Claire and her Grandfather

Author: Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada
Date: <2011
ISBN: R3/157/2011
QS-: QS-6152-020-BB-A1

PDF Format (1.68 Mb, 44 pages)

On this page


The story of Claire and her Grandfather is designed to enhance young people's awareness of some of the many contributions and inventions by Aboriginal people. The story is meant to be a versatile teaching tool for children ages 7-12, although older students might enjoy the story and its images. Teachers of children in the target age group can use the story to initiate a broader examination of the many historical and contemporary contributions of First Nations and Inuit to Canada and the world.

Teachers and parents are encouraged to contact local Aboriginal communities, Cultural Education Centres and Friendship Centres to obtain more in-depth information on Aboriginal people, culture and issues. A list of contacts for major Aboriginal organizations is provided at the end of this publication for those wishing to obtain specific information on their region.

A glossary of words used in the story is provided at the end of this publication.

Teachers are authorized to reproduce Claire and her Grandfather as needed for their classroom or school use.

Learning Outcomes

Students could be expected to:

In addition to its story and the images children can colour, Claire and her Grandfather opens the way for various related activities which teachers can introduce within the existing curriculum. While you will have many ideas on how to introduce this material to students and make it relevant, you may want to consider some of the following suggested activities.

Suggested Related Activities

Identify – Ask students to identify what they think was the most important contribution or invention they learned about from the story, and describe how this has been used through time. Have students prepare a written story or presentation showing what Canada might have been like without this contribution.

Research – Have students research additional Aboriginal place names in your area or region. The meaning of the name might be illustrated through artwork; for example, names that translate as "flowing river" or "place of caribou bones."

Compare – Ask students to compare their family with Claire's. Have them try to identify contributions their own culture or cultures have made to Canada. Have students identify things and traditions that have been transmitted from one generation to another in their families. Students should come to understand that all cultural groups – including Aboriginal peoples – have a rich heritage.

Ask – Present students with reflective questions after introducing each contribution or invention. Examples: "What impact has this particular contribution had on our lives today?" "Why was this invention necessary and how might it be used today?" "How have modern transportation methods changed traditional lifestyles?" "How are modern canoes built?" "How does that modern version differ from original designs?" "Why hasn't the basic design changed?"

Discuss – What does "community" mean? Why is community important for Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people? Have students identify the different communities in which they live: family, religious, neighbourhood, sports, ethnic/racial, cultural, language, etc. Have students research the similarities and differences between their own community and various Aboriginal communities.

Storytelling – In a group storytelling session, ask students to share treasured stories or legends from their family history or their cultures. Have students ask their grandparents or other family members for stories important to their family history.

Research – Have students research modern-day contributions of Aboriginal people. The Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (AANDC) Kids' Stop web site will provide a good start. The results can be presented through written work, class presentations, posters or role-playing.

Organize – Plan an activity for June 21, About National Indigenous Peoples Day, or organize an Aboriginal awareness week in your school.

Field Trip – Plan a trip to an Aboriginal cultural centre or Friendship Centre or an Aboriginal community. Invite an Aboriginal speaker to your class.

Exchange – Initiate an exchange of information and e-mails between the class and an Aboriginal school through the Kids From Kanata project. The project brings together schools in groups of three, one of which is an Aboriginal school.

For more resource materials on Aboriginal subjects, consult The Learning Circle series of publications available through AANDC.

Claire and her Grandfather

Listen to this story (22:49')

Claire and her Grandfather

Download this story (MP3, 21 Mb)

To download the file for use on a portable device, (e.g. iPod, BlackBerry), right click on the link above and select "Save Target As".

It was about the time when the leaves were turning colour when our teacher, Mrs. Okatsiak, told us what we would do next week in school.

Canada is made up of people from every country in the world, she said. "They brought with them different things that make Canada what it is today. I was born in what we now call the territory of Nunavut, and my people are Inuit. Inuit are one of the first peoples who lived in what we now call Canada. Next week, I want each of you to tell the class about where your family came from, and what your people have given to Canada."

