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Blue Quills Residential School

Blue Quills First Nations College

When French Catholic missionaries first arrived in Western Canada, they brought with them the belief that the Aboriginal people of the region would benefit from Western education, a belief supported by the Treaties enacted between the First Nations and the Canadian government. In fact, Western civilization was regarded by the Oblates as superior in almost every way, and most priests held tightly to the conviction that cultural assimilation was essential to the spiritual salvation of all Aboriginal People.

By the beginning of the 20th century, attendance at school was made mandatory for all Aboriginal children between the ages of seven and fifteen. Today, the various players in the residential schooling system—the churches, the government and Aboriginal peoples—are engaged in an active examination and assessment of the impact that residential schooling has had on the spiritual health of Canada’s First Nations communities. They were frequently removed from their homes under the belief that cultural isolation was necessary to successfully assimilate them into Western society.

In Alberta, the Oblates operated the Blue Quills Indian Residential School first, at Lac La Biche in 1862, and then at Saddle Lake in 1898. By 1931, there were 20 Indian Residential schools in Alberta and the Blue Quill School was relocated five kilometres west of St. Paul. Of those 20 schools Blue Quills holds a unique place in Canadian history. Classes, from kindergarten to grade eight, were taught by the Oblate Fathers of Mary Immaculate and the Grey Nuns.

Grades 5 and 6, Sister Superior Beaulieu and Sister Alice (Alice Toullelan), 1964

In 1969, the partnership between the applicable churches and the Canadian government in Aboriginal education officially ended. The government undertook rapid measures to close the remaining residential schools in Canada. When they attempted to close Blue Quills in 1971, the Department of Indian Affairs encountered protests from the local First Nations people. In a landmark decision, control of the school was turned over to the Blue Quills Native Education Council and became the first Canadian residential school administered by Aboriginal people. The move paved the way for other changes relating to Aboriginal self-government, and in 1973 the federal government transferred administrative control of Aboriginal education to band councils. Blue Quills is now a First Nations college that operates on the principles of Nehiyaw Mamtonecihkan (Indian thought) and Moniyaw Mamtonecihkan (white academic thought). Students enroll in a variety of programs including high school upgrading, computer technology, arts, leadership and a variety of trade programs.

In 1986, over a century after the first students entered Blue Quills, the last Canadian residential school still in operation closed its doors.

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