Part Four

Investigation and Activism

By: Gemma Porter

Gemma Porter

Historical & Educational Contributor

I am an Assistant Professor in the School of Education at St. Thomas University in Fredericton, New Brunswick. Before making the transition to teacher education in 2021, I worked as a middle years and high school social studies and Indigenous studies public educator. My dissertation research focused on the history of Social Studies curriculum in the province of Saskatchewan.  My current research and practice interests are focused on developing teacher education programming that supports decolonization and education for the common good. This research, and related historical and contemporary policy analysis research, is guided by an interest in examining the ways that socio-political culture as well as educational climate impact educational policy and design.

Since the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in 2015, the recognition and inclusion of Indigenous perspectives in education has become increasingly prevalent. While the Calls to Action involve every sector of society, including government, business, and individual Canadians, Calls to Action 62-65 focus on education for reconciliation. These calls include the development of curriculum that addresses the legacy of residential schooling and harmful representations of Indigenous peoples and histories.

For more information on these Calls and the progress being made, check out CBC’s Beyond 94 website here.

Developed by CBC, the site provides up to date information about each of the 94 Calls to Action.

Screenshot taken from CBC “Beyond 94”, 2024. The interactive site provides up-to-date information on the progress of each of the TRC’s Calls to Action.

Even before the TRC Calls to Action, provincial jurisdictions across the country had been seeking to address the omission and oftentimes harmful representations of Indigenous peoples within official course programming. Such revision can be partially explained by the legacy of investigations into schooling for Indigenous peoples that came before the work of the TRC. Between 1960 and 2015, several systematic investigations sought to shed light on the systemic inequities experienced by Indigenous students in both public and on-reserve schools across the country, in terms of administrative policies, classroom experience, and curriculum. This article provides an overview of three of these studies: A Survey of the Contemporary Indians of Canada (1966/67), Indian Residential Schools: A Research Study (1967), and Indian Control of Indian Education (1972).[i]

A Survey of the Contemporary Indians of Canada

A Survey of the Contemporary Indians of Canada (1966/67) was a comprehensive report that examined economic, educational, and political policies impacting the needs of First Nations communities. Known as the Hawthorne report, after the director of the study, Professor Harry Hawthorne, the study involved cross-country consultations and interviews in various contexts, including reserve communities, First Nations individuals living off reserve, and government agencies. The work of the committee and the subsequent report was intended to provide guidance to policymakers and government officials.

The report was the result of a request made to the University of British Columbia by the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration in 1964. The Minister requested that the University, in collaboration with scholars from other universities, conduct “a study of the social, educational and economic situation of the Indians of Canada and to offer recommendations where it appeared that benefits could be gained.”[ii]

Part 2 of the report focused on findings and recommendations related to education. An entire section of the report examined the ideologies of the various bodies responsible for First Nations education: federal administrators, provincial government administrators, members of school boards, private bodies, and denominational groups. For the purposes of this article, summary comments will only include those related to federal and provincial administrators.

According to the report, the federal government approach to First Nations education underwent a significant shift in the years following the Second World War. Prior to 1945, the federal government had kept First Nations children completely segregated in on-reserve schools, in the form of either day or residential/boarding schools. By 1960-65, the government position on the purpose of First Nations schooling had shifted significantly and the extension of education to the greatest number of Indigenous children became a necessity. Schools increased in number and there was also more attention given to the importance of staffing schools with qualified teachers. This new orientation was credited with ushering in a significant increase in the number of First Nations students attending off-reserve schools alongside non-First Nations students. By 1967, more than 50% of First Nations students attended integrated schools.[iii] 

Described in the report as “phenomenal” expansion of education, the report indicated that new schools were established in many areas and that  “the number of students at the secondary level increased from 700 to approximately 5,000 [and the] the budget for education, which was approximately $5,000,000 in 1948, sextupled to $31,500,000 in 1963” – a sum that totaled approximately half of the total budget for Indian Affairs at the time.[iv] This expansion in education also translated into provincial contexts. For instance, in an effort to ensure “that the Indians must have the same opportunities as the other citizens of the Province,”[v] the province of Alberta established the Northland School Division.

