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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Indian education in British Columbia. Peterson, Lester Ray

Abstract

Most anthropologists agree today that the Indians of America came to this continent by way of the Bering Sea somewhere between fifteen and eight thousand years ago. During their years of occupancy of the northwest, they developed a culture adapted to its economy. They perfected neither writing nor formal education, but asserted their heraldry and transmitted their legends and traditions orally. Europeans, in search of a westward route to the orient, reached the American northwest late in the eighteenth century. They introduced into the native way of life a modicum of European artifacts, but also, particularly along the coast, began the destruction of the aboriginal culture through disease, liquor, and creation of unnatural villages about trading posts. Protestant and Roman Catholic missionaries began to arrive toward the middle of the nineteenth century. They worked to counteract the influence of the fur-traders but, in their efforts at evangelism, helped to precipitate disintegration of the native way of life. Anglican, Methodist and Roman Catholic Churches gradually founded missions, and later schools, among Indian groups throughout the province. Sponsored entirely by Church funds and contributions from the Indians themselves at first, these schools began to receive Federal government grants as reserves became established following British Columbia's entry into Confederation in 1871. Each Church established a dual system of schooling, consisting of small day schools located on such reserves as it was practicable to place them, and larger residential schools, strategically located, at which orphans and children from outlying reserves could remain while receiving their education. Little direct government interest was shown in their education until after World War II, when census figures began to reveal the fact that the Indians were not a dying race. In 1948 a joint Parliamentary committee made recommendations which became embodied in the revised Indian Act of 1951, which has since received further revision. The Indian Affairs Branch of the Department of Citizenship and Immigration has assumed almost the entire costs of operating both day and residential schools, has erected day schools, and has appointed inspectors to supervise the system. Eighteen agency superintendents act as local school boards In B.C. Provision in the revised Indian Act for Federal-provincial cooperation has greatly increased the number of Indian students attending regular public schools. In 1958, out of a total of 8746 students at school, 6411 were enrolled in a system of 78 Indian schools, and the remaining 2335 were attending provincial and private schools. The standard of Indian education is rising but, in relation to that of the average non-Indian population element, the Indians' economic standards are declining. Integration of the Indian into the Canadian way of life; ethnically, culturally, or economically, is not taking place. Ethnic integration is not being really sought; cultural Integration is. It cannot proceed until some degree of economic parity has been achieved. Indians today cannot afford the impedimenta of White culture; to date the destination of the Indian, educated or not, is the reservation whence he came. In remote localities Indians should he trained for their way of life rather than ours, until civilization advances to meet them. Wherever possible, the adult Indian must be granted fair employment and a fair representation in a unified provincial educational system. Only then can his children become acculturated.

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