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Edited by Jean Barman, Yvonne Hebert, and Don McCaskill. Vancouver, University of British Columbia Press, c1986.172pp, paper, $13.50, ISBN 0-7748-0243-X. (Nadoka Institute Occasional Paper #2). CIP

Grades 11 and up
Reviewed by Robert Nicholas Bérard

Volume 14 Number 6
1986 November

This volume is the second in a series of occasional papers of the Nakoda Institute, sponsored by Alberta's Stoney Indian sponsored by Alberta's Stoney Indian sponsored by Alberta's Stoney Indian Tribe. The Institute, according to Stoney Chief, John Snow, will "publish materials which will reflect its goals and aspirations," and the editors alert the reader that the book's eight essays "take an activist stance favouring Indian-control of Indian education." Yet, while a particular policy position underlies the whole effort, the individual essays are, for the most part, balanced, well-researched analyses of the history of Indian education in Canada.

The editors provide an overview of that history, which began with scattered and uncoordinated efforts by various missionary groups to convert and "civilize" Indians. With Confederation and the rise of the idea of compulsory education in white society, the government of Canada adopted a policy of preparing Indians for assimilation into the dominant culture through the creation and support of residential industrial schools, designed to remove Indians from negative home influences and provide useful skills for entry into lower levels of the industrial work-force. After 1900, however, the lack of success of this approach, its cost, and the reluctance of white society to accept Indians as co-workers persuaded federal officials to limit funds to Indian schools, sufficient to provide only enough education as would be needed for life on the reserve. After World War II, successive governments sought to integrate Indian students into regular provincial education systems, but mounting frustration with that policy has led to acceptance in principle of the return of Indian education to Indian administration and control.

The remaining contributors examine the Indian school experience in different parts of Canada over the past three centuries. Marie Battiste, despite a tendency to romanticize pre-contact Micmac society and to take a somewhat conspiratorial view of missionary education, demonstrates the degree of literacy that existed among the Micmac people and the ways in which attempts to enforce French and English literacy undermined traditional culture and family life in Micmac communities. Cornelius Jaenen's paper on the work of French missionary orders in New France recounts the failure of educational efforts to "francize" the native population, but illustrates the relative lack of racial (as opposed to cultural) prejudice in French colonial policy.

The remainder of the books is taken up with a series of case studies. J. Donald Wilson's review of Indian education in nin nineteenth-century Ontario focusses on the Shingwauk Industrial School, near Sault Ste. Marie, and its attempt to "Make Canadians" of its students, a policy that left most students unfitted either for entry into white society or return to their own culture. Ken Coates looks at the work of missionaries in the Yukon in trying to operate day schools in the face of a disinterested and essentially nomadic population, a harsh and vast environment, and a federal attitude that education for northern natives was useless at best and harmful at worst.

Jacqueline Gresko's excellent paper on Oblate mission schools at Lebret, Saskatchewan and Mission, British Columbia rebuts the fashionable view that missionary education was uniformly oppressive and insensitive and shows how some of the mission schools reinforced Indian identity and became part of it.

This volume would be of use to secondary and post-secondary students and to the general reader interested in the background to this important social issue. One may only question whether the book's sponsors and contributors have not overestimated the role of schooling in cultural transmission and personal formation just as much as did the missionaries and civil servants whose failed dreams form the subject of these essays.

Robert Nicholas Bérard, Dalhousie University, Halifax, N.S.
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