The second aspect of the post-1970s trend towards greater Native control of their own education has been the development of survival schools. Institutions of this kind are located in a variety of cities. Although these survival schools generally focus on the secondary level, a growing number of post-secondary institutions can also be found throughout Western Canada. What the secondary and post-secondary institutions share is an impatience with the structures and rigidities of conventional school administrations and a desire to provide educational opportunities for young adults in an atmosphere that respects and promotes Aboriginal identity. Whether it is the Plains Indian Cultural Survival School in Calgary or the Joe Duquette School in Saskatoon, these institutions provide greater regulatory flexibility and more culturally appropriate curricula. They also provide spiritual direction from Native Elders. These factors create an environment in which adolescents and young adults will feel more comfortable and thus be more likely to enjoy academic success.

Photo of Native police officers receiving training in an advanced Native training program at St. Benedict's Educational Centre in Winnipeg

Native Police Officers-in-Training, Winnipeg, MB, 1979.

These officers-in-training are shown attending the final lecture in the advanced Native training program at St. Benedict's Educational Centre in Winnipeg. Graduates provided police services for Manitoba reserves and Native communities.
COE (EA-170-1).

Important developments have also occurred and are planned at the post-secondary level. Indeed, some innovative institutions have developed that serve to bridge the difficult gap between high school and university or college. Probably the best documented of these institution is the Native Education Centre in Vancouver, an institution that assists Aboriginal students in coping with the challenges of post-secondary education. Similar operations exist in most big cities but have also been developed in remote locations. One such institution is the Beauval centre operated by the Meadow Lake Tribal Council in west-central Saskatchewan. Saskatchewan, which has one of the highest concentrations of Native people in the country, is also home to two innovative university-style institutions operated for and by First Nations and Métis respectively. The Saskatchewan Indian Federated College, which celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2000, operates a variety of university programs primarily for First Nations students, though others are welcome and do attend. The Gabriel Dumont Institute is a Métis-controlled institution that provides both post-secondary education and training to Métis young people. The institute also performs applied research of relevance to Métis communities. A final example is an Indian-controlled post-secondary institution that does not yet exist. In Sault Ste Marie, Ontario, the Garden River First Nation, an Ojibwa, or Anishinabe, people, is spearheading a movement to build Shingwauk University on the foundation of the provincially controlled Algoma University College. Ironically, the main building of Algoma University College was once part of the Shingwauk Home, one of the approximately 80 residential schools that the Canadian government and the Christian churches ran jointly. The assertion of Aboriginal control of educational operations that has been such a prominent part of the Native cultural revival sometimes takes historically interesting forms.

Native historian Olive Dickason ably documented another example of this revitalization: the back-to-the-land movement headed by Robert Smallboy in Alberta in 1968. Smallboy, a leader in the Ermineskin band of Cree in central Alberta, feared that social problems and cultural erosion were sapping the vitality and undermining the future of his community. To escape the problems, he took more than 100 followers away from their home reserve to a relatively remote location.9 As has historically been common with such revitalization movements that seek to strengthen a Native community by rejecting the negative influences of newcomers, a vision of a spiritual leader in the community inspired Smallboy's trek. In due time, the encampment evolved into a mixture of traditional and modern facilities and practices, but the leadership's insistence on strengthening culture by traditional observances survived Smallboy's death in 1984. The camp still exists, serving now both to maintain the culture of its citizens and to provide restorative advice and support to troubled youths sent there by social service agencies.

In urban centres throughout Canada, another social-service phenomenon, the Native Friendship Centre, has sprung up to assist Aboriginal peoples. These agencies have become particularly prominent since the 1960s. These institutions are invariably community-based and inspired, but often operate with some financial assistance from senior and municipal governments. The development of these centres is a community response to a phenomenon that has existed since the Second World War: the reserve-to-city migration of hundreds of thousands of Indians and Métis in search of jobs and better educational opportunities. Friendship centres developed to provide employment information and counselling, inexpensive food services, clothing, and even refuge for people who sometimes found the adjustment to the city and impersonal job market bewildering. The most successful of the friendship centres have also developed into social centres and sites for instruction of the young in traditional cultural practices, such as dancing. However, since the Native communities have few financial resources and governments have been slow to respond and ungenerous in their funding, centres sometimes enjoy only a short-term existence. Although these institutions have banded together to develop regional and even a national structure, individual friendship centres struggle continuously to secure the resources necessary to provide badly needed services to their steadily increasing number of patrons and clients. Friendship centres are an indigenous response to significant social and economic challenges, a reaction that tries to hold on to tradition and identity in a new and often threatening environment. Similarly important are urban cultural centres, which in many cities provide a combination of adult learning and Aboriginal artistic and cultural experiences to Native people who find themselves in unfamiliar surroundings.

Written By

J.R. Miller
History Professor Emeritus
University of Saskatchewan


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