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Be an Anthropologist/Archaeologist

Infer the story of a group of Aboriginal peoples using various media sources.

Outcomes References Related Resources

Suggested Activities

Students explore the culture and history of Aboriginal peoples, i.e., First Nations, Métis and Inuit, by inferring their stories from various sources; e.g., photographs, line drawings, paintings, recordings of oral histories, legends, creation stories, songs. Students also explore traditional and contemporary ways of life, spirituality and relationship with the land.

For information on the use of stories to learn about Aboriginal peoples, see Excerpts from Aboriginal Studies 10: Aboriginal Perspectives (see References).

Introduction to making inferences about historical artifacts
Collect historical artifacts from daily life, such as household items, photographs, tools, clothing, furniture and letters. Search for artifacts that are not easily recognizable by students but contain clues that will help students draw conclusions about them. Local museums and second-hand stores are potential sources of interesting artifacts.

If you are unable to locate actual objects, the Canadian Virtual Museum Website offers an engaging online tour including an image gallery (see References).

Gather a sufficient number of artifacts so that each student group has an artifact to study. Place each artifact in a paper bag.

Model how to draw inferences about the mystery artifacts. Remove an artifact from one of the bags. Ask students if they have seen something like this before. Encourage them to use their background knowledge to identify the artifact. If some students recognize the artifact, ask them to withhold telling the class so that others may figure it out for themselves.

Suggest to students that artifacts can tell stories—stories about who owned them, where and what they were used for, and why the objects were important. Explain that when there are no written explanations, we have to examine artifacts carefully in order to infer—to make educated guesses—the story behind the item. Suggest that this is what archaeologists and anthropologists do when they find artifacts.

Like investigative reporters, archaeologists and anthropologists often use the 5W questions to frame their investigations. Without revealing anything about the artifact, ask the following questions:

  • Who might have owned or used this artifact?
  • What might this artifact be (what was its use)?
  • Where might it have been used?
  • When might it have been made or used?
  • Why is this artifact important?

You may want to list these questions on chart paper for easy reference.

Direct students to provide evidence—background knowledge or specific details such as shape, colour, texture or markings on the artifacts—to support their inferences.

See Investigating Pictures (Modelling the Tools) for suggestions on how to teach and assess the tools for interpreting visual images.

Infer stories from mystery artifacts
Distribute a mystery bag to each group and ask students to draw inferences about their mystery artifacts by using the above questions. Remind students to provide evidence to support their inferences.

You may wish to adapt one of the charts in Reporter's Log (Support Material) to structure and assess this activity.

Share inferences with class
Invite groups to share their artifacts and conclusions with the class.

Introduction to Aboriginal artifacts
In preparation for studying the ways of life of Aboriginal peoples, collect both historical and contemporary images (e.g., photographs, line drawings), texts (e.g., legends, creation stories, narratives) and/or video clips of performances (e.g., songs, dances, celebrations). Look for artifacts from each of these Aboriginal groups and regions in Canada (see References):

  • Haida/Kwakiutl
  • Métis
  • Inuit
  • Algonquin
  • Cree
  • Blackfoot
  • Mi'kmaq
  • Northwest Coast
    western Canada
    northern Canada
    central Canada
    central/western Canada
    western Canada
    eastern Canada

    Be sensitive to concerns about the ownership and spiritual significance of Aboriginal artifacts. It may be advisable to consult with local experts when collecting materials that are not widely available or previously published.

    Explain to the class that they will be learning about Aboriginal cultures and ways of life by examining artifacts (or pictures of artifacts), listening to stories or music and watching celebrations or dances.

    Develop hypotheses and provide evidence for inferences
    Before teaching students how to read an image using the 5W's as guiding questions, review three key concepts:

    • hypothesis—a possible answer or educated guess that is based on information but not a proven fact
    • conclusion—a firm answer based on several pieces of evidence
    • evidence—details or facts to support a conclusion or hypothesis.

    Post a picture depicting an event or scene involving an Aboriginal group, such as an image of a Kwakiutl potlatch on the Northwest Coast (see References). Ask the following questions:

    • Who are the people in the picture?
    • What are the people doing?
    • Where did the action take place?
    • When did the action take place?
    • Why is the action happening?

    Invite students to generate multiple hypotheses for each of the 5W questions and provide supporting evidence before drawing conclusions about the way of life and culture of the Aboriginal peoples in the picture.

    Develop and evaluate conclusions for inferences
    Provide criteria for a plausible conclusion:

    • supported with ample evidence
    • complete—explains much about the topic
    • leaves no doubts—no other conclusions are as plausible.

    Use the criteria to evaluate the plausibility of the students' conclusions. Record the conclusions for the sample image under appropriate categories on a large wall chart, similar to the one below.

    Inferring Ways of Life from Images


    Daily Life

    Relationship to
    Environment and


    Spiritual Beliefs/ Practices





































    Practise interpreting a text
    Inform students that investigators typically base their conclusions on more than one source of information. Indicate that much of Aboriginal culture has been passed down through oral tradition; e.g., stories, legends, songs.

    Demonstrate how to infer information about way of life from an Aboriginal legend. A good example to use is the Kwakiutl legend "Wakiash and the First Totem Pole" (see References).

    To structure this activity, use the 5W questions listed above and the What?/So what? format listed below.

    What/So what? 

    What (are the important elements in the story)?

    So what (does this tell us about the way of life)?

    Who are the main characters in the story?




    What do the main characters look like? do?
    learn? think? feel? value?


    Where does the story take place?


    When does the story or main action take place?


    Why does the story take place? Or, Why do the
    main characters act as they do?


    Examine artifact collections
    After students have observed how to draw inferences from visual and text sources, assign groups to examine a specific Aboriginal group and region in Canada, such as Métis in western Canada, Inuit in northern Canada and Algonquin/Cree in central Canada.

    Distribute collections of artifacts, e.g., text, images, video clips, showing various aspects of life of the assigned group. Organize students into expert pairs to examine one artifact.

    Share hypotheses
    After students complete this analysis, ask each expert pair to share hypotheses with other students working on the same region. Each regional group is to generate multiple hypotheses, as modelled by the class activities, and draw plausible conclusions about the way of life of its assigned group.

    You may wish to adapt one of the charts in Reporter's Log (Support Material) to structure and assess this activity.

    Share conclusions with the class
    Ask students to consider the extent to which the natural environment and geography of each region of Canada were determining factors of the diversity among Aboriginal groups. Arrange for each group to record its conclusions on the wall chart. Preserve the chart for future use by directing students to record their information on sticky notes or to use overhead markers on a laminated chart.

    Last updated: July 1, 2014 | (Revision History)
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