A society passes on its values, traditions, and accumulated knowledge to its young through its educational system. In the traditional lifestyle of Arctic indigenous peoples, education was not separated from daily living. The essence of education within Arctic cultures involved preparing the young to assume adult life roles and successful learning was demonstrated by performance. Traditional indigenous styles of education worked because their methods and purposes were clearly understood by all members of the community. These methods effectively prepared young people for the conventional roles and responsibilities they would inherit as adults.
By imposing foreign systems on indigenous communities, outsiders (the first Westerners to come into any sustained contact with these communities, usually traders, and/or missionaries from the 18th to the early
20th centuries) fractured native ways, frequently prohibiting even the speaking of indigenous languages in the school buildings. Education served as a primary tool in assimilating indigenous peoples to the ways of the majority. Like much of written history, the imposed education systems reflected the perspectives and values of those in power.
The first nonindigenous teachers in the Arctic were missionaries in the 18th and 19th centuries (earlier in the Scandinavian Arctic and in Greenland). The chief mission of the churches was the spread of Christianity, and literacy enabled new converts to read the sacred texts. Curriculum, a formal plan for instruction, did not exist in most missionary-sponsored educational programs. The missionaries taught from their individual perspectives and orientations and used methods learned from their school experiences in various European countries. Some sought to respect Native traditions and values. Many missionaries sincerely believed that they could best serve indigenous peoples by helping them adopt non-Native ways.
In the 20th century, indigenous communities began reassuming control of education just as southern educators were questioning the goals and pedagogy of schooling in their own societies. The question of who owns the schools remains a central consideration within contemporary education. Prior to the far-reaching political and social changes of the 1950s and 1960s, the question was rarely asked by any sector of mainstream society. Schooling was the business of those who were trained to provide it. Parents and other members of the community could not tell teachers and administrators how to educate their children. After the 1960s, as former colonies in Asia, Africa, and the Caribbean became independent nations and the Civil Rights Movement forced change in the United States, increasing numbers of people believed that they not only had the right but also the responsibility to participate in the educational process, including the activities of local and community schools. Among these were the indigenous peoples of the Arctic.
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