HISTORY OF FIRST NATIONS
EDUCATION IN CANADA
Presenter: Dr. Evelyn Steinhauer
October 10, 15 Lecture
Five Phases of First Nations
Education by Missionaries;
Integrated Education; and
Indian Control of Indian Education
(Steinhauer, 2007. Goddard, 1993; Hampton, 1995; Hebert & McCaskill, 1987).
Phase 1 – Traditional Education
Prior to European contact, First Nations
people had highly developed systems of
education. In their education system, the
community and the natural environment were
Learning was for living – for survival. Boys and
girls were taught at an early age to observe and
utilize, to cope with and respect their
Traditional Education cont…
Generally, the traditional forms of Native
education can be characterized as oral histories,
teaching stories, ceremonies, apprenticeships,
learning games, formal instruction, tutoring, and
tag-along teaching, and learning by doing.
“these traditions continue to be part of many
Aboriginal peoples’ lives…” (p. 21, Haig-Brown,
Phase 2 -Education by Missionaries
This phase began after the signing of treaties. In
this area which is considered Treaty 6 territory,
this phase started approximately 1876.
Building day schools on the First Nations
reserves was the first step taken to honor the
educational component of the formal treaty
agreements signed between First Nations and
Canada on behalf of Britain.
Between 1871 and 1921, the Crown entered into
treaties with various First Nations that enabled
the Canadian government to actively pursue
agriculture, settlement and resource
development of the Canadian West and the
North. Because they are numbered 1 to 11, the
treaties are often referred to as the "Numbered
The Numbered Treaties cover Northern
Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, and
parts of the Yukon, the Northwest Territories
and British Columbia.
Alberta – Treaties 6, 7, 8
Under these treaties, the First Nations who
occupied these territories gave up large areas of
land to the Crown. In exchange, the treaties
provided for such things as reserve lands and
other benefits like farm equipment and animals,
annual payments, ammunition, clothing and
certain rights to hunt and fish.
TREATY 6, 7, 8
In Alberta there are:
45 First Nations in three treaty
Approximately 812,771 hectares of
The most commonly spoken First
Nations' languages are:
Blackfoot; Cree; Chipweyan; Dene;
Sarcee; and Stoney (Nakoda Sioux)
Treaty 6 – Signed in 1876
Treaty 7 – Signed in 1877
Treaty 8 – Signed in 1899
The Crown also made some promises such as
maintaining schools on reserves or providing
teachers or educational help to the First Nation
named in the treaties. Treaty No. 6 included the
promise of a medicine chest.
The Indian Act ("An Act respecting Indians"), is a
Canadian statute that concerns registered Indians, their
bands, and the system of Indian reserves. The Indian
Act was enacted in 1876 by the Parliament of Canada
under the provisions of Section 91(24) of the
Constitution Act, 1867, which provides Canada's
federal government exclusive authority to legislate in
relation to "Indians and Lands Reserved for Indians".
The Indian Act came to be developed over time
through separate pieces of colonial legislation
regarding Aboriginal peoples across Canada
such as the Gradual Civilization Act of 1857 and
the Gradual Enfranchisement Act of 1869. In 1876,
these acts were consolidated as the Indian Act.
Amendments to the Indian Act 1876-1950
Between 1876 and 1950, the purpose of the amendments to the Indian Act was to strengthen the
philosophy of civilization and assimilation underlying the first Act. Moreover, many of the
changes to the Act granted the government greater powers to move Aboriginals and expropriate
their lands for the purpose of non-Aboriginal use.
Key amendments to the Indian Act during this period include:
1885: Prohibition of several traditional Aboriginal ceremonies, such as potlaches.
1894: Removal of band control over non-Aboriginals living on reserves. This power was
transferred to the Superintendent General of Indian Affairs.
1905: Power to remove Aboriginal peoples from reserves near towns with more than
1911: Power to expropriate portions of reserves for roads, railways and other public works, as
well as to move an entire reserve away from a municipality if it was deemed expedient.
1914: Requirement that western Aboriginals seek official permission before appearing in
Aboriginal “costume” in any public dance, show, exhibition, stampede or pageant.
1918: Power to lease out uncultivated reserve lands to non-Aboriginals if the new leaseholder
would use it for farming or pasture.
1927: Prohibition of anyone (Aboriginal or otherwise) from soliciting funds for Aboriginal legal
claims without special licence from the Superintendent General. This amendment granted the
government control over the ability of Aboriginals to pursue land claims.
1930: Prohibition of pool hall owners from allowing entrance of an Aboriginal who “by
inordinate frequenting of a pool room either on or off an Indian reserve misspends or wastes his
time or means to the detriment of himself, his family or household.”
