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The First Nations View

The First Nations View

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

When Residential Schools were first opened in northern Ontario, First Nations parents did not see much value in having their children attend school:

The parents do not appear to take much interest in the education of their children. I continue to impress upon them the importance of education, and have frequently pointed out to the teachers the necessity of continuing their efforts in getting a larger and more regular attendance[13].

However, as time went on, many First Nations people saw the value of sending their children to school. For example, in 1899 some First Nations people at Fort Frances sent a petition to the Archbishop of the Catholic Church, expecting that the petition would be forwarded to the Department. Their petition noted:

…that hunting and fisting are hardly sufficient at present to obtain a living, and that it becomes necessary to our children to master the English Language in order to cope with the new conditions of things prevailing since the arrival of the white man in our neighbourhood[14].

The interest of First Nations people in having their children attend a school was also noted in other areas, such as Chapleau:

The Indians have sent their children there. They have come to look upon the school as a fixture, something to which they could look forward to as means of getting the rising generation of Indian men and women into a position that would enable them to compete, at least on a reasonably equal basis, with the white men who are gradually forcing them whether they like it or not, into the white man’s environment[15].

When First Nations people started to become financially better off this created problems for the schools because the parents would not send their children to school. This was noted on the James Bay coast in the following letter:

The Principal has experienced the utmost difficulty this year in securing pupils, particularly senior pupils. He had at the time of my visit 120 pupils on the roll [approved for 150] and is worried almost to the point of collapse by the financial outlook for the school…it would appear as Indians become economically better off they display a tendency to keep their children at home and send them to the day schools rather than to the residential school. This may be a rather encouraging tendency but it is one that makes it exceedingly difficult for our schools to operate until certain adjustments have been effected[16].

The complaints of Band Chiefs and Councillors regarding the education that their children were not receiving reinforces the view that First Nations people wanted to have their children educated so that they would fit into the changing economic order. For example, in July 1928 the Chiefs and Councillors of the various Bands in the Kenora and Savanne Agencies held a conference on Indian Education in Kenora[17]. During the conference Chief Kejick of Shoal Lake Indian Band No. 39 agreed with the other Chiefs that the children: 

…did not know how to make a living when they left school and would like trades taught. In the old days trapping was different. How the only way Indians can make a living is to work like the white man and owing to the furs going to through white men trapping and the raising of waters, it made it harder for the Indians each year to make a living.

Chief William Gardner of the Wabigoon Band asked whether it was:

…possible to teach children a better way to earn a living? He hears at the Cecelia Jeffrey Residential School they are taught trades. This is not done at the Catholic School. The boys in leaving school are not fitted to take up work in town and make a living. Could they be taught some trades?

[13] RG 10, Vol. 6194, File 463-1, part 1. Letter H. C. Ross to the Secretary, October 20, 1898.

[14] RG 10, Vol. 6194, File 463-1, part 1. Letter J.C. St. Amant, Missionary to Archbishop Langevin, June 25, 1899.

[15] RG 10, Vol. 6193, File 462-9, part 1. Letter G.B. Nicholson, M.P., to Duncan Scott, Deputy Superintendent General of Indian Affairs. March 4, 1919.

[16] RG 10, Vol. 6205, File 468-1, part 3. Memorandum, R.A. Hoey, Superintedent of Welfare and Training to Doctor McGill. November 9, 1942.

[17] RG 10, Vol. 6187, File 461-1, part 2. Memorandum, Mr. Paget to Mr. Ferrier, Superintendent of Indian Education, August 1, 1928.