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Shingwauk's Vision

In light of this week’s historic apology to former students of Indian residential schools by Prime Minister Harper on behalf of the Government of Canada and all Canadians, I thought I would post a paper I wrote at Teacher’s College on the vision of C
In light of this week’s historic apology to former students of Indian residential schools by Prime Minister Harper on behalf of the Government of Canada and all Canadians, I thought I would post a paper I wrote at Teacher’s College on the vision of Chief Shingwauk.

The information presented is from a primary source available online at the Shingwauk Project website (, or at the Wishart Library at Algoma University. In fact, I invite you to check out the Shingwauk Project site: it gives tremendous insight into the situation.

Shingwauk’s Vision: The Teaching Wigwam
Based on:
Little Pine’s Journal, The Appeal of a Christian Chippeway Chief On Behalf of His People,
by Augustine Shingwauk, 1872 (Commemorative Reprint).

Shinwaukonce (aka: Chief William McMurray Shingwauk) fought during the War of 1812 along side General Isaac Brock and Chief Tecumseh, and was awarded a medal from the Prince of Wales for his service.

Chief Shingwauk sought to maintain Ojibway sovereignty. He would later concede this notion in favour of promoting aboriginal rights and self-determination. Between the years 1827 and 1854 he further developed a strategy for Native rights and self-determination, in which he envisaged the establishment of what he called “Teaching Wigwams” – his term for schools – throughout Anishnabek lands.

Shingwauk wanted his people to learn how to read and write the English language. He wanted a school for his people that would educate them, yet allow them to retain their culture. In 1832 Chief Shingwauk snowshoed to York (Toronto) to ask the Governor of Upper Canada to provide a teacher for his people.

Shingwauk would not live to see the realization of his vision, but his sons would ensure that his vision was carried on. His eldest, Augustine (aka: “Little Pine”) would travel with his friend, Missionary Rev. E F Wilson, to York (Toronto) and throughout southern Ontario to garner support and raise funds to bring the vision to fruition. The chief’s vision associated ‘religion’ with ‘education,’ for Shingwauk himself wished to see the Christian religion “go on and increase… before his grey hairs go down to the grave.”

Shingwauk’s vision was not just for his people at Garden River, but also for all the Anishnabek across Canada who, so far, had been neglected by the government of Canada.

The elder Shingwauk was a signatory of the Robinson Treaty of 1850, a treaty that ought to have brought “Christianity, civilization and education” to his people. It would appear that this was not the case, and Shingwauk and his sons would have to work tirelessly to bring the teachings of the Paleface to their people.

Indeed, Augustine Shingwauk’s journey would take him to various officials of the Anglican Church as well as to Government officials, merchants, and others whom he felt would be able to assist him in his plan.

The ‘Blackcoats’ whom Shingwauk met with were both sympathetic to and enthused by his plan for the ‘Teaching Wigwams’ and offered him their blessing and moral support in his endeavours. Unfortunately, prejudice and intolerance were obstacles to be overcome. The regrettable legacy of the Indian Residential Schools, and some of the Day Schools, was not a result of Shingwauk’s vision, but of the prejudicial and intolerant attitudes of those individuals who would run them, and within the governments that oversaw them.

Post Script to the Vision

E. F. Wilson, co-founder and first principal of the Shingwauk School, was one of the first to recognize that the policy of cultural replacement could never work. In 1885, as Wilson watched the events of the Riel Rebellion unfolding, he realized that Indians should be allowed to govern themselves, receiving advice from white men only when sought. It would take the federal government another seventy-five years to reach the same conclusion.

Wilson eventually turned his back on “amalgamation” as the solution to “the lndian problem,” setting him apart from the mainstream thinking on the subject in his time. Most missionaries, churchmen, and politicians embraced policies of assimilation past the turn of the century.

Beginning in the 1940s the government began to realize that perhaps they were shirking their responsibility regarding Indian education. Gradually, more and more control was taken from church groups and brought under the direct control of the government. Policy now demanded that teachers were properly certificated in the province where the school was located, and soon the curriculum of the school was expected to be modelled on the curriculum provided by that province.

It would take an additional three decades to eliminate the policies and bureaucratic framework that enabled the residential schools to keep Indian children separate from both their own culture and that of the white man, described by many as cultural genocide.

Even after the responsibility for the education of Native children across the country was transferred to the provinces, Indian leaders were not pleased. They began calling for Indian control of Indian education, since provincial control with its integration of the children into provincial schools was even more culturally threatening than the former federal control.

The Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development officially supported this demand, and in May 1972 the Minister of Indian Affairs and the President of the National Indian Brotherhood made a joint announcement, entitled “Indian Control of Indian Education.”

This dramatic policy change coincided with the closing of the church-operated residential schools, and Shingwauk ceased to exist by 1971. It is quite likely that the Reverend Wilson would not have been sorry to see the residential school system pass into history.

The aims of the Church and Ojibway leaders, although they may have been honourable and worthy at the time, were not well-served nor adequately realized by the schools that were the result. After nearly a century, the efforts of many people were wasted, and the lives of many children of Native ancestry were ruined and damaged, by this failed experiment.

The true Shingwauk legacy is not that of the botched and corrupted experiment with church- and government-run Indian Residential and Day Schools. Shingwauk’s legacy is the inclusion of Native Peoples in the education process in Canada. It may have been done, at times, grudgingly, and at times may have been inferior to that which was delivered to non-natives; it may have taken almost two hundred years, and may not yet be ideal; but Shingwauk firmly established the concept that all people deserved a full and complete education, to enable them to make their way in what he described at the time as an increasingly non-native world.

It is unfortunate that those who had the power to bring it to fruition over these many decades did not share Shingwauk’s vision.