“Indian Control of Indian Education” – the battle cry of the 70’s

In 1972 the National Indian Brotherhood issued a declaration to the Government of Canada as a response to PM Trudeau’s White Paper Policy.  The declaration was titled “Indian Control of Indian Education”, and was an attempt by the Brotherhood to stop the wheels of assimilation and the elimination of “Indian” peoples rights by Trudeau and his cabinet.  Here is an excerpt from the NIB declaration:

“The time has come for a radical change in Indian education. Our aim is to
make education relevant to the philosophy and needs of the Indian people. We
want education to give our children a strong sense of identity, with confidence
in their personal worth and ability. We believe in education:
– as a preparation for total living,
– as a means of free choice of where to live and work,
– as a means of enabling us to participate fully in our own social,
economic, political and educational advancement.”
1 (AFN Education conference web site)

October 1st – 3rd, the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) will be hosting a conference on Education in Gatineau at the Palais des Congres.  Cost for registering for “First Nations”, a $300, plus travel plus meals plus plus.

There is a wide array of topics that will be discussed during this conference including legislating “First Nations” education.  A contentious topic at best and one which is seemingly promoted by the AFN elite, although I believe there is a resolution to the contrary,

While it is too soon to comment on the conference, there are a few issues I would like to address that are key in Onkwehon:we democracy.  First is the accessibility issue:  the cost to register for Onkwehon:we peoples is $300, free for elders and more if the participant is not Onkwehon:we.  The issue of cost is one that seems to be continually ignored by the upper echelon of the AFN and evidence of it occurred this past July during the AFN Special Chiefs Assembly in Toronto.  Six Nations Chief Bill Montour raised the high cost of registration for community members to the chair Mr. Harold Tarbell before the agenda was approved.  Mr. Chair mentioned that this had been previously discussed and that they would take note.

The high cost to attend any AFN meeting or conference signifies that these meetings are for the elite of Onkwehon:we peoples.  The cost of travel is high especially for those from remote communities and for small communities who have small budgets.

My sense is that “Indian country” through some of the NAO’s, has evolved into a small group of elite, who have at their head, some CEOs, who do not want to see the grass roots participating in decision making processes.  Many grassroot activists often criticize the elite as they feel left out of decisions and see certain actions taken by the leadership as eroding our rights.  It’s important for those unfamiliar with this colonized arena that the AFN is composed of band councils and is a system that is administrative at best without any real authority unless the Minister of “Aboriginal and Northern Affairs” rubber stamps any initiative.  It is not a reflection of the sincerity of efforts to make change by the majority of chiefs, it is the reality of the Indian Act.

If we are to truly decolonize our relationship with Canada, then we must start amongst ourselves.  Eliminate the high costs of registration which by the way, only provides us with a name tag, the agenda, a pen, a bag and some reading materials, and permission to enter the conference.  While I agree that there does need to be some sense of “control” on who has access at a conference, it should not be at the cost of our democracy.

Education is an important topic.  On one hand it was used against us during the Indian Residential School system, and in many ways, is still a major tool of assimilation.  But it can be used to improve our situation, but only if we actually have a curriculum that reflects and implements, who we are as Indigenous peoples.  Imagine that in 1972 our leaders fought to promote our language, our culture, promote our identity protect our rights and they did so with sincerity and anxiety about the fate of our peoples.  Yet here we are in 2012 excluding participants because of the cost of attending, using the very same system that has oppressed Indigenous peoples for over a century.   If we are to Control education then we need as many good minds to guide the way in overcoming the vestiges of Colonization.  I don’t equate a webcast with that of actually participating.  The question to ask ourselves then is this: is legislation really the answer?  Will it be another stab at our rights by PM Harper whereby his definition of “control” leaves us without the resources to actually improve the quality of Onkwehon:we education systems – we need to remember that legislation is never accompanied by funding.

Whatever happened to the endorsement of the UNDRIP by the AFN and indeed by Canada?  What does its implementation mean to a special interest group like the AFN and to the Government of Canada?

Over several decades we have had costly conferences, discussions on how to get out of the oppression that has inflicted its destructive tools against our children, youth, peoples and lands.  Colonization has cost Onkwehon:we peoples dearly and still does:  Onkwehon:we women are 5 times more likely to experience violence, we have a high number of murdered and missing “Aboriginal” women.  So how do these facts affect the children in our communities?!  I have heard the Buffalo speeches by leaders who talk about how important language and culture are to Indigenous peoples, that we need to do something to protect Aboriginal women…and then we wait for the funding to come in to address these issues.  Funding that the Government of Canada controls and uses to their benefit as a tool to continue colonization and to maintain our communities’ social problems.  Canada controlling our funding is like Economic Terrorism:  a tool used the world over not just by governments, but by government supported corporations to exploit resources and undermine the human rights of peoples.

Today we have more Indigenous academics than ever; Indigenous women being the highest in number. Yet our education system is still in the control of government bureaucrats and an “Aboriginal” industry of government departments whose greedy hand stretches far and wide while our communities struggle just to get the bare necessities.

It is a fact that the dollars that flow to our communities belong to our peoples.  It comes from an 1880 trust fund from the royalties of our lands and resources, whereby in the same year, Canada gave itself the fiduciary responsibility of controlling since they relegated “Indians” as “wards of the state” under the Indian Act .  It is not tax payers’ dollars and it does not belong to PM Harper or Minister Duncan to decide how it should be spent.  The game of economic terrorism has gone on for over a century, for the benefit of achieving the goal of colonial assimilation.

Education should be based upon our languages, our values, our customs and our traditional governing systems.  As more thefts of our lands and resources continues through land claims and the Indian Act, there may be very little left by the time we actually achieve our goals of “Indian Control of Indian Education”.  If people believe that their Indigenous identity is linked to the land and all our relations, then significant progress needs to happen.

We must implement reform ourselves while informing Canada and its provinces that our Indigenous academics along with our language teachers and activists will be controlling our communities’ education. We will create our own curriculum using our traditional knowledge and people through funds that legally belong to us.  We will be regenerating our languages and customs in our education system, according to our standards.  We cannot accept any more legislation whereby English and French threaten our Onkwehon:we languages. Even if these languages are essential to learn, our languages will be the priority in our control of our education.

To conclude, we don’t need any more Buffalo speeches that state our “sovereignty” or “jurisdiction” over our lands and resources.  What we need is action, courage, strength and a good understanding and knowledge of the teachings of our ancestors.  Education is the key, but according to our standards, and yes including math,science, and all the other subjects to help our children and youth survive in a global society.  These have always been part of Onkwehon:we peoples’ education systems, how else would Europeans have survived these lands without the traditional knowledge of our ancestors?!

When Onkwehon:we peoples take back control of our education, let’s include the arts like painting, music, drawing, theater, etc – these utilize the same side of the brain that math and sciences do; and yet are the first to get funding cuts in our schools.  Bring back the richness and gifts of our identity to the education of our children and youth.

United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, regarding education and languages

Article 14
Indigenous peoples have the right to establish and control their educational systems
and institutions providing education in their own languages, in a manner appropriate to
their cultural methods of teaching and learning
Article 15
Indigenous peoples have the right to the dignity and diversity of their cultures,
traditions, histories and aspirations which shall be appropriately reflected in education
and public information

Sken:nen – in peace

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One thought on ““Indian Control of Indian Education” – the battle cry of the 70’s

  1. I am from vancouver and i wanted to say that this Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples by the United Nations is an important educational tool for people to know about.The canadian gov. is always telling lies concerning the Native People so that this Declaration can back up what the Native People are fighting for.All progressive People and unions in canada should support Idle No More.Keep up the good work.

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