Fall/automne 2006

Making Native-Language Policy in Ontario in the 1980s

John S. Long
Associate Professor of Education at Nipissing
Published October 1, 2006
How to Cite
Long, John S. 2006. “Making Native-Language Policy in Ontario in the 1980s”. Historical Studies in Education / Revue d’histoire De l’éducation 18 (2), 135-62. https://doi.org/10.32316/hse/rhe.v18i2.347.


The 1979-80 Northern Native-Languages Project was influential in developing provincial policy for teaching Native languages as subjects of instruction, and for certifying Native-language teachers in Ontario. It also led to the development of culturally relevant English-as-a-second-language materials for use in schools serving Native students in northern Ontario. The project was unable, however, to advance the notion of Native languages as languages of instruction. This article will summarize its key recommendations, examine the reactions of the stakeholders, describe the policy-making processes and the policy decisions, and examine the impact of those decisions, particularly on the role of Native languages in Ontario schools. Although the Ontario Ministry of Education, often viewed as an obstacle in the advancement of Native education, was prepared to fully endorse the use of Native languages as instructional languages, opposition from officials in the Ontario Regional Office of the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development caused the province to abandon this position. The suppression of Native languages in church-operated federal residential schools is often cited as a factor in the declining use of those languages and it is often assumed that the federal government’s 1973 commitment to Indian Control of Indian Education (ICIE) heralded significant changes in Indian education. This study shows that, despite ICIE, policy decisions in Ontario served to continue the suppression of Native languages, assigning them a token role in virtually all Ontario schools operated by the federal government and by provincial school boards. While policy-makers recognized that many northern Native students experienced difficulties with school achievement, they attributed these learning problems to an English deficit; their solution was to immerse students in English.