Despite such moves towards integration and the expansion of education, the report also criticized texts for failing to account for the “preservation of language which is a primary factor in the preservation of the cultural identity of a community.”[vi] This, according to the report, “makes it difficult to distinguish between a policy of integration and a policy of assimilation, which allows the loss of the basic cultural values of the integrated ethnic group.”[vii] Without careful attention to recognizing and preserving cultures and languages, students would continue to be subjected to an education that not only failed to account for cultural difference but that oftentimes continued to perpetuate negative and harmful representations of Indigenous peoples.[viii]

The Hawthorn Report drew attention to the educational attainment gap of First Nations students and the alarming rates at which they were dropping out of school. Table I from the Hawthorn Report traced enrolment and dropout numbers from 1951 to 1962. The report drew attention to these numbers as “a reminder that although more Indians are entering school each year and staying in school longer, doubly intensified efforts will have to be made to equalize educational opportunity for Indians.” These statistics were framed as indicative of the failures of the school system to account for the needs of First Nations students to ensure their success in school. The conditions in schools created a situation where “it is difficult to imagine” how an Indian child attending an ordinary public school could develop anything but a negative self-image.[ix]

Indian Residential Schools: A Research Study

Published in the same year as Part 2 of the Hawthorn Report, Indian Residential Schools: A Research Study of the Child Care Programs of Nine Residential Schools in Saskatchewan focused specifically on the state of care in Canadian residential schools. The findings of the report, carried out by George Caldwell and prepared for the Department of Indian Affairs, mirrored many conclusions reached by the Hawthorne Report. Caldwell, working on behalf of the Canadian Welfare Council, visited nine residential schools over the course of nine months, administering a series of data collection tools to examine “residential schools relative to their effect on the adaptation (present and projected) and adjustment of the Indian student.”[x]

Findings from the study pointed to the gross underfunding of residential schools and the poor conditions experienced by the students attending these institutions. “The physical environment of the daily living aspects of the residential school is overcrowded, poorly designed, highly regimented and forces a mass approach to children.”[xi] The report wemt on to conclude that these institutions served a custodial, rather than developmental, service. The approach to children in the care of residential schools was characterized as a process that aimed to “force conformity to the institutional pattern”[xii] at the expense of individual needs and development. The conditions and failures witnessed by Caldwell and his team brought about a decidedly concise and direct recommendation: that the federal government “concern itself primarily with the education of Indian children and remove itself from the operation of childrens’ institutions such as the present residential schools.”[xiii]  Caldwell recognized that residential schools were not schools at all, and recommended they be closed.

Indian Control of Indian Education

Soon after the release of final reports from Hawthorn and Caldwell, the federal government proposed its new approach to First Nations policies and services. This new approach would align with the goal of “integration” that both Hawthorn and Caldwell had highlighted. In 1969, the Trudeau Liberal government, and then Minister of the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs Jean Chrétien, released a White Paper, “Statement of the Government of Canada on Indian Policy, 1969.” This White Paper set out a new policy that proposed the dissolution of the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs as well as of all historic treaties. If passed by Parliament, the Paper would have resulted in the abandoning of any kind of special rights and services for First Nations peoples and communities. Chretien argued that all services for all Canadians should flow from the same departments. Essentially, the federal government used an argument of equality to promote a new system where First Nations would be stripped of their unique status, including rights set out under the Indian Act and the various treaties that governments had negotiated with First Nations leaders.

