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And education for Indian people is undergoing even greater change.
The change is badly needed.
Education has not served Indian people well. The case can be made that education has not served Indian people at all.
The long, sad statistical accounting of drop-outs, age-grade deceleration, failing grades, repeating grades, absenteeism, truancy and more recently, vandalism, destruction and sabotage in schools have taken their heavy toll and have cost a horrible price both in human and monetary terms.
At the root of these basic problems is the very basic question: "What is or should be the very purpose of education for Indian people?" From this flow other questions: Is the purpose of education for Indians to develop and maintain their identity as Indians? or is the purpose of education for Indians to integrate and assimilate into the White Canadian society?
"To be Indian, or not be Indian or how much Indian to be, that" to modernize Shakespeare, "is the question".
In the minds of the Church and government officials who controlled Indian education in the past there was no doubt about the answer. The purpose of education was to de-Indianize Indians. This was part and parcel of the taking over of this land by Europeans. Indians have to be wiped out.
If they could not be exterminated physically, they at least could be terminated culturally over a period of time through the process of integration and assimilation.
At first this was done in the name of Christianity and civilization. Presently there are some Indians, me for one, who question the effects of both Christianity and civilization.
In examining the state of both today, we are left to wonder just how one relates to the other, and how benficial either has been to Indian people.
At one time in the very recent past, both church and government officials who controlled Indian education operated on the following beliefs and assumptions:
There are some people in Indian education today, even some Indian people, who still hold these beliefs and assumptions.
Two current examples: one, we hear constantly from people, even Indian people, who say Indians are "not ready" to control and operate their own education systems; two, we know that in provincial schools many Indians are placed in "social" classes, or "special" classes, or "remedial" classes which are all cover-up names for "slow-learners" classes meaning "Indian" classes.
Now it follows that people who hold such beliefs and assumptions will treat Indians in a certain way that limits, prevents and disallows Indians to act and believe in such ways that do not conform to such beliefs and assumptions. Indians who do not conform to these beliefs and assumptions are labelled "exceptions".
The results of such beliefs and assumptions is now well-known; Indian students in schools suffer discouragement, regression, disengagement, incompletion, failure, drop-out.
All in all education for Indians has been labelled "education for failure". But then a curious thing occurs. In examining, studying and analyzing the situation, the question is asked "Why do Indians fail the education system?"
(continued page 46)
We get a different perspective, of course, if we turn the question around, "Why does the education system fail the Indians?"
And the answer to that question involves the answer to the first two basic questions, "Is the purpose of education for Indians to develop and maintain their identity as Indians?" or "Is the purpose of education for Indians to integrate and assimilate into the White Canadian society?" The Indian answer to the first question must be:
"Yes, the purpose of Indian education is to educate Indian people to be Indian people!"
The Indian answer to the second question must be, "No, the purpose of Indian education is not to wipe out Indians, but for Indians to participate and take part in white Canadian society as Indian people."
The White Canadian answer to the first question is "No, Indians cannot live as Indians any more because we have taken over the land."
The White Canadian answer to the second question
is "Yes, Indians must assimilate and integrate and become just like us because we are the majority and own the land now!"
The result of these two different answers resulting from two different perspectives, of course, is conflict. Indians want one thing for Indians, and Whites want something different for Indians.
Hence the struggle for control of Indian education. Even though there is today an official written policy in Indian Control of Indian Education, there is no real control of education by Indians.
White government officials keep and will not relinquish or give up the final and total administrative, executive control of Indian education.
If education for Indians is to change to "education for success" a different set of beliefs and assumptions, a different set of behaviours and structures, and a different set of people will have to control and operate the education system for Indian people.
These people, of course, must be Indian people themselves.