Indigenous Education in Arctic Canada

After World War II and the movement of Inuit into settlements, northern administrators established community councils. Initially, the councils had little real power; they functioned more as intermediaries, carriers of complaints and questions, than as partners in the governing of communities. With the establishment of provincial schools in Arctic Québec, government administrators created parent committees, something that federal schools had not initiated. However, in reality, the parent committees made few decisions, and wielded little impact on the day-to-day operations of the schools and none on the instructional program or overall policy. School administrators invited Inuit to participate, but set limits on community involvement.

In 1972, the National Indian Brotherhood produced a landmark policy study on Indian education in Canada titled Indian Control of Indian Education. The two fundamental principles of parental responsibility and local jurisdiction underlay the study. While the federal government stated its acceptance of the basic goals expressed in the study, no legal basis existed in the Indian Act or other legislation for the transfer of control of educational programs to Indian bands or communities. During the 1970s and 1980s, increasing numbers of Indian bands assumed responsibility for administering elementary and secondary schools. The Saskatchewan Indian Federated College, an Indian-controlled university-level college with accreditation linked to the University of Regina, was established in 1976.

Under Section 17 of the 1975 James Bay and Northern Québec Agreement and subsequent enabling legislation, the Inuit and Cree assumed responsibility for elementary, secondary, and adult education in their communities. Operating and capital costs for the Inuit schools were to come from the Québec and the Canadian governments (75% and 25%, respectively). In the case of the Cree School Board, the Agreement mandated Canada to provide 75% and Québec 25% of the approved budgets. At a time when Québec was establishing provincial control over education and, for the first time, instituting strict controls over languages of instruction and content of the curriculum, the province was granting the Inuit and Cree extraordinary powers to design and administer education in their communities.

In 1988, the Assembly of First Nations released Tradition and Education: towards a Vision of Our Future, a nationwide review of First Nations' education. This study determined that while the Canadian government had endorsed the concept of Indian control of Indian education, it had "consistently defined 'Indian control' to mean merely First Nations' participation in and administration of previously developed formal education programs." The authors of Tradition and Education: Towards A Vision of Our Future identified the requirements for genuine control of education by an indigenous community: adequate financial and human resources; training of education authority members; community, and particularly parental, involvement at all phases of the transfer and delivery of education; the presentation of educational options to the community; the development of an education philosophy, long-term plans, and evaluation procedures at the beginning of the process to guide its implementation; policies and procedures consistent with the stated philosophy; hiring of qualified staff; sufficient administration and teacher preparation; language and culturally based curriculum development and programming; and access to, and utilization of, technology.

While band-controlled schooling and the development of culturally relevant instruction has increased steadily since the early 1970s, the 1990 Fourth Report of the Canadian House of Commons Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs—You Took My Talk: Aboriginal Literacy and Empowerment concluded that a great deal more must change before indigenous people gain genuine control of education in their communities. While acknowledging the need for secondary programs on reserves as well as for more aboriginal teachers and culturally relevant materials, the report stated that witnesses cited aboriginal control of educational policy and institutions and expanded aboriginal language instruction as the most pressing issues facing their communities.

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