Chapter 2: Early School Prototypes
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As railway lines and settlers began the slow-but-steady incursion westward, they displaced and destroyed the vast buffalo herds that sustained many tribal groups. This signaled an end to traditional lifestyles, and Western Aboriginal leaders realized that the survival of their people would, in part, depend on the acquisition of new skills. Specialized education and training now became a critical issue in treaty negotiations. Large tracts of ancestral lands were subsequently ceded to the Dominion government in exchange for the promise of a good education for Aboriginal children, among other stipulations.
Play: The Changing Landscape | Transcript
As treaties were signed, Aboriginal people found themselves forced to move to reserve lands. Momentum began to build for an education program that would fulfill treaty obligations, and at the same time work to civilize, Christianize, and assimilate Aboriginal children into the Canadian mainstream. Politicians and educators continued to debate how this could best be accomplished.
Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald wondered if the American policy of "aggressive civilization" might prove helpful and, in 1879, he sent Nicholas Flood Davin to meet with officials from the U.S. Department of Indian Affairs, and Native American leaders from Oklahoma. Davin submitted his findings in the "Report on Industrial Schools for Indians and Half-breeds," also known as the "Davin Report," which included a number of recommendations on how the American policy on Aboriginal education could be emulated in Canada. Davin had also been persuaded by the American government's argument that "the day-school did not work, because the influence of the wigwam was stronger than the influence of the school," even though day schools had been operating in Canada since the 1840s. By the time the Davin Report was released, the idea of separating children from their parents as an effective education - and assimilation - strategy had already taken root. The visually persuasive example of what could be achieved through a "boarding school" model like the Carlisle Industrial Boarding School in Pennsylvania generated a fervour to implement a boarding school system in Canada.