, while subjected to the power and strategies of racism and colonization.

  • The contributions Indigenous peoples have made to "Canada";

  • The ways in which Indigenous communities in Canada have maintained sovereignty, Indigenous ways of knowing and being, and relationships to place/land that may or may not be in direct response to the violent encroachments of colonization. In other words, the maintenance of "tradition" can be adaptive; it can be both contemporary and traditional at the same time.

  • The profoundly generous ways through which Indigenous peoples approach relationships with non-Indigenous peoples.

Moreover, this Learning Action is designed to encourage participants to see and feel more directly how we all participate in the creation of "history." That is, we do not want individuals to disengage or to see themselves as separate from "history." As the facilitator, you know your group/context best; think about how you can invite participants to be involved in the history of racism as well as anti-racist activism in tangible/embodied ways.

The Indigenous Agency Timeline - Introductory Level is highly adaptable for a range of groups. The Indigenous Agency Timeline - Postsecondary Level, which is by no means exhaustive, is much more detailed and may be best suited/adapted for postsecondary-level classrooms. For the first timeline, we have provided links to help you find the correct dates. For the second, we have provided dates as well as the sources used, so that you can engage in further, detailed learning about the specific events and issues (which, in the case of some land rights cases, span decades or even centuries).

Put simply, dates and events will be printed on cards and participants will be asked to match the correct date to the correct event, resulting in a timeline of Indigenous Agency and Resistance. These events—the oppressive legislative acts as well as the forms of Indigenous resistance to them—are not commonly known, discussed, or taught in the mainstream.

This Learning Action generates a great deal of discussion and is highly adaptable to a wide variety of groups, ages, levels of knowledge, and areas of interest, and invites much further opportunities for learning. This Learning Action also works well in conjunction with Fact Quizzes found on this site

Logistics - Things to Consider

General Set-Up:

Typically, the dates and events are printed separately on large pieces of paper/cardboard (which can be laminated for repeated use). Some blank cards are included (see Participants' Contributions). Participants are divided into small groups. The cards can be distributed in one of three ways:

  1. The dates are taped in chronological order around the room or across a wall. Each group is given a set of cards with events printed on them which they must tape beneath the correct date;

  2. Each group is given a set of cards, some with dates and some with events, that match internally within the set, and which they proceed to tape in the appropriate location on the wall;

  3. Each group is given a set of cards, some with dates and some with events, which do not necessarily match internally within the set; they need to discuss these and, moving about the room, work to match dates and events. In this case they may bump into other groups/or dates already "taken."

Minimum Time Required:

As with many Learning Actions provided here, the debriefing/discussion should comprise the vast majority of facilitation time. In other words, be sure to adapt the dates/events/timeline, even to fewer events or a shorter, more concentrated time span, so that you have adequate time to correct the timeline. Inclusive time frame: 45 minutes to 3 hours.

Number of Participants:

This Learning Action is highly adaptable for small and large groups. Smaller groups can be given more questions, and larger groups fewer, for example. Based on our experience we would not recommend groups smaller than 6-8, nor groups larger than 40 (because of the challenges debriefing with large groups).

Age of Participants:

This Learning Action can be effectively adapted for a wide range of age groups from preteens to seniors. In the case of younger participants, you can choose events from a single/current decade; in the case of older participants, you can choose events from a wider range or, for example, a specific period in their lives (e.g., WWII and post-WWII), about which they have specific, and valuable, knowledge and experience.


Considerations of the Space:

  • A space with unfixed seating is ideal, so that participants can shift to work in small groups before posting their answers then create a large circle for debriefing/discussion. The space needs to be large enough for people to comfortably move around the perimeter.

  • The Action as described thus far assumes both physical mobility and visual ability, a preference for the materiality of the cards (something to hold and manipulate), and the visual impact of creating a physical timeline that makes the history of racism more real.

Adaptations to Address Challenges in Physical Ability:

  • In the case of mobility limitations: 1-3 people with no mobility concerns can be designated for collecting/posting the cards. Conversely, everyone can remain in a circle, the dates placed chronologically in order around the circle, and participants pass the events cards to the correct location. This will take longer, be a little louder, etc.

  • In the case of visual limitations: in some cases, computer programs/laptops can assist individuals (though this requires the individual's comfort with the technology); this can impact group dynamics, however. With a mature/older group, you can consider using fewer dates/events and can conduct the Action orally.

