From local to global: understanding indigenous land rights around the world.

When teaching and planning for place-based units in global studies and global issues at THINK Global school it is important to use place-based learning as a stepping stone to getting the students to understand larger global issues.

The local: Treaty of Waitangi and Maori Land Rights 

In our first semester in Auckland, New Zealand the students in my 10th grade Global Issues class worked through a unit on Civic Action and Diplomacy. It began with understanding fundamental concepts and terms and then applying it to current events in our host location.


Upon arrival in New Zealand, the students and staff were welcomed by traditional powhiri at the Orakei Marae. We discussed, among many other things, that Maori iwis are using the court system to slowly win back the ancestral lands taken from them dating back to the Treaty of Waitangi (1840).  Indigenous land rights around New Zealand and understanding the diplomacy behind the Treaty would provide a great jump off point to study an ever increasing global issue.

The unit unfolded into a number of classes discussing the nature of treaties and diplomacy, and a deconstruction of the text and issues surrounding the controversy and misconceptions surrounding Treaty of Waitangi in 1840. The readings and presentations from the students can be found at the bottom of this page. After the students had a solid understanding of diplomatic methods and the nature of treaties, they were challenged to find another land rights issue around the world that deals with indigenous populations.

The global: The TGS Situation Report 

Students would spend the next few class sessions figuring out their new topics and selecting partners to work with to create their very own UN-style Situation Report. The assignment is outlined in the previous link entitled “The TGS Situation Report.” Prior students during our semester in Buenos Aires had undergone a similar project looking at Modern Argentina, and it was an enormous success. To read Paul’s grade nine Situation Report on the Argentine Economy click here.


Students paired up and started preliminary research for the historical context and overview section of their report. They spent two classes writing an objectively for the overview, and on the third day they split up and immersed themselves into one side of the debate. They had a homework assignment to create their own position paper and identify some of there “non-negotiables” before the in-class partner debates that would follow. Listen to the podcast below to hear the students poignant and well-researched arguments amidst the chaos of 6 simultaneous partner debates.

After they had debated their positions, they were asked to remove their subjective opinions on the matter and role-play a UN mediation team. The Situation Report at this point contained an objective history and two opposing position papers. Lastly, they were challenged to find a solution or a compromise for the land rights issue that they had been working on for the past week. Upon completion of their compromise, the students had to provide a formal briefing to the class explaining their entire process and what resolution they created. The rest of the class acted as a panel to criticise, and critique decisions made.

The product: SitRepLandRights


The students covered the following topics to understand Indigenous Land Rights. 

  • China and the Tibetans
  • Russia and the Khanty 
  • Botswana and the San 
  • Canada and the Inuit 
  • Tanzania and the Maasai
  • Brazil and the Yanomami 

To read the students final products click here.


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