1763 Royal Proclamation
With the Royal Proclamation of 1763 and agreements made in treaties, the British Crown and later the Canadian government were required to provide an education for First Nations. By the mid-19th century, momentum was building within government for an education program that would ‘civilize’ Aboriginal children and aggressively assimilate them into the Canadian Christian mainstream.
Report on Native Education (1847)
The Bagot Commission (1842-1844), led by then Governor-General of the Province of Canada Sir Robert Bagot, proposed that the separation of children from their parents would be the best way to achieve assimilation. In his Report on Native Education (1847), Egerton Ryerson, superintendent for education, reiterated this idea, and also recommended that Aboriginal education focus on religious instruction and on agricultural training.
1857 Gradual Civilization Act
The Gradual Civilization Act was a bill passed by the 5th Parliament of the Province of Canada. The act required male Indians and Métis over the age of 21 to read, write and speak either English or French and to choose an approved surname by which they would be legally recognized. By the application of this act, Indian and Métis males would lose all of their legal rights, as well as any land claims and would become British subjects, though with far fewer rights. It was called ‘enfranchisement,” and was one of the many policies that would be passed to aggressively assimilate Aboriginal populations.
1876 The Indian Act
The Indian Act of 1876 secured government control over Indian rights, status, and lands. A series of amendments increased the government’s control over Indian lives and lands. Crushing prohibitions, designed to extinguish what were considered to be uncivilized and savage cultural practices, were introduced. The Indian Act also allowed the government to realize its ambition to assimilate Aboriginal peoples through the creation of residential schools.
- Canadian Encyclopedia article on the Indian Act
- Notes on the Indian Act from the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (RCAP)
Further information about the Indian Act
1879 Report on Industrial Schools for Indians and Half Breeds (Davin Report)
Nicholas Flood Davin’s Report on Industrial Schools and Half-breeds, also known as the Davin Report, which included a number of recommendations on how the American policy on Aboriginal education could be replicated in Canada. By the time the Davin Report was released, the idea of separating children from their parents as an effective education-and assimilation-strategy had already taken root. The persuasive example of what could be achieved through a ‘boarding school’ model like the one in the United States generated fervour to implement a similar system in Canada.
- Report on Industrial Schools for Indians and Half Breeds
- Multimedia: Davin Report
- Timeline: Canada’s History on the Davin Report
- Critical Thinking Consortium on the Davin Report
In Peter Bryce’s official report, he called the tuberculosis epidemic at the schools a “national crime… the consequence of inadequate government funding, poorly constructed schools, sanitary and ventilation problems, inadequate diet, clothing and medical care.” He reported that 24% of all pupils who had been at the schools were known to be dead. At the File Hills reserve in Saskatchewan, 75% of the students had died in the first 16 years of the school’s operation.
- The Story of a National Crime (pdf from archive.org)
- The Caring Society on Dr. Peter Bryce
- Ottawa CItizen: Ceremony at Beechwood Ceremony to Honour Dr. Peter Bryce
While many Aboriginal nations were skeptical of dealing with the new federal government, they had little choice. Declining buffalo herds and disease put many nations on the verge of extinction. They also risked the loss of their culture and way of life in the face of European settlement. To survive, many Aboriginals negotiated the surrender of land for very little in return: cash and supplies.