Later, at recess, I asked Paul Lambert where his family came from.

Paul said, "I know that my Grandparents on my Mom's side are from Ireland, and my Dad's family came from France a long time ago. What about you, Claire?"

"My people are Odawa," I said.

"Ottawa?" asked Paul.

"That's a city, not a country!"

I didn't know what to say. Everyone knows Ottawa is a city, but I didn't know how to explain that it was also the name of my people.

Later, at dinner, I told my Mom and Dad about what we had to tell the class next week and about Paul saying that Ottawa is a city, and not the name of a people.

Mom smiled and said, "I think we need to call Grandfather."

Grandfather is one of my favourite people. He has white hair, lots of wrinkles and is always interested in what I'm doing. Dad said Grandfather's wrinkles are from all his smiling and because he is always so happy. Mom said that many people like to talk with Grandfather because he is also very wise.

When Grandfather came over, I told him about what my teacher said. I told him what Paul said about the city called Ottawa.

"You, Claire Whiteduck, are of the Odawa," Grandfather told me. "The Odawa are one of the First Nations who lived in the eastern part of the land that is now Canada. First Nations and Inuit are the Aboriginal people who were here long before pioneers came to this country. Sit down, Claire," said Grandfather, "and let me show you something about Canada."

Grandfather laid out a large map of Canada that showed all the provinces, territories and cities.

As I looked at the map, Grandfather pointed to places with Aboriginal names. "When Europeans first came to Canada, First Nations and Inuit often helped them travel through the land, and showed them the way. Settlers sometimes gave towns and rivers the names of places they had known in Europe. But at other times, they would ask Aboriginal people what their names were for these places, and we would tell them. Can you find places on the map of Canada that still have their Aboriginal names?"

I found many Aboriginal names of places, like Kamloops, Saskatchewan, Toronto, Quebec, Maniwaki, Oromocto, Iqaluit and Nunavut.

"Sometimes, the new settlers translated our names for places into English or French. Can you find any of these translated names?" Grandfather asked.

I looked carefully at the map. I found Rivière-du-loup, Medicine Hat and Moose Jaw.

"Good," said Grandfather. Then he told me:

"The name Canada is a First Nations word. It comes from the word 'Kanata' which means 'village' in the Mohawk and Huron languages. I'm sure that when you start looking, you will see many places that show the contributions that Aboriginal people made to the map of Canada as it is today," said Grandfather.

"Grandfather," I asked, "what are contributions?"

"Remember when Mrs. Okatsiak said that people brought things from their lands that helped make Canada what it is today?" Grandfather asked. "Well, those things are contributions. They are ideas, objects and ways of life that are still used in the world today. Just like Aboriginal place names."

"What are some of the other contributions Aboriginal people have made, Grandfather?" I asked.

"One very important contribution is art," he said. "All around the world, when people think of Canadian art, it is very often Aboriginal art that they picture first in their minds. First Nations and Inuit have always used art as a way to show what they believe and their respect for the wonders of nature. Aboriginal artists make masks, sculptures, paintings, baskets, weavings and beautiful clothing. Aboriginal artists have influenced the designs for some of the clothing and furniture many Canadians have today, and even the buildings, too. Our Canadian Museum of Civilization in Hull, Quebec, is a good example of how the forms and ideas we find in Aboriginal art can be used to create a building".

"One thing many people don't know," Grandfather continued, "is that there are many different styles of Aboriginal art. That's because Aboriginal peoples are not all the same. Inuit are very different from First Nations, for example. And there are 52 First Nations in Canada that altogether are made up of 610 bands. Each of those 52 First Nations has its own way of doing things and its own way of looking at the world."

The next thing Grandfather talked about was tools.

"Fishing was and still is important to many Aboriginal people," he told me.

"Many Aboriginal people used large fish traps called weirs. They made these weirs out of wood. In the North, where hardly any wood can grow, Aboriginal people used stone to make their weirs. The weirs were like a maze (a lot of winding paths leading to one central place). The fish had to follow the twists and turns of the weir into a big area where people could easily catch them. Today, fishermen use weirs around the shore and in rivers because they make the fish come to them. The fish are then easier to catch."