  • As well, some groups/contexts may find the use of cards outdated and/or may be more engaged with the Action if it incorporates technology. For example, the Action can be adapted to for use on a SmartBoard, where participants touch the white board to match dates and events.

Ground Rules and Considerations of Risk/Safety 

Establishing ground rules and recognizing the potential risks involved for both facilitator and participants is critically important. Click here to learn more. 

Adaptating the Action

  1. Provide each participant with two blank cards (or blank spaces in the electronic version). Ask them to fill in their year of birth and a significant national/provincial/international event (relating to institutional racism) that happened during their year of birth and include this in the timeline.

  2. As above, but ask them to fill in the year of birth of a parent or family member from a previous generation and as well as a significant event that happened during or around that year.

  3. Provide each participant with a recent date corresponding to an event on the timeline. Ask them to reflect on and note on the card where they were and what they were doing when the event took place. Were they aware of this event at the time? Participants post their cards on the timeline.

  4. As above, but ask participants to reflect on/note on the card what was happening in their home community at that time.

  5. In the spirit of collaborative learning, and if the context of your group allows, engage participants in researching specific events and developing a timeline together. This is very effective in a formal classroom setting (secondary or postsecondary) and incorporates research skills and consideration of the biases of research sources.

  6. Consider using fewer dates and events in order to address time concerns or to allow deeper discussion of individual events and contexts.

  7. Rather than provide a multi-century overview, focus on a particular century or time period. Often, in Canada, white people believe that racism is only located in long-ago history, and not in the 20th century/early 21st century.

  8. Research and develop parallel timelines to demonstrate how racism has operated/operates globally (i.e. racism towards African-Americans and racism towards Indigenous North Americans). Expand (or develop parallel timelines) to include other forms of oppression (such as homophobia and racism) to demonstrate the interconnectedness of different forms of oppression. Play with timelines/structure of "time" as not everyone perceives "time" in the same way, or in the Western, linear "way" (e.g. people of the Blackfoot Nation).

How the Facilitator Participates

In keeping with our philosophy of facilitation, and to demonstrate that these are systemic problems we are addressing, it is important for facilitators to demonstrate that we all have gaps in our knowledge. A collaborative way of doing this is to provide participants the opportunity to share their knowledge of specific events and dates and to "test" the knowledge of the facilitator. Examples:

  • Each group is provided with a "Freebie." Each group can choose one event and the facilitator must guess the corresponding date.

  • Before correcting the timeline dates and discussing/debriefing, each group can provide one date and one event not on the timeline. These are collected and mixed up, and the facilitator tries to match the cards correctly.

Facilitating this Learning Action:

  1. Determine your goals, content, and plan in relation to your group and develop your materials accordingly.

  2. If you have chosen to present/post the dates on the wall(s), do so before your group enters the space.

  3. Do not "give away" the goal of the facilitation (i.e. by saying "today we are going to explore the gaps in our knowledge"); rather, let the group discover their own gaps through the process of the learning Action. You can address the goals/process in the debriefing session.

  4. Organize your group(s). Give them the materials and basic instructions (matching dates and events), the blank cards, tape if needed, and tell them how much time they have. Review the ground rules you have developed for communication in your group.

  5. Begin! Time carefully, keeping in mind that the most important aspect of this Learning Action is the discussion/debriefing.

  6. Mingle throughout the space as the groups work. Do not join a group yourself as this makes you unavailable to answer questions and your presence as the facilitator who knows the correct answers may inhibit discussion within the group.

  7. Stop the group discussion/matching activity and begin correcting errors.

Discussion/Debriefing and Suggestions for Continuing Learning: 

  • Begin the debrief by going through the events and matching them with the appropriate dates. If you have your dates and events taped on the wall, it helps to have a couple of participant volunteers to move the events to the correct dates.

  • When going through the events, facilitators should be prepared to provide a context and/or more detail for many of the events. This requires facilitators researching the events before the session.

  • Either while correcting events and dates or after, facilitators and participants can share how their or their ancestors' history may or may not be connected to the events. Even if participants are not connected directly to events they might share what they or their ancestors were doing during the time of the event. What was their/their ancestors' life like at that time of the event?  

