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Aboriginal Education: A Canadian Failure?


Division/Grade Level

Division IV
Grade 10 –12
Time Frame

Three 80-minute classes

Lesson Overview

This lesson uses Peel primary sources to examine the question of the educational decisions made in the late 1800s pertaining to the Canadian Aboriginals. The lesson uses sensitive documents to demonstrate the ethnocentrism and stereotyping that was present in our society at that time.


The students will understand that the education of the Aboriginal was a government and church “mission.” There was a definite desire to assimilate the native and make him “white.” The cultural identity of the Aboriginals was directly influenced by the government and the church.

Students will:

1. understand that the cultural identity of the Aboriginals was compromised by the government of Canada and various missionary groups;
2. learn about the manner in which the Aboriginals were educated, and the goals of the educational system.


Students will:

1. acquire information from print and non-print resources;
2. analyze and evaluate; detect bias and distinguish fact from opinion;
3. report on research results;
4. write an essay stating an opinion on the issue as it pertained to cultural identity.

Students will:

1. be encouraged to develop respect for the Aboriginal people and their continuing concerns about their treatment at the hands of the missionaries and the government;
2. be encouraged to develop empathy for the manner in which the young Aboriginal children were taken from their homes and placed in institutions which separated them from their families.

Curricular Connections

Social Studies
New Vocabulary

Peel Prairie Portal Resource Materials

* Peel #98
Selkirk, Thomas Douglas 5th earl
On The Civilization of the Indians in British America. [London, Printed by J. Brettell, 1816?], pages 7-12.
* #2951
Ferrier, Thompson
Indian Education in the North West. Toronto, Department of Missionary Literature of the Methodist Church, 1906, pages 12-31.
* #1889
Hart, Thomas
Mission Work among the Indians of the North-West: A Sermon. Toronto, Presbyterian News Co., 1890, page

8. Other Resource Materials

Goals of Aboriginal Education – graphic organizer

Worksheet – Residential/Industrial Schools

From the Bush to the Internet – Aboriginal Photos

Residential Schools (The United Church of Canada)

Highlights from the Report of the Royal Commission on
Aboriginal Peoples People to People, Nation to Nation
Looking Forward, Looking Back
Gathering Strength

First Nations, The Circle Unbroken – Video 4
4-1 Education, As We See It (20 minutes) NFB

Report on Industrial Schools for Indians and Half-breeds by Nicholas Flood Davin. [Ottawa?: s.n. 1879?] (Early Canadiana Online)
Developing the Lesson
Introduction or Opening Activity

It is desirable to begin this lesson with an overview of the residential schools – where, when and why they existed. This discussion should include a description of the treaties signed with the Canadian natives by the government, guaranteeing the natives the right to an education. Many of the students will have heard of the legal action that has been launched by more than 5,000 Aboriginals in this regard. The teacher could allude to the 11,000 lawsuits without expressing an opinion as to the nature of the decisions.

Purpose of the Lesson

This lesson will examine Peel primary sources, looking for the rationale behind the establishment of the residential and industrial schools. This rationale is important in light of the lawsuits of the late 1990s.
Presentation of New Material

Students may work in pairs or individually to examine the document entitled Report on Industrial Schools for Indians and Half-breeds (Early Canadiana Online). Teachers may wish to use the worksheet in its entirety, or perhaps parts of the worksheet. The worksheet is intended to give direction to the reading, especially for the weaker student. It also provides a focus for a classroom discussion that will examine the ethnocentrism permeating the document.

Check for Understanding

Discuss the answers to the worksheet. Ensure an adequate understanding of the recommendation to the Minister of the Interior.
Independent Practice

Discuss the following questions with the students:

* Why were the residential schools established for the natives?
* What were the church’s intentions in educating the natives?
* What were the white people’s views of the natives upon settlement of Canada? Why did they believe as they did?
* Given the social climate of the time, would you have acted differently when presented with the mandate of educating another race of people? How and why?

Direct the students to the three additional Peel documents. Look at the goals of Aboriginal education, as desired by the “white man” – be it the government or the missionary. The teacher may wish to encourage students to use the worksheet to give them some direction and to facilitate brief notes.
When the students have completed this activity, the teacher should have a large group discussion as to the kinds of statements contained in the articles.

Closing Activity

It is suggested that the students write an essay examining any one of the following topics.

* Should the government have been involved in the education of the native Aboriginals? Why or why not?
* You be the government/missionary. What kind of education would you have organized as a result of the signing of the treaties? Why?
* Do you believe that the Aboriginal schools were a good thing or a bad thing, or would you describe them in different terms? Explain your opinion.
* What if there had not been residential schools? How do you think things would be different for the Aboriginals, or would they be different?
* It is 1890. Write a letter to a Canadian newspaper expressing your opinion about the establishment of residential schools. Be sure to give good reasons for your opinion.


Students should be given a rubric that indicates the manner in which their essay will be evaluated.
Follow-Up Activities

If time permits, it is suggested that the students research recent court cases involving abuse in Aboriginal residential schools. Their examination should include the legal action taken against government and churches, settlements, and any financial compensation awarded. Students could take note of the government and church official apologies, as well as the healing support groups that have been formed. Some suggested URL’s are listed above.
The information gleaned from this research could be presented in a class discussion or formal debate.

The National Film Board video, Education, As We See It, gives a fairly good overview of the education of the Aboriginal children in the residential schools. It briefly discusses the sexual abuse that occurred. The video also focuses on the educational systems that are being established by the Aboriginals FOR the Aboriginals. This segment of the First Nation, The Circle Unbroken series is 20 minutes long.

By E.A. Keith and S.J. Whyte