Six Nations Education Story

The Six Nations Education Story is important as it forms the overarching narrative, which drives the current initiative for Six Nations to recover community control over education. The full story would likely constitute a lengthy paper or even a short book. However, in the spirit of brevity, what follows is a brief version.

“The vision for the new education system will revitalize our languages and ground us in our cultural values while still preparing us for life now and into the future.”

We will do this by exercising our right to establish and control our own educational system that provides education in our own languages and in a manner appropriate to our cultural methods of teaching and learning.

Our lifelong learning story is circular and connects the past, present and future. It begins with our Creation Story, which explains the way in which we view the world and all of creation.

Haudenosaunee Creation Story

Our Creation Story tells us where we came from, grounds us in our values and gives us inherent responsibilities to carry into the future. Our Creation Story has guided our people from time immemorial. Storytelling and ceremonies, derived from the Creation Story have been, and continue to be, used to transfer traditional knowledge from generation to generation.

Knowledge was passed on based on our local environmental conditions and included many of the sciences we find in contemporary educational settings. Our way of education intertwined knowledge about family, community, national and political relations with knowledge about our relations with the earth, water, sun, moon, sky, birds, animals, fish and plants. This is the holistic concept of education we are seeking to return to.

“Since time, immemorial education for our people was centered on our spirituality, culture, and language.”

A Good Mind & The Great Law of Peace

Our traditional teachings were enhanced at a point in our history when chaos ensued. At this time, the Creator sent a messenger of peace to the five Haudenosaunee nations. The Peacemaker’s mission was to restore love, peace and harmony and encourage Ka’nikonhrí:io (a good mind – individual and collective) among the Haudenosaunee nations. The Peacemaker taught the Kaianerenkó:wa (Great Law of Peace), which still unites the five nations as one mind, one body and one heart and encourages us to live the values of Ka´nikonhrí:io.

When we think of education today – we understand the importance of the teachings of the Kaianerenkó:wa as a pillar of lifelong learning to ensure unity, peace, strength and good mind now as well as always considering seven generations into the future.

Arrival of European Settlers

Although we continued living and teaching in this way for quite some time, the arrival of European settlers added some complexity to our ways of being and knowing. Early relations between the Haudenosaunee nations and European settlers resulted in two significant Wampum agreements that incorporated the main tenets of the Kaianerkó:wa (Great Law of Peace).

Two Row Wampum (1613)

The first is the Guswenta/Kaswentha (Two Row Wampum – 1613), which emphasizes the distinct identity of the two peoples and forms a mutual agreement to coexist in peace without interference in the affairs of the other.

Covenant Chain (1675)

The second is the Covenant Chain, which is a metaphor for the relationship established with the Guswenta/Kaswentha. The Covenant Chain is a silver chain that ties the settler’s ship and the Haudenosaunee canoe to the Tree of Peace (a symbol of the Kaianerenkó:wa). The Covenant Chain solidifies agreement that the Haudenosaunee and the British will meet regularly to “polish the chain” to maintain and strengthen our relationship.

Haldimand Deed (1784)

Although peace and friendship were the agreed basis of the relationship between the newcomers and us, we found ourselves drawn into several conflicts between the settlers. In recognition of our role as allies during the American Revolution the British granted (in 1784) six miles on each side of the Grand River for a distance of 186 miles for us and our posterity to enjoy forever.

British North America Act (1867) & Indian Act (1876)

As we settled on our new land base, we began establishing our own schools. However, federal policies began to erode our source of income and various churches, and religious organizations encroached on our control over education. Subsequent federal policy such as the 1867 British North America Act gave lawmaking power to the federal government for “Indians, and lands reserved for the Indians” – this included education. The subsequent creation of the federal Department of Indian Affairs and the passing of the Indian Act placed the governance of all parts of the lives of our people in the hands of the federal government (land, status, government, religion, education).

Federal Aggressive Assimilation Policy

Despite sound opposition from Six Nations to the Indian Act the federal Department of Indian Affairs continued to play a significant role in education. Around this time the federal government developed a policy called “aggressive assimilation” which resulted in residential schools and day schools run by the federal government and Christian churches. The aim was to assimilate us into Canada and eradicate our pride, identity and way of life as Ogwehoweh people. The operation of these schools spanned from the early 1800s to the 1990s.