The Indian Act was unilaterally designed to
abolish First Nations status as independent, selfgoverning peoples, legislating the rules for
membership, abolishing political systems,
imposing federally controlled election systems,
banning spiritual activities, and creating
residential schools” (Steinhauer, 2004, p. 16).
Currently, sections 114 to 122 of the Indian Act
deal with “schools”. Section 119 in particular
allows for the appointment of truant officers
who may take a First Nations child into custody
and “convey the child to school using as much
force as the circumstances require.” This
provision has not been in use for years.
Creating the “Indian”
The social construction of the “Indian race” in
Canada, largely through the legislative power of
the Indian Act, its predecessors, and
amendments, has attained a social reality that has
created deep fissures between Aboriginal and
non-Aboriginal Canadians, between various
segments of Aboriginal people, and most
importantly, within Aboriginal people
Phase 2 continued…
The churches were given the privilege of
running these schools, with the government
providing financial support and formal
supervision and administration.
“These schools did not last long as the intent of
these schools was to “suppress the native
culture as rapidly as possible and fashion a new
generation of Indian children…in the image of
whitemen” (Buckley, 1992, p. 47)
This movement was the start of the next phase.
Phase 3 – Residential Schools
Day schools weren’t succeeding in the
government’s goal of “suppressing the Native
culture” and assimilating the Native children
into the non-Aboriginal, Christian culture, so
Native children were taken away from their
families, and placed in residential schools.
In order to do this successfully a policy of
assimilation was adopted.
Duncan Campbell Scott (Department of
Indian Affairs Superintendent)
I want to get rid of the Indian problem. . . . Our
object is to continue until there is not a single
Indian in Canada that has not been absorbed
into the body politic, and there is no Indian
question, and no Indian Department and that is
the whole objective of this Bill. (cited in Titley,
1986, p. 50)
Phase 3 continued…
“It was a policy designed to move communities,
and eventually all Aboriginal peoples from their
helpless ‘savage’ state to one of self-reliant
‘civilization’ and thus to make Canada but one
community- a non-Aboriginal, Christian one”
(RCAP, 1996, p. 2).
Phase 3 continued…
With the help of missionaries, the government
began its recruitment of residential school
students. Although it was successful in
convincing some Native parents that this
experience would be beneficial to their children,
it faced much opposition.
In the 1920s, it became mandatory for Native
parents to sent their children to these schools.
Phase 3 continued…
From ages 3 to 16 the children were removed
from their homes and placed in the schools,
where they stayed from September until June of
They remained isolated from their families for
They were not permitted to speak their Native
languages. Students were constantly reminded
their lifestyles were “evil”, paganistic, and dirty.
Phase 3 continued…
Languages, traditions, self-respect, community
cohesiveness, parental skills, survival skills, selfesteem were lost.
Children were mentally, physically, and sexually
abused in these schools.
These losses continue to have a huge impact on
Native communities even today!!!
Phase 3 continued....
Residential Schools Public Service
Phase 3 continued….
I invite you all to go to…
Where are the Children? website
Arthur Fourstar Part 1 – 26 minutes
Phase 4 – Integrated Education
After recognizing that residential schools were
not accomplishing what they were designed to
achieve, a policy of integrated education was
“Wherever possible, Indian children would be
enrolled in predominately white schools
operated by provincial schools…” (Titley, 1980,
Phase 5 – Indian Control of Indian
Native leaders started fighting back and in the
early 1970s, they began seeking control of their
Although “Indian control of Indian Education”
was operationalized in 1972, Native people still
have very little control of their own education.
(We remain a federal responsibility, and
someone is still telling us what to do, and how
to do it).
1763 – Royal Proclamation of October 1763 is
signed (10/7/1763). This document explicitly
recognized aboriginal title, aboriginal land
ownership and authority are recognized by the
Crown as continuing under British sovereignty.
It states that only the Crown could acquire lands
from First Nations and only by treaty. By the
1850’s major treaties are signed with First
1867 - Canada is created under the terms of the
British North American Act.
1876 – The Indian Act is established. It
influences all aspercts of a First Nations person’s
life from birth to death. Indian Bands were
created and Indian Agents became
intermediaries between First Nations people and
the rest of the county.
1884 – Responsibility for the eduction of
children was given in large part to church-run
1893 – Duncan Campbell Scott becomes
Deputy Superintendent General of the
Department of Indian Affairs. His stated
objective was assimilation He rules the
department until 1932.
1960 – First Nations peoples in Canada are
permitted to vote in federal elections.
1972 – Indian Control of Indian Education
policy document written by national Indianl
Brotherhood advocating parental respobsibility
and local control over First Nations Education.
This policy is accepted by federal government a
1982 - Canada’s Constitutional Act, Section 35,
recognizes and affirms existing Aboriginal and
2008: Prime Minister Stephen Harper offers a
formal apology on behalf of Canada over
2010: Canada signs the United Nations
Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous
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