Indigenous response to the White Paper was harsh and swift. One response, the “Red Paper,” was prepared by the Indian Association of Alberta under the leadership of Harold Cardinal. Many believe that the 1969 White Paper was withdrawn as a direct result of their work.  In the years following the White Paper’s initial release, various organizations penned reports and position papers of their own in response to the government’s attempt to shirk its duties and obligations. While Citizens Plus (“The Red Paper”) provided the most direct response to the White Paper, the issue of education was taken up by the National Indian Brotherhood (NIB).[xiv] In 1972, the organization released a position paper that outlined its vision for education: Indian Control of Indian Education. While both Hawthorn and Caldwell highlighted the failures of the education system, even noting the failure of schools to recognize and support the unique needs of First Nations children, neither of these reports provided guidance or recommendations for increased presence and control by First Nations communities of the education of their children. In contrast, this was the primary focus outlined by the NIB. The paper was presented to the Minister of the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs in December of 1972. In contrast to the direction suggested in the White Paper, the Education Committee that worked to pull together the position paper used two central educational principles recognized in Canadian society to lay a foundation for its views: parental responsibility and local control of education. The Committee asserted that while “only Indian people can develop a suitable philosophy of education based on Indian values adapted to modern living, … it is the financial responsibility of the Federal Government to provide education of all types and all levels to all status Indian people, whether living on or off reserves.”[xv]

The Indian Association of Alberta issues the Red Paper Brief to then Minister of Indian Affairs, Jean Chrétien (right), and Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau (left), 1970. Image courtesy of Library and Archives Canada.

The paper was organized into four parts, each addressing an issue that the NIB argued required attention and improvement: responsibility, programs, teachers, and facilities. With respect to jurisdictional responsibility for First Nations education, the NIB argued for explicit involvement in decision-making. Contracts for educational services should be negotiated in consultation with Indian Band Councils, and “Indian people concerned, together with officials of the Department of Indian Affairs, must review all existing agreements for the purpose of making specific recommendations for their revision, termination or continuance.”[xvi] In instances of on-reserve education, the paper called for the establishment of a new form of governance: the Band Educational Authority. Where previous local control had been exercised through school committees disconnected from local Band Councils, the NIB called on the federal government to allow for the creation of Band Education Authorities to manage funds allocated for educational purposes. Calling to attention to the fact that over 60% of First Nations students were attending provincial or territorial schools at the time, the NIB highlighted the need for First Nations representatives on provincial and territorial school boards. To secure this representation, the NIB called on the provincial and territorial governments to enact legislation requiring such representation.

The NIB reiterated the alien and disconnected nature of mainstream education that had been noted in the Hawthorn Report, and provided recommendations to address it. In addition to noting the importance of recognizing the unique needs of First Nations children, the NIB made specific recommendation for the integration of First Nations history, culture, and values into curriculum: “School curricula in federal and provincial/territorial schools should recognize Indian culture, values, customs, languages and the Indian contribution to Canadian development. Courses in Indian history and culture should promote pride in the Indian child, and respect in the non-Indian student.”[xvii] The express and meaningful involvement of First Nations peoples would be essential to these revisions, through representation on curriculum renewal departments and involvement with textbook writers, in order to produce accurate and respectful representations of First Nations peoples.

The next area that the NIB drew attention to in the paper was the issue of teachers and teacher training. Recommendations in this area addressed the need for government intervention to support an increase in the number of First Nations teachers and the training of non-First Nations teachers. The NIB argued that First Nations teachers were best positioned “to create the learning environment suited to the habits and interests of the Indian child [because of their] intimate understanding of Indian traditions, psychology, way of life and language.”[xviii] Where non-First Nations teachers are concerned, the NIB “urged [Federal and provincial/territorial authorities] to use the strongest measures necessary to improve the qualifications of teachers and counselors of Indian children.”[xix] Such measures included specific courses focused on cultural and linguistic understanding.

The final area addressed in the paper was the issue of facilities. Just as the Hawthorn and Calder reports had noted the subpar physical environments characteristic of on-reserve educational institutions, the NIB urged the government to make improvements, which would require the removal of all unsafe and obsolete buildings and the creation of new facilities in their place. Such removal and renewal, the NIB urged, should be under control of the Band Educational Authority.