At Six Nations the Department of Indian Affairs and mainly the Anglican church ran twelve day schools. The Mohawk Institute in Brantford (known as the Mush Hole) was operated by the Anglican church as a residential school from 1834 to 1970. This dark era resulted in significant loss of language and culture and much personal, familial and community devastation for the people, clans and nations of Six Nations.

Reversing the intergenerational trauma of this era is at the heart of our efforts today to preserve, revitalize and celebrate our Ogwehoweh ways of knowing and being.

White Paper (1969) and Indian Control of Indian Education Policy Paper (1972)

A federal policy paper from 1969, known as the White Paper, proposed the complete integration of First Nation Education into provincial/territorial systems. The National Indian Brotherhood (now known as the Assembly of First Nations) rejected this policy and countered with a First Nation developed policy paper titled Indian Control of Indian Education.

The federal government eventually adopted the policy of Indian Control of Indian Education in the early 1970’s. However, implementation of the policy known as “education devolution” only provided First Nation control of the administration functions related to education. The federal government retained much control on how funding was used and what was to be taught.

Education Devolution Policy

“…only provided First Nation control of the administration functions related to education. The federal government retained much control on how funding was used and what was to be taught.”

Six Nations’ position on re-establishing and maintaining a nation to nation relationship with the federal government based on treaties with the Crown prevented us from accepting this devolution process.

Thus, all aspects of control over education were left with the federal government until such a relationship was re-established and a nation to nation agreement on education could be reached.

Early 1980’s to 2005

Since the early 1980’s we have undertaken several initiatives by obtaining direction from the community on recovering full control over education. We have always taken the position that we would recover full control of education, if adequate funding was secured from the federal government, to cover all programs and services required to support our students. Unfortunately, all attempts to recover control have broken down due to a lack of federal commitment to provide the necessary funding. The last attempt broke down in 2005.

Community Efforts – Kawenni:io/Gaweni:yo & Everlasting Tree School

Despite our inability to secure a nation to nation agreement on recovering full control over education with the federal government the efforts of the community have resulted in the establishment of two schools under community control. The Kawenni:io/Gaweni:yo Elementary and Secondary School offers immersion programming in Mohawk and Cayuga through a curriculum based on concepts as set forth in the Thanksgiving Address. The Everlasting Tree School delivers immersion programming in Mohawk rooted in Haudenosaunee culture and language inspired by Waldorf teaching methods.

Establishment of Lifelong Learning Taskforce

In 2016 a historical review on all previous activity related to recovering full control over education was completed and now forms the basis of a renewed initiative. When meeting with Indigenous Services Canada on educational issues brought forward by community run education entities it became apparent that the preference for the federal government was to work with one entity for all education related matters. This prompted activity to revitalize our efforts around recovery of education as a community.

To begin, we established a Lifelong Learning Taskforce to discuss, as a community, how best to proceed with a new initiative. It was apparent that this new effort must include all elements of a holistic education system that meets the needs of all learners along the lifelong learning continuum. Thus, any organization, department or entity involved in the delivery of lifelong learning programming and/or services were invited to participate on the Taskforce.

Funding was secured to establish the Education Coordination Office to provide administrative, coordination and technical support to the LLTF.

Key Findings

Findings from recent activities confirm findings from past studies such as:

  • Underfunding
  • Decreased language fluency and risk of losing language and culture
  • Lack of community and family engagement
  • Poor student attendance
  • Low post-secondary participation
  • Decreased employment opportunities
  • Lack of central coordination
  • Lack of teacher and student supports

Current Status

  • The LLTF continues to clarify challenges and gaps associated with the current education system and work with community members to generate ideas and solutions that are used to develop and refine recommendations on lifelong learning for the community.
  • The LLTF is currently focused on developing and refining recommendations on K-12 education. Once these recommendations are reviewed and finalized by the community the LLTF will move on to building on accepted recommendations to include the full lifelong learning continuum.

Moving Forward

The current initiative has yielded several key documents and reports that are used to inform community engagement efforts on all areas of a potential education system. Please click on the Get Involved button to obtain more detailed information on where the LLTF is at with regards to recommendations and engagement or sign up to receive email updates.