Education is the key to reconciliation

100 Years of Loss

BRITISH COLUMBIA’S Education Minister, Peter Fassbender, announced late last week that the province will introduce a new education curriculum on Aboriginal cultures and history this autumn.

Education was a focus of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s 94 recommendations. (Download the TRC’s “Calls to Action” document here.)

Here’s an excerpt from the TRC’s education-specific recommendations:

Education for reconciliation

62. We call upon the federal, provincial, and territorial governments, in consultation and collaboration with Survivors, Aboriginal peoples, and educators, to:

i. Make age-appropriate curriculum on residential schools, Treaties, and Aboriginal peoples’ historical and contemporary contributions to Canada a mandatory education requirement for Kindergarten to Grade Twelve students.

ii. Provide the necessary funding to post-secondary institutions to educate teachers on how to integrate Indigenous knowledge and teaching methods into classrooms.

iii. Provide the necessary funding to Aboriginal schools to utilize Indigenous knowledge and teaching methods in classrooms.

iv. Establish senior-level positions in government at the assistant deputy minister level or higher dedicated to Aboriginal content in education.

63. We call upon the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada to maintain an annual commitment to Aboriginal education issues, including:

i. Developing and implementing Kindergarten to Grade Twelve curriculum and learning resources on Aboriginal peoples in Canadian history, and the history and legacy of residential schools.

ii. Sharing information and best practices on teaching curriculum related to residential schools and Aboriginal history.

iii. Building student capacity for intercultural understanding, empathy, and mutual respect.

iv. Identifying teacher-training needs relating to the above.

There are many more education recommendations in Calls to Action. Murray Sinclair, Chair of the TRC, has said that “Education is the key to reconciliation.”

It makes sense for him to say this. The residential school system was an education system of a sort. It didn’t provide much at all by way of skills or learning. Mostly, it was a child labor system.

Always poorly-funded, the residential schools depended upon the output of child workers. Relatively little teaching and learning took place, especially until the 1950s, when reforms gradually were introduced.

The point is that the present-day education system can help to redress what was done by an education system of the past.

For this reason, I’ve been working for years on residential school curriculum. One of the projects with which I’ve been involved—”100 Year of Loss”—is already in use in two Canadian school systems, Nunavut and Northwest Territories.

Next month, I’ll start work on an exciting new curriculum project which I will say more about when the time arrives.

In the meantime, I commend British Columbia. And I look forward to more school systems responding to the TRC’s recommendation to “make age-appropriate curriculum on residential schools, Treaties, and Aboriginal peoples’ historical and contemporary contributions to Canada a mandatory education requirement for Kindergarten to Grade Twelve students,” in “consultation and collaboration with Survivors, Aboriginal peoples, and educators.”

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