Previous Article Next Article FNPI Search Home Previous Year Next Year Year List

In Memorium [John Robert McLeod]

SASKATCHEWAN INDIAN      MAY 1980      v10 n05 p02  
A leader in the development of Indian education has died.

On May 18, John Robert McLeod of the James Smith Reserve passed away. He was born March 23, 1922.

Hundreds attended the funeral service and interment, which was held May 21 at St. Stephens Anglican Church on James Smith.

A memorial tribute to John Robert McLeod was read at the service by a long-time friend, Jeremy Hull, and reprinted in this issue of the Saskatchewan Indian for the many young people who are benefiting from the educational development John introduced to Saskatchewan.

"We are here today to mourn the passing of a fine man who was for many of us an inspiration and a leader in the true sense of the word. He was a man of courage, honesty, intelligence and humour who helped us through some difficult times. We still have many hard decisions ahead of us, and the loss of John McLeod will be felt keenly by us all.

"John spent most of his life on James Smith Reserve. He grew up at a time when Indian people faced many outright restrictions and were prevented from full participation as Canadians. Schooling was minimal in those days and meant very little to John's family. In later years when he came to sit on many educational committees, and lecture at the University, he always enjoyed shocking the professors and students by mentioning his grade three education. Those people who thought that you needed University degrees to prove you were intelligent soon found out different when John would begin to question and probe their educated assumptions.

"As a young man, John was a farmer. As with everything he tried, he was ambitious and successful, farming 350 acres of reserve land at a time when he couldn't even sell his cattle without permission from the Indian Agent. John always carried with him one of the last permits he was given, dated around 1960, not out of bitterness, but in order to make people aware of what it had meant to be an Indian in this country.

"Eventually, John became involved in education as a representative of James Smith Reserve on the James Smith School Committee. We would now say that he was the token Indian, and he soon learned the reality of that.

"But in spite of the frustration of working in such a situation, John used it as a foot in the door, learning all he could about the school and the powers of the school board. It was characteristic of John that he was able to realistically see the situation he was in, and even if it was limiting he saw what could be done to improve it. Throughout his life, no matter how difficult things were, he was never overwhelmed, but maintained his sense of purpose. It was through his basic determination to learn from the situation and to improve the future for Indian children that he was eventually able to go on to have a major role in the development of Indian education.

"In the same way that Indian people were drawn into school committees as token resentatives.

"Indian Affairs, in the 1960's, started up a series of reserve school committee conferences. These conferences were a part of the Indian Affairs strategy of promoting joint schools, which often benefited non-Indian children and Indian Affairs administrators while doing nothing for Indian children. But the Indian delegates to these conferences quickly reacted against being used this way, and learning from their mistakes, began to use the conferences for their own purposes.

"John was among those strong Indian voices who first recommended many of the programs which have only recently been put into practice: training of Indian teachers and teacher aides, instruction in Indian languages, Indian culture and history to be taught in the schools, and Indian guidance counsellors to help the children.

"In spite of his lack of schooling John taught himself to read in order to deal with the issues he was coming up against. In fact John became a better reader than most, whether they have degrees or not, because he read not only the surface of the words, but their deeper meaning and implications.

"It was this quality of his which enabled him to understand the implications of the master tuition agreement being discussed by the provincial and federal governments. It was John who alerted the Executive of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indians that this was happening, and John who helped spearhead the Task Force on Education which stopped these agreements from being signed.

In Memorium [John Robert McLeod]

SASKATCHEWAN INDIAN      MAY 1980      v10 n05 p03  

"Perhaps John is best known for his work from 1972 to 1980 with the Indian Cultural College. He was instrumental in proposing the establishment of the College in the first place. And his work with the College in support of Indian Bands who wanted to have a better education for their children was the result of much of the work and preparation he had done before.

"At the College his Education Liaison Department continually supported the rights and efforts of Indian people to determine the kind of education that would serve them best. John put life and meaning into the words, "Indian Control of Indian Education. " He knew at first hand the struggles of the people at James Smith to gain control over their own schools, and he was active in that struggle.

"His Department went on to help Bands across the province fight for their right to determine their own form of education, and partly because of his efforts, many schools eventually became Indian controlled. His Department did the research, went to the meetings, helped prepare the briefs and negotiate the agreements with the federal and provincial governments. His office became a resource centre for the most basic, most important and most recent information on Indian education.

"John never saw Indian education in isolation from other issues, and he was especially concerned about the importance of the Treaties for Indian education. Through his Department many important research studies and surveys were carried out on Indian schools and their relationship to social and economic factors.

"In 1976 John had the great responsibility and honour of organizing the Centennial Commemorations of the signing of Treaty Number Six. As he went around the province and talked to elders he came to have a greater understanding of the Indian spiritual tradition and ceremonies. From that time on his life took on a new meaning and direction as he once more began to educate himself, this time learning the Indian ways. He became a student of the elders and tried to practise the Indian values of respect and sharing.

"John was increasingly concerned with finding the true meaning of Indian education. He looked closely at how the Indian world has become more and more taken over by the white world, and he tried to make people aware of these changes that have taken place in values, language, and politics.

John Robert McLeod
John Robert McLeod

He asked basic questions about what it means to be Indian in Canada today, and what aspects of Indian society needed to be saved for the Indian people to survive as a people. As a teacher he would teach the young Indian students at the Cultural College the true meaning of many Cree words and concepts that they had never heard of. His understanding of the Treaties and the changes taking place in the Indian way of life was the basis which the Federation of Saskatchewan Indians used as it pressed for the self-determination of Indian people. John travelled often around the province raising questions, introducing ideas, and sharing his thinking with the people on reserves, and he was respected throughout Canada as a philosopher of Indian education.

"John was not a politician, although he was a councillor for James Smith Reserve for many years. He was a thinker, a teacher, and a critic who worked for most of his life to improve life for Indian children and adults. At the same time he never reacted to the discrimination that exists in Canada by condemning all white people. Instead he found friends among people of all races, and he learned and grew by those friendships.

"There is much more that could be said about John McLeod and his abilities and accomplishments. But in the end, it is the man himself that we will miss; his sense of humour, his stories, his anger and his warmth. I am sure that we will often turn to our memories of him in the months and years ahead, and be strengthened and enriched."

Rev. Ken Burningham officiated at the funeral.

Henry Vandall, Victor Moostoos, Bob Regnier, John Sanderson, Sol Sanderson and Antoine Sand were active pallbearers.

John Robert McLeod, Ernest Tootoosis, Andrew Paddy, Henry Kaye, Norman Sunchild, Alec Godfrey, Joe Turner, John Cappo, John Tootoosis, Noel Dick, James Kanipitetew and Edward Fox were honorary pallbearers.

John is survived by his wife Ida, a language instructor at the Saskatchewan Indian Cultural College; children: Jerry, a teacher at James Smith; Joanne, a teacher at Sweetgrass; Barbara, a student at the University of Saskatchewan; Morris and six grandchildren.