History of First Nations Education in Quebec


Awareness-building Campaign on First Nations Education

  • Pre-contact: For thousands of years, First Nations had their own traditional education system.
  • 1620 à 1680: The Récollets, a French religious order, followed by the Jesuits and then the Ursulines, ran the first residential schools in New France. Their attempts to “educate” Aboriginal children were halted in 1680 because of low attendance.
  • Indian Act and Education

The Indian Act (1876) states that the responsibility for First Nations education lies with the federal government. The Act is based on paragraph 91.24 of the 1867 Constitution Act and recognizes the fiduciary role of the federal government towards First Nations. As a result of this legal situation, Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (AANDC) holds all powers over the following: all norms regarding construction, installation, teaching, inspection and discipline relative to First Nations schools, as well as for adopting and implementing regulations on the subject. This exercise of power includes an absolute control over the First Nations schools’ funding formula, which means that First Nations are more often than not only consulted to save face, whereas in reality they exercise very little influence over decisions that directly concern the future of their children.

  • 1892: In accordance with the official government policy of assimilation, a partnership was formed with the churches who administered residential schools throughout Canada. The network of residential schools became the cornerstone of this assimilation policy. Among all the measures that were taken in the pursuit of this objective, none would prove as humiliating, hurtful and devastating as that of the residential schools.
  • According to the 1996 Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, the residential school system was an attempt by successive governments to determine the fate of Aboriginal people in Canada by appropriating and reshaping their future in the form of thousands of children who were removed from their homes and communities and placed in the care of strangers.
  • These schools were designed to cut children off from their environment and, to make the isolation complete, children were sent far away from their homes.
  • The Bryce Inquiry, dating back to 1922, revealed a 24% mortality rate among 1,537 children in 15 schools visited. 50% of children didn’t even live long enough to “benefit” from the education that the residential schools offered.
  • Beginning of the 1950s: Studies recommended that Indian children be integrated into provincial schools.
  • 1969: The Federal Government put an end to its partnership with the churches and secularized the education provided for First Nations.
  • 1969: Release of the White Paper on Indian policy, which recommended the abolition of reserves and Indian status, as well as the administrative takeover of the communities by the provinces. First Nations denounced the proposals as cultural genocide and rejected the Paper unanimously.
  • 1970’s: Most residential schools were shut down, but the very last one administered by the Canadian government only closed its doors in 1996.
  • 1972 : The National Indian Brotherhood (today the Assembly of First Nations) published “Indian Control of Indian Education” in reaction to the White Paper.
  • 1973: Indian Control of Indian Education was officially recognized by the Canadian Government. This marked a major turning point in First Nations efforts to take back control of their education and to take over the running of their community schools.
  • 1982: Existing Aboriginal and treaty rights of the First Nations of Canada were recognized and confirmed in the Constitution Act of 1982, section 35.
  • 1985: Creation of the FNEC following recommendations of the Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador (AFNQL) and its representatives.
  • 1988: AANDC implemented a Band School Funding Formula. This formula is still in place today.
  • 1994-1995: The United Nations Draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, stated in article 15 that “all indigenous peoples have the right to establish and control their own educational systems and institutions providing education in their own languages, in a manner appropriate to their cultural methods of teaching and learning”.
  • 1996: The Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples recommended that First Nations be able to exercise their rights in education, that they be able to take back full control in this area, adopt their own laws and regulate all aspects of education.
  • 2002: Publication by the FNEC of the report Thirty Years of Struggle and Accomplishment – 1972-2002 – A First Nations Perspective on Educational Takeover, which affirmed that the great majority of First Nations judged that full autonomy over education, should be exercised.