Chapter 3

Government Policy

Education policies for Indigneous peoples in Canada can be grouped into three distinct eras:

  1. Assimilation through Segregation (1870s-1950s): During this time, Indigenous children were removed from their communities and placed in residential schools where they were taught the skills they would need to work as labourers and domestics in the mainstream Euro-Canadian economy. They were also taught about the 'civilized' ways of European Christian society. The goal was to separate them from the influence of their 'tribal community' so they could be assimilated into the settler society.

  2. Integration (1951-1971): The Integration policy determined that it was best to teach Indigenous children in the same schools as other Canadian children. This started the long process of shutting down the residential school system. Indigenous children were still housed in Residential schools but they attended public and/or Catholic schools with other Canadian children. The building of day schools on reserves also began in earnest. However, there were cases where children were transported from the reserves to the nearest public school. By the 1970s, the federal government had made alternative education arrangements for 60% of First Nations children. As in the Assimilation through segregation policy, there was no consultation with First Nations families and communities with regard to the education of their children, and there were no curriculum changes to incorporate Indigenous history, culture and language.

  3. Indian Control of Indian Education (1972-today): The policy paper Indian Control of Indian Education was tabled with the federal government in 1972 by the National Indian Brotherhood (currently known as Assembly of First Nations -AFN). It is premised on the principles of parental responsibility and local control; principles that had always been enjoyed by the rest of society. The four main points of the paper were:
    1. federal government's fiscal responsibility for education as a treaty right would remain;
    2. curriculum would reflect First Nations history, culture and language;
    3. First Nations people would be trained as teachers and counsellors; and
    4. facilities would be repaired or built to reflect local needs of the communities.

Although the policy paper was accepted by the federal government, there continued to be high attrition rates of Indigenous students. Many reserve schools are in deplorable condition. And, curriculum continues to follow the provincial models (i.e. western based, settler dominant history). Indian Control merely became Indian Operated schools, where the assimilationist agenda is still at the forefront.(1)

Self-determination is an important part of the movement toward Indigenous self-government, including Indigenous control of the education of their children. There is progress being made, despite the federal and provincial governments continued attempts at assimilation.

The following website provides a timeline of the history of Indigenous education in Canada, including the key players and events that precipitated the various policies. 

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(1) Kirkness, V. (1999). Aboriginal education in Canada: A retrospective and a prospective. Journal of American Indian Education, 39(1). Special Issue 2.
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