"Did you know," Grandfather asked me, "that Aboriginal people didn't need to use metal to make their tools?"

"But Grandfather, we use metal for almost every tool," I said. "How could Aboriginal people live without metal?"

"Remember, Claire," Grandfather said, "that Inuit and First Nations lived for thousands of years without metal for their tools. They made sharp knives, scrapers, hammers, drills and spear heads from stone, wood and bone. Some of the tools Aboriginal people made were as sharp as tools used by doctors today."

"Mrs. Okatsiak will tell you about how Inuit designed snow goggles out of bone so they wouldn't go blind from the bright snow," Mom said. "Inuit also designed a special round knife called an ulu, which Inuit women used to prepare food and clean animal skins. Inuit still use ulus today. But now, ulus are often made from metal."

By this time my older brother Alex was sitting and listening to Grandfather too.

"Grandfather, tell Claire how northern people like Inuit lived comfortably in such cold weather," Alex said.

Grandfather told us that Inuit used animals' skins in special ways to keep their families warm and comfortable.

"For instance," Grandfather said. "Did you know that if you use wolf hair around the hood of your winter coat, it won't freeze and stick to your face? And often, Inuit used four different animal skins to make a cold-weather coat or parka. Some skins were waterproof so that the coats kept people dry. Other skins were good for keeping people warm. Inuit are experts in staying warm and dry."

"Makers of modern winter clothing owe a lot to Aboriginal clothing designs," my brother Alex said. "We knew about dressing in layers and how to keep moisture away from the body. Today's clothing designers use different materials but you can still see Inuit and First Nations designs in parkas, snowpants and high leather boots that lace up the front."

"Aboriginal people were experts at using natural materials to make their shelter and clothing," Grandfather told me. "Did you know that First Nations on the West Coast used long strips of cedar bark that they softened and wove together to make clothing, containers – and even jewellery?" Grandfather asked. "And even today, Aboriginal artists produce some of the best jewellery from bone, antlers, porcupine quills or other materials."

"What else can you tell me about contributions?" I asked.

"Today, many Canadian families own a canoe or kayak. Both these boats are based on Aboriginal people's designs," Dad explained.

"That's right," said Grandfather. "A canoe can carry a very heavy load, but when you get to a difficult part of the river, it's light enough for you to just pick it up and carry it to a safer place."

"And it's easy to paddle, too!" said Alex.

I remembered spending time during the summer at Grandfather's place and how much fun I had had with the canoe. "I think people like the canoe today because it's so much fun!" I exclaimed.

"And think of the kayak," said Mom. "Imagine travelling out on an Arctic sea, far from shore, hunting animals for food and still feeling safe."

"Today, people all around the world use canoes and kayaks," Grandfather explained. "Canoeing and kayaking are Olympic events now!"

Grandfather had more to tell. "Claire, what did you eat for dinner last night?" he asked. Mom and Dad both smiled.

"Ummm…we had squash and corn and wild rice, turkey and mashed potatoes," I told Grandfather. "Oh, and pumpkin pie too! My favourite!"

Grandfather laughed. "Well, except for the potatoes, which primarily came from Aboriginal people in South America, you ate the kinds of foods that First Nations enjoyed for hundreds of years before Europeans came to this country."

I learned that smoked salmon and maple syrup came from First Nations, too. I couldn't imagine eating pancakes for breakfast without maple syrup!

Grandfather said, "First Nations like the Cayuga, the Mohawk and the Seneca all raised corn, beans and squash in their gardens. They named these plants the 'Three Sisters' and planted corn and beans together in the same mound. The stalks of the corn supported the climbing beans. They planted squash at the same time, and it grew on the flat ground between the mounds. The broad squash leaves helped keep too many weeds from growing. Aboriginal people have a lot to teach the world about farming and nature."

With all that talk about food, my stomach let out a loud rumble!

Grandfather laughed again. "Grandmother's cooking used to make my stomach growl just like that," he said. "Luckily, Grandmother knew almost every plant to settle my stomach."

