Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Native Education

First Nations Control of Education: One Community's Experience

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Native Education

First Nations Control of Education: One Community's Experience

Article excerpt

The voices of First Nations communities, families, and people are acknowledged and recognized in this research, along with the current tensions created by subtle and overtly imposed processes of colonization. This research uses ethnographic techniques to describe a First Nations community's experience in controlling its education, and identifies challenges related to the effects of colonization and the impacts that community control has had on its education system.

First Nations control of education is central: education systems modelled on Eurocentric paradigms have generally proven to be unproductive in First Nations communities and have undermined Indigenous ways of knowing. Efforts toward self-determination and reorganization within First Nations education in a community that the research was based on have led to a range of successes and failures, but as this study ultimately illustrates, community control of First Nations educational systems is paramount if the processes of external domination are to be eliminated.


This paper highlights a First Nations community and its evolving education system from the perspective of First Nations control of First Nations education. For nearly two centuries, First Nations communities in Canada have resisted the message of assimilation perpetuated most recently through "Canadian" schools. One defense against this message is to address organizational processes that can reverse external political and economic pressures. In 1972, the National Indian Brotherhood (now the Assembly of First Nations) presented the Indian Control of Indian Education (ICIE) position paper to the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development. The ICIE position paper has had much influence over the years and has been a motivating aspect for many First Nations communities. Indigenous education controlled locally by Indigenous people acknowledges and recognizes the unique qualities of First Nations people, communities, and families. This research examines the experience of one First Nations community while it assumed the undefined responsibility of its education system. The beliefs and values transmitted through the Eurocentric educational system, as a process of colonization, create frequent conflict with First Nations students and are often incompatible with their home culture and language (Curwen Doige, 2003). It is through acknowledging the values of the community, families, and the students that the educational system will benefit from a positive exchange of ideas. The many voices from this First Nations community provide salience and echo the answers to many challenges, and express the essence of the struggle to overcome the confusion, loss of hope, and lack of cohesiveness that have resulted from colonization.

The often grossly unfair economic, legal, and political arrangements used as colonizing tools foisted upon First Nations over the past centuries have all contributed to the adverse circumstances so prevalent among First Nations communities today (Battiste, Bell, & Findlay, 2002; Marker, 2004;). Educational organizations and systems have been used as tools of colonization throughout the world (Tuhiwai-Smith, 2002). Although colonization has many aspects to its process, this research focuses on First Nations education as one means to overturn a long history of oppression and to provide an escape from continued economic and political marginalization. Paulo Freire (2006), speaking directly on his work as an educator in Brazil, suggested how we all benefit from life without oppression:

As the oppressors dehumanize others and violate their rights, they themselves also become dehumanized. As the oppressed, fighting to become human, take away the oppressors' power to dominate and suppress, they restore to the oppressors the humanity they had lost in the exercise of oppression.... It is only the oppressed who, by freeing themselves, can free their oppressors, (p. …

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