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Aboriginal Societies

What were the most significant differences and similarities in social and economic structures among selected Aboriginal societies prior to the 16th century?

Outcomes References Related Resources

Suggested Activities

In this critical challenge, students investigate the social and economic structures of selected pre–16th century Aboriginal societies by determining the most significant differences and similarities in daily life within these communities.

Activity 1
Using teacher supplied materials or a textbook, invite students to work in pairs to create a precontact profile of the social and economic structures of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois), Anishinabe (Ojibwa) and Mi'kmaq societies. Key themes to address might include:

  • religious or spiritual beliefs and practices
  • living arrangements
  • roles of men, women and children
  • status of women
  • hunting and agricultural practices
  • class structures
  • governing bodies
  • methods of decision making or law enforcement
  • monetary or exchange systems
  • modes of transportation
  • interactions with the environment.

Consider adapting one of the charts and strategies for Collecting Information (Support Material) to structure and assess this activity.

Comparing Information





Religious or spiritual beliefs and practices




Living arrangements




Role of men, women and children












Activity 2
As students share their findings with the class, create a wall-sized Venn diagram to display the similarities and differences between the three Aboriginal societies, as illustrated below. Use the diagram to discuss the fact that Aboriginal societies may have different economic and social structures and that there is not necessarily a pan-Aboriginal perspective. At the same time, help students identify common patterns, such as respect for the land and the role of Elders.

Activity 3
Ask students to return to their group to consider the impact these structures had on the lives of First Nations people, including their decision-making models; i.e., the role and status of women in daily and long-term decision making, the consensus-building model when making emergency or major long-term decisions. Suggest two criteria for determining the significance of impact:

  • frequency of effect on daily life; e.g., Would it make a difference once in a while or would it influence events on a daily basis?
  • magnitude of effect; e.g., Would it bring about a big or a trivial change?

Direct groups to rate the impact of each difference and similarity on a three-point scale: 2 strong impact; 1 moderate impact; 0 little or no impact. Encourage students to provide a reason for each rating. Consider adapting the chart and strategies in Rating Options (Support Material) to structure and assess students' ratings.

Ask students to use their completed charts to individually identify the three most significant differences and three most significant similarities among the three Aboriginal societies prior to the 16th century.

Invite Elders from a variety of First Nations to share oral histories about how social and economic structures impacted daily life within their ancestors' communities.

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