"First Nations and Inuit knew many things about plants and animals. They knew how to use many plants as food or medecine. They passed this knowledge down through time, and it is still used today."

"Claire, your Grandmother knew more about plants than anyone I ever met," Dad told me.

"She even knew about a kind of moss that was used as a baby's diaper."

"Remember that time when Alex was sick and Grandmother boiled up some wintergreen to help his stomach?" asked Mom.

"I sure do," remarked Dad. "Alex got better right away and we could finally get some sleep!"

"Grandmother seemed to know how to cure just about anything using the medicines from plants," said Grandfather. "With Grandmother around, you didn't need a first aid kit – she could find whatever she needed in the plants growing around her."

"Claire, did you know that First Nations created one of Canada's national games?" Alex asked me.

"Hockey?" I asked.

"Actually, it's lacrosse!" laughed Alex.

"That's right," said Grandfather. "Lacrosse is a fast-running sport played with a hard rubber ball and special hooked sticks that have a kind of net to catch the ball. There are lacrosse leagues all over Canada, the United States and in other countries."

Mom said, "In many ways lacrosse is like hockey, but it's played with the ball in the air most of the time and there's no ice. Some people say that hockey comes from the game of lacrosse. I've heard some Elders laugh and say that the word hockey is from the Mohawk word, 'aki,' (pronounced 'ahgee'). It means 'ouch!' or 'that hurts!' That's what Mohawk lacrosse players would say when they got hit with the hard ball!"

Grandfather said, "The Mi'kmaq in Nova Scotia played a game called ricket, which was a lot like hockey, too." Then he added, "Did you know that there are many great Aboriginal hockey players? Years ago a lot of people liked George Armstrong, the captain of the Toronto Maple Leafs. He was very popular. I always liked Johnny Bucyk – two Stanley Cups and more than 500 goals! Then there are the younger players, like Gino Odjick, Chris Simon, Blair Atcheynum, Craig Berube and many others."

Mom said, "In the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia, Waneek Horn-Miller was the co-captain of the Canadian waterpolo team. She's carrying on the history of Aboriginal people competing in the Olympics. World-class athletes like Tom Longboat, Alwyn Morris and Angela Chalmers were all Aboriginal medal winners in the Olympic Games."

Grandfather told me that Aboriginal people have always been great athletes – all the way back to the time when the Coast Salish peoples competed in canoe racing along the coast of what is now called British Columbia.

"Everyone knows about the Olympics," Grandfather said. "But many people are also learning about the North American Indigenous Games. They're held every year. Thousands of Aboriginal athletes come together from all over North America to compete, and learn about each other's ways of doing things. They compete in modern sports, and also do demonstrations of traditional competitive sports – like the Inuit's 'One Foot High Kick!'"

"Grandfather, tell Claire about how important community is," Mom said.

"Community?" I asked.

"Community is very important," Grandfather said. "It can mean different things to many different peoples in the world. Aboriginal people, for instance, believe very deeply that a community stays strong when people help take care of each other."

"In First Nations and Inuit communities," Grandfather explained, "large groups of people are often like big families. They look after each other and spend time together. Elders – who are often found among the oldest people – are the wisest people in the community. Community members often go to Elders when they need advice. Scientists also often talk to Elders and use their traditional knowledge to learn more about nature."

"The role of an Elder is very important in Aboriginal communities. An Elder is a person who gives advice and is able to teach traditions to other community members. Elders are chosen because they are good at listening to people, and have lived through a lot of experiences."

"Another thing, Claire – you should also know about the contributions and sacrifices made by Aboriginal war veterans," said Grandfather. "More than 7,000 Aboriginal people enlisted to fight for Canada in the First and Second World wars, the Korean War and other battles."

"Really?" asked Claire.

"Oh yes. Some of my friends were among them," Grandfather replied. "In fact, during the First World War so many Aboriginal men enlisted, that on some reserves there were hardly any men left at all."

