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The Davin Report, 1879

The Davin Report, 1879

- Nishnawbe Aski Nation Indian Residential Schools in Ontario, 2005 -

Following the organization of the Department of Indian Affairs and the passage of the first Indian Act in 1876, the attention of the federal government became focused on the education of the Indian students. In 1879 Sir John A. MacDonald, then Prime Minister, commissioned a study of the internal workings of the Industrial Boarding schools in the United States and the Canadian West. The study was to “report on the workings of Industrial Schools in the United States and the advisability of establishing similar institutions in the North-West territories of the Dominion”. Davin went the United States and visited Indian Boarding Schools at the Cheyenne, Arapaho and White Earth (Minnesota) Agencies and at Hampton, Virginia. He discussed schools with principals and staff of the schools set up in the “Indian Territory” to provide an education to the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek and Seminole Indians who had been relocated there. He also travelled to Winnipeg where he met with Monsignor Tache, Father Lacombe, the Honourable James McKay and a number of other people in the community. Davin prepared a report of his findings after he completed his fact-finding trips[9].

Nicolas Flood Davin was impressed with the method of funding Indian schools whereby the government provided a set amount per student to the Church that operated the schools. The main recommendation made by Davin was that the federal government should institute a “contract method” of education:

(1.) Wherever the missionaries have schools, the Government should utilize those schools, if possible; that is to say, a contract should be made with the religious body controlling the school to board and educate and train industrially a certain number of pupils. This should be done without interfering with the small assistance at present given to the day-mission schools.

Davin recommended the funding of four schools in the west – the first at Prince Albert to be operated by the Episcopalian Church; one at Old Bow Fort to be operated by the Methodists; another at Qu’Appelle to be operated by the Roman Catholics; and the last at Riding Mountain to be run by the Presbyterian Church. Some of the recommendations related to teachers, salaries, compulsory education and the inspection of schools. Davin also recommended that parents be induced to send their children to school with extra rations and that students who showed “special aptitudes or exceptional general quickness” should be offered special advantages.

Davin reported that in the United States Indian Education was used as a vehicle to force assimilation. Davin was so impressed with the schools that he had seen in the United States, particularly the federal Indian boarding schools that he had seen in the United States, particularly the federal Indian boarding school in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, which was opened in 1879. Its founder, Richard Henry Pratt, claimed that he had discovered a new way to deal with the “Indian problem – by education and assimilation. It seemed the United States had found such “boarding schools,” as they were called, to be quite effective in deconstructing young Indians.


[9] Canada. Annual Report, 1880, Department of the Interior. "Report on Industrial Schools for Indians and Half-Breeds". Nicholas Flood Davin. 14th March, 1879.