Selected Moments of the 20th Century

A work in progress edited by Daniel Schugurensky
Department of Adult Education, Community Development and Counselling Psychology,
The Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto (OISE/UT)


National Indian Brotherhood Releases Indian Control of Indian Education


Indigenous peoples have been educating themselves, their communities and their nations since time immemorial. They had a natural education system that followed the evolutionary complexities of cultural philosophy, social organization and environmental orders. Education began at birth and continued through one’s entire life. Individuals were educated by their families, clan relatives and community members; and thus, they were taught according to their role as a contributor to society. They received further teachings from the spiritual realm, in the form of dreams, visions and ceremonies. The education system was rooted in the culture, maintained in the communities and communicated through language.

Colonial governments began to interfere with Indigenous nations upon European contact. There were hundreds of nations inhabiting territory that had valuable lands and natural resources. Many Indigenous nations entered into agreements with these governments to form military alliances and share land based resources. European nations created and implemented policies that intended to assimilate and acculturate Indigenous nations. Through the administration of Indian policy and the facilitation of the terms of treaty agreements, the traditional forms of education were severely altered.

Indigenous peoples in Canada where at a critical point in change. The adjustments of lifestyles and development of stationary communities were extremely challenging. The residential school system was a major contributor in the rapid change of Indigenous nations. Such schools were established by the missionaries and funded by the Canadian state. Religion was the foundation of teachings and organized to replace traditional values and practises. Although the first residential school was implemented in the 1600's, the full expansion was not realized until the 1800 and 1900's.

The schools were located away from the communities, and thus, children were forced to leave their families. The children endured substantial physical, sexual and emotional abuses while resident at these church run and government funded institutions. Thousands of children attended these schools. Although closure of the schools began in the 1960's, the last one in Canada was closed down in the mid 1980's.

Indigenous nations in Canada began actively organizing around their rights in the 1960's. The right to education had been negotiated through the treaties. It had also been legislated in the Indian Act of 1876. The National Indian Brotherhood, (subsequently the Assembly of First Nations) the political body representing the Indigenous communities, considers these treaties international agreements; and thus, their political advocacy was directed towards the Canadian state to uphold the education clause(s) contained in the terms of the treaties (Assembly of First Nations, 1988).

Education Policy

In 1972, the Chiefs of the National Indian Brotherhood adopted the first written policy on Indian education, entitled Indian Control of Indian Education. It was presented to Minister Jean Chretien, of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, on December 21, 1972. This policy was written as a comprehensive position paper that articulated principles of local control, parental responsibility and culturally based curriculum. "We want education to provide the setting in which our children can develop the fundamental attitudes and values which have an honoured place in Indian tradition and culture." (National Indian Brotherhood, 1972, p.2) It was clear that Indigenous communities in Canada wanted to take a leading role in the education of their children.

The policy contained a specific section on adult education. It was widely acknowledged that education would play a significant role in the advancement of Indigenous communities. Adult education programs, properly conducted can be a means for many Indian to find economic security and self-fulfilment. It was recognized that a need existed to provide grade advancement, basic literacy courses and oral English programs for those who wanted to learn how to speak, read and write in the English language. The policy further stated, that, "Other adult education programs which should be provided as the need demands, might include: business management, consumer education, leadership training, administration, human relations, family education, health budgeting, cooking, sewing, crafts, Indian art and culture, etc." (National Indian Brotherhood, 1972, p.13).

The policy also stated that the federal government held fiduciary responsibility for Indian education. "While we assert that only Indian people can develop a suitable philosophy of education based on Indian values adapted to modern living, we also strongly maintain that it is the financial responsibility of the federal government to provide education of all types and all levels and to all status Indian people, whether living on or off reserve." (National Indian Brotherhood, 1972, p.3) Indigenous leaders were persistent in lobbying for the federal government to fund all aspects of Indian education. It was viewed that the treaty agreements contained the commitment to provide education to the Indigenous nations.

The Department of Indian Affairs and northern Development was quick to accept the position of the National Indian Brotherhood. As reported in The Indian News, "Since December of last year, the Department has been studying and analysing the policy changes necessary to bring the Department’s education programme into line with the National Indian Brotherhood submission. This analysis is now complete and the Minister, in his opening statement to the committee stated, ‘I have given the National Indian Brotherhood my assurance that I and my Department are fully committed to realizing the educational goals for the Indian people which are set forth in the Brotherhood’s proposal.’" (1973). The government’s reception of the policy seemed positive and Indian leaders were optimistic regarding their political efforts.

In the following years, the full implementation of the policy proved to be challenging and full of legal and jurisdictional barriers. "It was pointed out that the Department of Indian Affairs, while accepting the 1972 policy of Indian control, had re-defined "control" to mean a "degree of participation." This definition allowed the Department to move slowly, delegating programmes of administration rather than policy development and real management and financial control." (ed. Barman, Hebert, McCaskill, 1987, p.25) It has been nearly three decades since the policy Indian Control of Indian Education had been accepted by Indigenous leaders and the Canadian state. However, despite the advancement of educational policy, there still remains many unresolved issues regarding Indian education in Canada.


The landmark policy of Indian Control of Indian Education set the foundation for Indigenous peoples in Canada to reclaim their inherent right to educate their communities. The decades to follow the passing of this policy would see a rise in initiatives regarding local control, transfer of jurisdiction and the development of culturally based curriculum and educational facilities. Several Indigenous communities are currently involved in negotiations with the Canadian state regarding self-government, including jurisdiction of education.

For more information on the Assembly of First Nations check out the web site:


Ed. Barman Jean, Hebert Yvonne, McCaskill Don. (1987). Indian Education in Canada: Volume 2 - The Challenge. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press.

Indian Control of Indian Education. (1972). Ottawa: National Indian Brotherhood.

The Indian News, Volume 16, Number 3, July 1973.

Traditions and Education: Towards A Vision of our Future — A Declaration of First Nations Jurisdiction over Education. (1988) Ottawa: National Indian Brotherhood, Assembly of First Nations.


Prepared by Renee Shilling (OISE/UT)

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