Possible Adaptations

  1. Consider using the Indigenous Agency Timeline in relation to the Racism Timeline in a series of workshops/activities/classes, as appropriate to your community. This would have the advantage of demonstrating the systemic foundations of racism in Canada, the specific foundations and manifestations of racism towards Indigenous Canadians, the specific responses of Indigenous Canadians to specific (often legislated) acts of racism, as well as the cultural specificity of Indigenous communities and ways of knowing.

  2. As with the Racism Timeline, a condensed focus on a particular time period could be selected: the decade the participants were in high school; the decade in which their parents were born, a time period appropriate to the specific subject matter of the course you are teaching, etc. This would allow for more detail and in-depth discussion of particular events/concerns.

  3. Depending on the focus of your group, the history of the agency of another group targeted by racism, or other forms of oppression, could be developed, as could a history of International Actions: Indigenous Australian Agency Timeline, Maori Timeline, Civil Rights Timeline, International Human Rights Timeline, LGBTQ2S Rights Timeline, etc.


Based on our experience, the following are some of the reactions we have experienced/observed in participants; it is useful to be aware of these possible responses:

  • Laughter (Discomfort of participants from not knowing about particular histories)

  • Self-recrimination and shock: "Why didn't I know this?"

  • Distancing of selves from "history" or "past": "I'm not responsible for what happened in the past." "I'm not responsible for what my ancestors did." ( Whiteness )

  • Empowerment for those seeing their histories (finally) represented

  • Individualism and defensiveness: "We all have our own stories and mine is just as important as anyone else's."

  • Reassertion of common myths and stereotypes about Canada. (Canada as a nice, tolerant and multicultural nation)

  • Anger and confusion at feeling overwhelmed by the volume of material 

  • Anger and frustration at what they were not taught, sense of amnesia—they might have learned about a particular event but cannot recall it well

  • Frustration at "negative" view of history

  • The room might feel "heavy" as participants realize that although they are not responsible for the past, they are responsible for their actions in the future


Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada. "Backgrounder - Aboriginal Title in Canada's Courts." Retrieved 9/19/2018
Canadian Geographic. "First Peoples - Treaties." The Canadian Atlas Online.
CBC News - Indigenous.
Government of Canada. "Indigenous Arts, Culture and Heritage." (See  "Kids' Stop" for teaching resources)
Hill, Gord. The 500 Years of Resistance Comic Book. Vancouver: Arsenal Pulp Press, 2010.
Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada. "Map Room."  
Kulchyski, Peter. The Red Indians: An Episodic, Informal Collection of Tales from the History of Aboriginal People's Struggles in Canada.  Arbeiter Ring Publishing, 2007. 
Nunatsiaq News. "ITK Celebrates as European Court Stalls Seal Ban." 19 Aug, 2010.
Sheppard, Michel-Adrien. "10th Anniversary of the1997 Delgamuukw Case on Aboriginal Title." Slaw. 12 Dec, 2007.
The UN. "United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues." (UNPFII).
Wonders, Karen. "First Nations Land Rights and Environmentalism in British Columbia." Retrieved 9/25/2018

Timelines (North America):

Aboriginal Healing Foundation (AHF). "A Condensed Timeline of Events." p. 64, 2008.
British Columbia Teacher's Federation (BCTF). "Timeline History of Aboriginal Peoples in British Columbia." BC Teacher's Federation
Canadian Geographic. "First Peoples - Timeline." The Canadian Atlas Online.
CBC News. "A Timeline of Residential Schools, The Truth and Reconciliation Commission." 16 May, 2008. 
CBC News. “Caledonia Land Claim: Historical Timeline.” 1 Nov, 2006.
CTV News. "Key Dates in Canadian, First Nations History." 24 Jan, 2012.
Government of Manitoba. "Timeline: Aboriginal Justice and Self-Determination." 
Heritage Community Foundation. “Timeline.” Alberta Online Encyclopedia.
Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs. “Historical Timeline - From the 1700s to the Present.” Click here for the PDF version.

Timelines (Australia):

Black Allen Barker. “Timeline of Aboriginal Resistance in Australia.” Youtube. (song)
New South Wales Government. “Invasion and Resistance Kit - Timeline.” NSW Education Standards Authority. Retrieved 9/25/2018   
Patterson, Julie. "Aboriginal Resistance." 1997. Retrieved 9/25/2018