Democracy Defined

The word democracy describes a political system.  In a democratic country, all eligible citizens have the right to participate, either directly or indirectly, in making the decisions that affect them. Canadian citizens normally elect someone to represent them in making decisions at the different levels of government. This is called a representative democracy. Countries like Canada, the United States of America and the United Kingdom all have representative democracies. Before European people came to Canada, many different Indigenous peoples governed their regions using many different political systems, including democracy.


Students in your class may come from many different countries. Are these countries democracies? How many of your classmates have experience with other political systems? How are they similar to democracies? How are they different?


Creating official designs for coats of arms is the responsibility of the Canadian Heraldic Authority. The Governor General is in charge of this organization.


A coat of arms is a symbol used to identify someone or something. Sometimes a coat of arms appears on an important building, or at the top of an official letter. This is the coat of arms of Canada. It contains many symbols that give us clues about Canada’s history and what Canadians feel is important. See if you can spot:


1 the flag of the United Kingdom

2 the royal flag of France (fleur-de-lis)

3 symbols of England (golden lions, roses)

4 symbols of Scotland (red lion, thistles, unicorn)

5 symbols of Ireland (harp, shamrocks)

6 Canadian symbols (maple leaves)

7 symbols of monarchy (crowns, royal helmet)

8 the words (in Latin) desiderantes meliorem patriam, which means they desire a better country

9 the words (in Latin) a mari usque ad mare, which means from sea to sea


The word democracy comes from the Greek word demos (meaning the people) and kratos (meaning rule). Early forms of democracy began around 2,500 years ago, in Athens and other Greek cities. Using a dictionary, look up some other words that start with demo. List them with your class. Think about what they mean.


What symbols identify you? Your family? Your community? Look around your neighbourhood. Can you see symbols that identify other people or things? Make a list of these symbols. List the other symbols your classmates collected. Do you all agree on what the symbols mean?

WORD BUILDER— Indigenous peoples

Indigenous (or Aboriginal) peoples are defined in the Canadian Constitution as including the Indian (First Nations), Inuit and Métis peoples of Canada. Each of these groups has distinct cultures, languages and traditions.

  • Today, the term First Nations is often used instead of the word “Indian”, which many people consider outdated. There are roughly 620 First Nations communities across Canada (also called reserves).
  • The Inuit live in the northern regions of Russia, Alaska, Canada and Greenland, and are united by a common culture and language. There are nearly 55,000 Inuit residing in Canada.
  • The term Métis, broadly defined, includes all persons of First Nations and European ancestry who identify themselves as Métis.

Does your school have a student council? How do you decide which students will represent you? What decisions does a student council have to make? Why is it important that you have a representative?