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Voices of the Canoe—Teacher Resource

Unit 1, Origin Stories and the Canoe

Lesson 1: Establishing Significance


Lesson Background

Camakao (canoe) carving, in Korovo, Fiji

In this lesson, students will understand a fundamental feature of storytelling: they tell events that are significant to the culture.

Students will be able to establish and critique criteria for determining personal and historical significance. They will examine their own lives to find a moment of significance and write their own story, based on a model of an Indigenous flood story.

This lesson will give students an understanding of the role that personal significance plays in oral histories.

Elder Sakiusa Veikauyaki shows a model camakau (canoe), 2012. Courtesy of Carol Mayer.


Students can begin by reading the Myths and Legends of Fiji and Rotuma—The Great Flood story from the Voices of the Canoe website.

Reading the story aloud, consider the following questions:

  • Why did this group decide to tell a story about this event?
  • Why was it significant to them?

Think of a story from your own life that you can share, using the one of the following examples:

  • Personal:
    • Affects only one person, or an immediate family
    • Is a big moment for a person in figuring out who they are (identity) or what they want to do (purpose/vocation)
    • You will always remember that day/event
    • It changed your life
  • Local:
    • It affects people in your city or region
    • It changes the way people in an area behave
  • Cultural:
    • It makes your culture unique compared to others
    • It affects your language
    • It gives your culture a boost, or a challenge
  • National:
    • It affects many, many people in a nation
    • It affects the way the government operates or reacts
    • It changes the way other nations see your nation
  • Global:
    • It affects many people in a number of different nations
    • It affects the environment
    • It changes the way countries interact with each other

Students and teacher can refer to the Criteria for Determining Historical Significance (below) to test if the event meets the criteria.


Establishing what a significant event is and telling its story is an important part of building a sense of group identity. Sharing certain events and the memory of them is one way that we build a sense of community. For example, the people in the Fijian flood story trace their ancestry back to this single event. It is reinforced over time by retelling the story.


Criteria for Determining Historical Significance

The Historical Thinking Project (based at UBC) identifies three major ways that we can determine historical significance.

  • Resulting in Change:
    • Profundity: How were people affected by the event or person?
    • Quantity: How many people’s lives were affected?
    • Durability: How long lasting were the changes?
  • Revealing:
    • How does this event or person help us to understand the past?
  • Resonant or Relevant:
    • How does this event or person shed light on issues or problems that concern us?
    • How might the historical significance of this event or person change over time?
    • Of what larger story or argument might this event or person be a part?