"I can also tell you that Aboriginal people from all across Canada received many medals and commendations for their skill and bravery during the wars, including a well-known hero, Tommy Prince. Even though it was a difficult thing for them to be so far away from their people, they were proud to serve Canada. And there are Aboriginal people serving as Peacekeepers right now in countries around the world," Grandfather added.

"Don't forget to mention government, too," said Dad.

"Oh yes," said Grandfather. "Aboriginal peoples have always had their own forms of government."

"Before Europeans arrived, the Iroquoian nations already had a confederacy" explained Grandfather.

"Grandfather, what's a confederacy?" I asked.

"A confederacy is where several nations work together without giving up their independence," he said. "The League of the Iroquois was a confederacy of five tribes: the Mohawk, the Oneida, the Onondaga, the Cayuga and the Seneca. The confederacy was later joined by a sixth tribe, the Tuscarora. Six different nations worked together so that they could be stronger in trade, travel and war."

"They met in a longhouse, and the representatives of each Nation had their own place, just like in the Parliament of Canada today," said Mom.

"By using the confederacy, the different Nations made sure that they could talk about problems and vote on solutions. Six different groups were able to work out their differences and form a stronger nation."

"And today, Aboriginal peoples still have their own laws and forms of government, which their ancestors passed on to them."

"How were different groups able to talk to each other if they spoke different languages?" I asked.

Grandfather smiled. "Aboriginal people created one of the first sign languages. The experts who developed sign language to help people with hearing problems saw how Aboriginal people used their hands to make signs to communicate with each other. They were inspired by Aboriginal people and used the same idea. They created a sign language for people who have difficulty hearing."

"Sometimes a good idea leads to something bigger that can help a lot of people," Grandfather added.

"I never realized how many of Aboriginal peoples' contributions were around us every day!"

I told Mrs. Okatsiak the next day what I had learned from Grandfather about Aboriginal people. I asked her if he could come and talk to my class about our First Nation.

Mrs. Okatsiak said, "That's a wonderful idea, Claire. I'd love to have your Grandfather come and visit us."

The next week, Grandfather came and showed the children snowshoes and tools. He told them about traditional medicine, how to make a canoe, and how many Aboriginal people use "consensus" to make decisions. Grandfather explained that consensus is the way a group makes decisions together so that everyone is happy with them.

After that, Grandfather told my class about Aboriginal role models and the National Aboriginal Achievement Awards. He also told us about some of our great athletes.

"Everywhere you look, you'll see the contributions of Aboriginal peoples," he said. "If you pay attention, you can see Aboriginal influences all around you."

"And now I can answer Paul's question about who I am!" I said to the class. "I'm Claire Whiteduck and I am Odawa, one of the First Nations in Canada."