The NIB also looked into the failures of integration. The NIB shared the perspective on integration that was put forth in the Hawthorn Report – that the current vision of integration was not integration at all. The NIB noted that the current vision of integration was one-way, in that “it has been the Indian student who was asked to integrate: to give up his identity, to adopt new values and a new way of life.”[xx] Successful integration, according to the NIB, was instead dependent on First Nations and non-First Nations stakeholders making informed and respectful decisions. “Non-Indians,” the NIB urged, “must be ready to recognize the value of another way of life; to learn about Indian history, customs and language; and to modify, if necessary, some of their own ideas and practices.”[xxi]

From these three reports, it becomes clear that the obligation of the federal government to provide education to First Nations children was a long way from being met adequately. Systematic and comprehensive reports from the period, and others released in the years that followed 1972, clearly demonstrated the failure of the Canadian government to provide adequate and appropriate education for First Nations children. Even in provincial and territorial schools, where education was more adequately funded and students went home to their families at night, First Nations students were provided with schooling that was disconnected from their culture and language. What’s more, the curriculum and textbooks First Nations students were exposed to often included harmful, stereotypical, racist, and demeaning representations of Indigenous peoples.

While the nuances and complexities of experience are essential to understanding the history of First Nations education in what is now Canada, comprehensive studies like those discussed here provide important insights into the systematic failure of the federal, and provincial/territorial governments where those agreements existed, to honour the promise and legal obligation of education for First Nations children. 

Additional Resources

A Survey of the Contemporary Indians of Canada: Economic, Political, Educational Needs and Policies – Part 2,” Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, (1967).

Caldwell, G. (1967). “Indian residential schools: a research study of the child care programs of nine residential schools in Saskatchewan,” Canadian Welfare Council (1967).

Clark, P., “Representations of Aboriginal people in English Canadian history textbooks: Toward reconciliation,” in Teaching the Violent Past: History Education and Reconciliation, Elizabeth A. Cole, (Ed.). (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2017), pg. 81-119.

Indian Control of Indian Education,” National Indian Brotherhood, (1972).

[i] The term Indian is used here as a reflection of the fact that the term appears in the title of the documents from the period. Terminology has shifted over time in response to increased education and awareness about the connection to between names and identity. For a more detailed discussion, please see Chapter 1 of Chelsea Vowel’s Indigenous Writes: A Guide to First Nations, Inuit, and Métis Issues in Canada.

[ii]A Survey of the Contemporary Indians of Canada: Economic, Political, Educational Needs and Policies – Part 2,” Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, (1967).

[iii] Ibid

[iv] Ibid

[v] Ibid

[vi] Ibid

[vii] Ibid

[viii] See for instance Penney Clark’s Representation of Aboriginal People in English History Textbooks: Towards Reconciliation. Clark contends that representations of Aboriginal peoples can be categorized as follows: in five categories: exotic, problem, uniquely spiritual, protestor, and invisible. She concludes that textbooks reflect a reliance on the “narrative of progress and the othering of Aboriginal people” (pg. 111).

[ix]A Survey of the Contemporary Indians of Canada: Economic, Political, Educational Needs and Policies – Part 2,” Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, (1967).

[x] Caldwell, G., “Indian residential schools: a research study of the child care programs of nine residential schools in Saskatchewan,” Canadian Welfare Council, (1967).

[xi] Ibid

[xii] Ibid

[xiii] Ibid

[xiv] The National Indian Brotherhood would eventually become the Assembly of First Nations. The organization was formed in 1970 as a unified lobby group representing all First Nations peoples from coast to coast. Under pressure surrounding claims that the organization was not representative of all First Nations peoples and communities, the NIB was restructured in 1982 as the National Assembly of First Nations. The organization still serves as a national advocacy organization for First Nations communities (Assembly of First Nations, 2024).

[xv]Indian Control of Indian Education,” National Indian Brotherhood (1972).

[xvi] Ibid

[xvii] Ibid

[xviii] Ibid

[xix] Ibid

[xx] Ibid

[xxi] Ibid