“Gikinoo-amaadiwin” in Anishnaabemowin means “teaching” or “education.” In Anishinaabeg culture, teaching is under the purview of the community’s Elders, but many others may also be teachers. Teaching and “education” as they are understood in Anishinaabeg tradition, are different from Western understandings of education and learning.
The Western education system grew out societal changes stemming from the Industrial Revolution, with the central goal of the system being the development of good members of Judeo-Christian capitalist Western society. In this education system, children would learn to read, write, perhaps learn basic skill trades, and would learn Christian doctrine.
In contrast, Indigenous education did not intend to turn children into good Western citizens. Instead, children were given teachings in the form of stories, and these stories (such as those about Nanaboozho) were meant to elicit understanding about values and give the listener a new piece of wisdom about the world around them. Education was held in high regard, and for this reason it was entrusted to the Elders, the most highly regarded members of First Nations’ society.
When Western society began to assert physical and economic dominance over the Indigenous societies of North America in the 19th century, Canadian and American policy-makers determined that it would be necessary to steal and indoctrinate Indigenous children into becoming good citizens of Christian Western society.
The goal of Residential Schools as they came to be known was to “kill the Indian in the child” by removing them from their families and forcing them to become Christian in belief and to abandon their first language. Children in these schools were subject to violence, starvation, and sexual abuse at the hands of their ostensible teachers and educators.
The history of this brutal and dehumanizing process and the history of Residential Schools has been extensively documented in academic and legal papers, with the 2015 Truth and Reconciliation Final Report being the prime example of such literature. The current education system has its roots in this history and carries its legacy into the current day.
Presently, Indigenous children suffer from a host of maladies affecting their educations from early education all the way through post-secondary education. Beginning in the earlier grades, many Indigenous children who attend school on reserves attend schools that are underfunded, uncomfortable, and unhealthy.