GNWT Takes Control of Education

In September 1969, following recommendations of the Advisory Commission on the Development of Government in the Northwest Territories, the GNWT established the Department of Education. It officially took over responsibility for schools and schooling in the north from the Government of Canada. 

The territorial government’s Department of Education continued the process begun in 1955 under the federal government to expand the day school system, expand the number of community schools, and add grade levels to existing schools in the Northwest Territories. 

During the 1969-70 school year, there were 10,291 students and 549 teachers in the Northwest Territories (which included the present-day Nunavut Territory) and “it was assumed that … the goal of having every school-aged pupil in a classroom had finally been achieved.” The federal government’s expansion of day schools in the 1960s meant more students could attend elementary grades in their home communities. 

But for many students, continuing their education meant leaving their families and home communities. They had to attend junior high and high school classes in larger communities. Some students arranged home boarding, but many were required to live in hostels or ‘residential halls’ in Yellowknife, Inuvik, Fort Simpson, Fort McPherson, or Fort Smith.

The Government of the Northwest Territories continued to build new schools and add grade levels to existing community schools throughout the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. There became less of a need for residences; some were closed, and others began to be maintained by local or regional school boards. The last two large GNWT – formerly Federal — residences closed in the 1990s, with Akaitcho Hall in Yellowknife closing in 1994 and Grollier Hall in Inuvik in 1996.

For many, life in these residences was difficult. Separation from family, friends, community, and culture, as well as other harms inflicted, created numerous problems that our modern society is only coming to grips with today.  In 2008 Prime Minister Stephen Harper apologized to all survivors of the residential school system.

Residential school history and stories are now actively taught in schools, and GNWT efforts support reconciliation within NWT communities.