Working Together: Organizing and Activism for Indigenous Rights and Control of Indigenous Education in Canada, 1960s to Today


Lewis Debassige is a respected Anishinaabe Elder from M’Chigeeng First Nation on Manitoulin Island (Mnidoo Mnising). He is well known for his work as an activist and political advocate for Indigenous rights and education. As a member of the Union of Ontario Indians and the National Indian Brotherhood in the 1960s and 70s, Lewis took part in the rise of Indigenous political organizing and activism and was involved in the development of the influential 1970 “Citizens Plus” or “Red Paper” manifesto. Provoked by the Canadian federal government’s infamous 1969 White Paper proposal to eliminate Indian status and assimilate Indigenous peoples into ‘mainstream’ society, the Red Paper served as the National Indian Brotherhood’s official response and affirmed Indigenous identity, rights, and treaties in Canada. He is also an author of the 1972 paper, “Indian Control of Indian Education,” which played a foundational role in the development of Indigenous education policy in Canada. Lewis’ advocacy work extends to his home community on Manitoulin Island where he has served as a teacher, education administrator, and as one of the founding directors of the Ojibwe Cultural Foundation. Today, he continues to actively promote ongoing initiatives in language and cultural revitalization and educational programming in M’Chigeeng. In this presentation Lewis will discuss the long and ongoing sruggled for Indigenous rights and control over Indigenous education in Canada.