Red Lake Regional Heritage Centre
Red Lake, Ontario

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Residential Schools: The Red Lake Story



Aboriginal Education before Residential Schools

Celia Haig-Brown, Resistance and Renewal, page 37

First Nation childhood and education were an inseparable part of the on-going process of life and living.

  • The methods used to teach skills for everyday living and to instill values and principles were participation and example.
  • Within communities, skills were taught by every member, with Elders playing a very important role. Education for the child began at the time he or she was born.
  • The child was prepared for his role in life whether it be hunter, fisherman, wife, or mother. This meant that each child grew up knowing his place in the system.
  • Integral to the traditional education system was the participation of the family and community as educators. (JACK, 1985:9)
  • Education was the responsibility of all and it was a continuous process. Parents, grandparents and other relatives naturally played a major role, but other members of the tribe, particularly the elders helped to shape the young people. (Mary Ashworth, 1979: 6)
  • Kaaren Olsen, Native Women and the Fur Trade, Canadian Woman Studies, Volume 10, Numbers 2 & 3:

  • Because the Native woman is the home-maker, and in charge of the children if they are too young to go with their father as he checks and tends the traps, she is also to a great extent in charge of their education.
  • As she goes about her work, she teaches them their role in Production (a role that does not exist in town or back in their villages).
  • She teaches them a respect for the animals as she skins and prepares the hides. She shows them what part of the animal the hunter has to return to the earth when it is killed. She shows them where to leave the carcasses, what to do with the bones.
  • The children are taught the rituals and ceremonies of thanking and showing respect to the land and animals.
  • For example, when she is skinning a beaver, the mother will show the children where one of the toenails is missing from the animal's foot. She'll explain how the beaver uses this nail to groom itself, to distribute the oils it uses to waterproof its fur, and how the trapper will cut this nail off and return it to the water where the beaver was caught. In this way, the trapper pays his respect to the beaver who gave its life to him and at the same time thanks its spirit.

    The children are also taught the taboos, actions that may anger or offend the spirits of the earth and the animals, and thus make the hunt unsuccessful until such time that the spirits are appeased.

    For example, the bones of the animals cannot ever be thrown into the fire. The knee bones of the muskrat, beaver, rabbit and other animals cannot be eaten. When the children are old enough to go with their father, they will know enough to put these teachings into practice.

  • The traditional teachings and values are thus passed onto the next generations.
  • In a way of life where sometimes man and animals go hungry, where there are times of plenty, the children have to be taught to respect the land and animals.
  • The children have to learn to take and use what is needed, to kill well and to make every effort to ensure that the gifts from the land and animals are not wasted.
  • Traditional education allowed children to begin the process of observing from the time they are in their takinaakan and learn by participating as soon as they are able; traditional life was ruled by the principle of production from each according to his ability and distribution to each according to his need.
  • The History of Education in Nishnawbe Aski Nation, Dr. Donald J. Auger and Dr. Emily Faries, 2005

  • Education of the Ojibwe and Cree cultures did not exist as a separate part, it was in essence just part of their culture.
  • Education in their cultures included: cultural beliefs, economy, kinship and other ties, community and social relations, and spiritual beliefs.
  • The Ojibwe and Cree lived in groups/extended families and shared everything.
  • Food, tools and equipment, chores, tasks and activities were all shared as was necessary to their survival.
  • Group rights were more important than individual rights.
  • Traditional education occurred whether children were playing, helping or doing chores.
  • Children learned not only from their parents, but also from their grandparents and the elders in the community.

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