I chose to complete this exercise using the 1903 Department of Indian Affairs (DIA) annual report. This specific report was mentioned in an article by Sean Carleton (2021) arguing that public schools in British Columbia were not as segregated as historical records state or imply, and thus are examples of contact zones between settler colonists and Indigenous peoples. I had come across Carleton's article while first exploring resources on the history of public schools in Canada. Carleton's article inspired me to to ask:
If Indigenous students are erased from the historical account of education in British Columbian schools, how might that affect teacher's interactions with Indigenous students now?
If access to knowledge was conditional based on expected behaviour and exceptionalism how might that impact who we think belongs in our classrooms now?
How does funding motivate student categorization and therefore access? Do definitions or categorizations of race create invisibility for certain groups, namely Indigenous students in BC's public school historical narrative? Did restricted access to public education increase vulnerability in this case, to residential and day school enrollment?
How does the segregation narrative serve efforts to whitewash Canadian history and Canadian national identity?
Carleton quotes a number of first-hand accounts, however the 1903 DIA annual report is available digitally from Library and Archives Canada. Moreover, Carleton includes a quotation from Indian Superintendent for British Columbia A. W. Vowell from the report in which Vowell supports Indigenous student enrollment in public schools to some degree due to outstanding performance and this quotation speaks to many of the themes in my questions.
I'll focus on "Do definitions or categorizations of race create invisibility for certain groups, namely Indigenous students, in BC's public school historical narrative?" for this exercise. In addition to the five foundational search terms, I will add "half-breed" and "mixed-blood" because these terms were used at the time to describe people with both European and Indigenous heritage (Carleton, 2021).
It was, unsurprisingly, clear to see biased language used predominately throughout the report. I took note of the two instances of the use of the word "Aboriginal". In both instances the word is used to describe an "aboriginal" state of being or collection of characteristics, while distinguishing an "Indian" may or may not obviously have the described characteristics or way of being. It's clear from these results that myriad overlapping definitions of which label or description applies to whom do create opportunities for individuals to meet or not meet criterion which would make them more or less visible to statistics and historical narratives. If Indigenous students are erased from our historical narrative regarding education in BC the impacts are far-reaching and deserve intentional consideration.
References Carleton, S. (2021). 'The children show unmistakable signs of Indian blood': Indigenous children attending public schools in British Columbia, 1872 -1925. Journal of the History of Education Society, 50(3), 313-337.https://doi.org/10.1080/0046760X.2021.1879281
Department of Indian Affairs. (1904). Dominion of Canada annual report of the Department of Indian Affairs for the year ended June 30 1903. S. E. Dawson