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Indian Schools


Some of the first girls to attend school in Alberta were Aboriginal and mixed blood. They entered the first schools erected in Alberta by missionaries on their mission sites, such as St. Albert and Pigeon Lake. They learned, like the boys, either English or French (depending on whether the school was run by the Methodists or Catholics) and began to study the Bible. The girls, in particular, were taught the rules of Christian feminine propriety, such as chastity, restraint, loyalty and honesty. They were also taught good manners and how to dress appropriately and modestly. 


These mission schools slowly developed into the industrial and residential schools, both of which were also run by Christian churches. They aimed at teaching academic and practical skills to Aboriginal children that would allow them to grow up into productive, wage-earning members of the new Canadian society. Since it was believed that Aboriginal girls should grow up either to be mothers and wives or domestic servants, they were taught domestic skills. For example, at the Red Deer Industrial School, which opened in 1893, girls learned laundry, sewing and cooking. They were apparently very successful at learning these skills, as their principal, Rev. John Nelson commented, "…the parents are delighted to know their daughters are able to make good bread, and to see them dressed in neat and becoming clothing cut and made by the girls themselves." 1   


Although at the time the organizers of industrial and residential schools hoped to provide Aboriginal children with the skills necessary to adapt to a new and changing society, many of these schools had the effect of alienating children from both Aboriginal and white culture. Also, these schools came under criticism for the mental and physical abuse that took place within them.


Featured Article

Reverend Mr. John Nelson: Missionary with an Impossible Mission by Uta H. Fox



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  • Chalus, Elaine.  "From Friedan to Feminism: Gender and Change at the University of Alberta, 1960-1970."  Standing on New Ground.  Eds. Catherine Cavanaugh and Randi Warne.  Edmonton: University of Alberta Press, 1993.

  • Dawe, Michael J. Red Deer: An Illustrated History. Red Deer: Red Deer and District Museum Society, 1996.

  • Fox, Utah H. "Reverend Mr. John Nelson: Missionary with an Impossible Mission." Aspenland. Eds. David Ridley and David Goa. Red Deer: Central Alberta Regional Museums Network, 1998.

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  • Mook, Laurie.  "Women at University: the Early Years."  Alberta History 44(1) 1996: 8-15.

  • Rennie, Bradford James. The Rise of Agrarian Democracy: The United Farmers and Farm Women of Alberta, 1909-1921. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2000.

  • Silverman, Elaine Leslau. The Last Best West: Women on the Alberta Frontier 1880-1930. Montreal: Eden Press, 1984.

  • Von Heyking, Amy. "An Education for 'Character' in Alberta Schools, 1905-45." Aspenland. Eds. David Ridley and David Goa. Red Deer: Central Alberta Regional Museums Network, 1998.

  • Wilson, L. J. "Educational Role of the United Farm Women of Alberta." Alberta History 1977 25(2): 28-36.



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