Children cut off from their roots
In the United States, in 1879, Captain Richard Pratt founded the first boarding school, Carlisle Indian School, followed quickly by many others all over the country. Nicholas Flood Davin was dispatched by the Canadian government to assess the results of Captain Pratt’s educational program. His report draws the following conclusions.
“The Americans had reached the same conclusion as the Canadians: very little could be done with adult Indians” The Americans had also realized that the schools established on the reserves had failed in their mission to make the children more adaptable than their parents. As a consequence, the children should be removed from any family influence.
In his report, Davin highly recommended adopting and developing the American program, baptized “aggressive civilization”, in Canada, and including missionaries in the program, so that the children could learn the principles of Christianity. His exact words were “the American example is proof that if something is to be done with Indians, one must take them at an early age”
In 1888, residential schools were set in Canada. In order to comply with the government’s instructions concerning the boarding schools, the distance from the school to the reserve had to be long enough to discourage children from running away and the parents from coming to visit.
“Our objective is to continue until there is not a single Indian in Canada that hasn’t been absorbed into the politic body, and so there will be no more Indian question, or Indian Department”
Duncan Campbell Scott
Indian Act Amendment 1920
The First Nations Education Steering Committee
The First Nations Education Steering Committee was founded in 1992 by participants at a provincial First Nations education conference at the Vancouver Friendship Centre. That visionary group of people determined the need for a First Nations-controlled collective organization focused on advancing quality education for all First Nations learners, and committed to supporting First Nations in their efforts to improve the success of all First Nations students in BC.
The first Native school in Canada to be run by Natives
The first clash over Indian control of education took place in North Eastern Alberta in 1970, at Blue Quills. Blue Quills was an old boarding school created by the Oblate Fathers in the mid-1900’s on the Saddle Lake reserve. At the end of the 1960’s, the Native people formed committees in order to demand an active role in education.
In 1969, Jean Chretien made public the government’s policy on Indian Affairs. The policy, introduced in 1948, was entitled “The plan to liquidate the Indian problem in Canada in twenty-five years”, better known as White Paper.
After Jean Chretien released the policy’s goals, it was immediately revoked. In an effort to suppress anything that might appear as discriminatory, the boarding schools were closed. The chidren were sent to mixed schools.
The Blue Quills school was to be closed as well. Faced with the decision, the Saddle Lake school committee petitioned the Department of Indian Affairs, inquiring about the possibility of running the school themselves. Not having obtained any response from the ministry, they organized a sit-in at Blue Quills on July 14th, 1970. For several weeks they held traditional ceremonies, performing chants and dancing in the school gymnasium.
The event caught the media’s attention. Under pressure, the government organized several meetings in Ottawa and finally the project was accepted o an experimental basis.
On September 1st, 1970, Blue Quills became the first school in Canada run by Indians.
“It is only now that the Indians can consider themselves equals among the rest of society. The truth can now be taught about Indian culture, and the policies and the way of lie imposed by the White man….”
Native Speaker, Blue Quills opening ceremony
In 1972, citing Blue Quills as an example, The Fraternity of Canadian Indians, now the Assembly of First Nations, proposed a school system controlled by the Band Councils, in which Indian parents can get involved. In 1973, Ottawa agreed to the principle of giving the Indians control of their educational program.
These days, 28% of the 82,000 Indian children in the educational system attend schools run by Natives.
On every continent, colonial teaching methods have been modified. The right to a specific education, often forgotten in the name of education for everybody, has been recognized in the “Project for the Universal Declaration of Rights of the Native People”, adopted in 1991 by the United Nations. It has become a central theme in the demands made by Native People’s organizations all over the world.