Term Definition
Aboriginal "Aboriginal people" is a collective name for the original peoples of Canada and their descendants, including First Nations, Inuit and Métis. There is no single agreed-upon name for the original peoples that inhabited North America before European settlers arrived, and in Canada, "Aboriginal peoples" is often used. In the United States, "American Indian" or "Native American" is commonly used. When you refer to "Aboriginal people," you are referring to all the Aboriginal people in Canada collectively, without regard to their separate origins and identities.
Coast Salish A group of First Nations from the Vancouver Island area that includes the following First Nations: Klahoose, Homalco, Sliamon, Sechelth, Squamish, Halq'emeylem, Ostq'emeylem, Hul'qumi'num, Pentlatch, Straits.
Confederacy A coalition or league of nations with mutual interests. The Iroquois Confederacy, or Six Nations Confederacy, originally consisted of five nations: Cayuga, Oneida, Onondaga, Mohawk and Seneca. The Tuscarora joined later.
Consensus A form of decision-making requiring all parties to agree completely with the issue(s) after extensive discussion and deliberation.
Elders In Aboriginal communities, Elders are keepers of traditional teachings and language. They are greatly respected for their life experience and wisdom, and members of the community often seek their counsel. Elders are not necessarily elderly, since traditions vary greatly among Aboriginal peoples. Elders are usually not self-proclaimed; instead, it is the members of the community who will acknowledge someone to be an Elder.
First Nations The term "First Nations" came into common usage in the 1970s to replace the terms "band" or "Indian." Many people today prefer to be called "First Nations" or "First Nations people" instead of "Indians". The term is rarely used as a synonym for "Aboriginal peoples," and does not include Inuit or Métis people.
Government Aboriginal peoples had their own traditional governments, which varied greatly in scope and authority. Some featured traditional leadership positions passed down through certain families. Others nominated chiefs to represent the various clans. Some systems were matriarchal, while others were based on confederacies of several nations joining together for their mutual benefit.
Inuit Inuit are the Aboriginal people of Arctic Canada. They live primarily in Nunavut and northern parts of Labrador and Quebec. The word "Inuit" means "the people" in Inuktitut, the Inuit language, and is the term by which Inuit refer to themselves. Avoid using the term "Inuit people" as the use of "people" is redundant. The term "Eskimo," applied to Inuit by European explorers, is no longer used in Canada.
Iqaluit An Inuktitut word meaning "place of fish."
Kamloops From the Shushwap word "kahm-o-loops," which is usually translated as "the meeting of waters." The name refers to the junction of the North and South Thompson rivers at Kamloops.
Kayak A waterproof one- or two-person Inuit boat traditionally made of sealskins oiled and stretched tightly over a light frame of wood or bone. The kayak is very light and buoyant, and is traditionally propelled using a double-bladed paddle.
Lacrosse Lacrosse was only one of many types of stick-and-ball games played by Aboriginal people at the time of contact with Europeans. Players use a stick about .9 to 1.2 metres long. The stick is curved at one end with a small net to catch, handle and throw a small hard rubber ball with great force. Like ice hockey, each team has a net positioned in its end zone defended by a goalie. Players must not touch the ball with their hands.
Maniwaki In the Algonquin language this means "Mary's land" from "mani" meaning "Mary" and "aki" meaning "land" or "the whole world."
Mi'kmaq A First Nation, formerly known as the Micmac, whose traditional territories are in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.
Nunavut Comes from the Inuktitut language meaning "Our land."
Odawa The Odawa speak Anishinabek, the name of a root language spoken by First Nations from Saskatchewan to eastern Quebec in Canada, and from Michigan to Minnesota in the United States. "Anishinabek" also refers to the parent nation of all of the First Nations within this territory, including the Odawa, the Chippewa, the Potawatomi, the Ojibway, Cree and Algonquin.
One Foot High Kick A traditional Inuit game where players have three tries to jump and high-kick a target using one foot from a standing or running start. Players must keep both feet together at the takeoff. Jumpers must keep their balance on landing, and always land on the same foot used to kick the target.
Ottawa The word comes from the Algonquin "adawe" meaning "to trade." This was the name given to the people who controlled the trade of the river.
Quebec Algonquins first used the name "kebek" for the region around the city of Québec. It refers to the Algonquin word for "narrow passage" or "strait" to indicate the narrowing of the river at Cape Diamond.
Saskatchewan The province got its name from the Saskatchewan River, which the Cree called Kisiskatchewani Sipi, meaning "swift-flowing river."
Toronto Translates as "meeting place" in the Oneida language, but may also mean "where the trees have fallen into the water."
Traditional knowledge The body of knowledge encompassing traditional spirituality, beliefs, knowledge, customs, language and especially the ways of doing things in Aboriginal societies. Traditional knowledge is generally held and passed on by Elders.
Ulu The "ulu" (pronounced oo-loo) is a traditional and very versatile tool used by Inuit women. The ulu has a 15-centimetre blade that is a cross between a large knife and a modern circular-blade kitchen chopper. It is known to have been in use as early as 2500 B.C., and was originally made of polished slate with a bone handle. The ulu's primary use is for cutting food, as well as skinning and cleaning fish and sea mammals.

Did you find what you were looking for?

What was wrong?

You will not receive a reply. Don't include personal information (telephone, email, SIN, financial, medical, or work details).
Maximum 300 characters

Thank you for your feedback

Date modified: