By Athena Yuan
It’s back-to-school season, but many Ontario teachers may find it a bit challenging when implementing Indigenous education in the classroom this year.
The Ontario government has cancelled the second writing session aimed at updating Indigenous content and delivery in the province’s K-12 education system. This decision impacts both the second and third phases of the three-stage process to update Indigenous content in the province’s curriculum.
“The updates give teachers lots of different prompts of how they can get people into the curriculum,” said Colinda Clyne, a Curriculum Lead for First Nations, Metis and Inuit Education. One phase of the project has been completed and the revised curriculum implemented in September. Colinda Clyne says: “I feel confident that the teachers who were part of that will have a good understanding of what they need to do. But I’m not confident they will know what to do with phase two.”
Ontario's schools incorporate Indigenous perspectives into the provincial curriculum. But how that translates in classrooms varies, because most teachers were never exposed to Indigenous history when they were students.
“Trying to get myself up to speed on the hidden history of this country is very challenging,” said Ben Grass, a teacher at Don Mills Collegiate Institute in Toronto.
Sometimes they need to learn alongside with their students.
“Once a student found a legal article about how the Indian Act was replaced in 1951, and I only have seen mention of that as an amendment. So just right there, I found out something new to me and I have to learn more about it,” said Ben.
A study published in the International Indigenous Policy Journal shows that some non-Indigenous educators are unaware of Indigenous cultures and histories, some are intimidated to say or do the wrong thing, and others have difficulty finding, interpreting and using Indigenous curricular resources.
The good news is that now teachers will have access to The Indigenous Peoples Atlas of Canada, a four-volume atlas that includes information on Indigenous communities, languages, education, treaties, and lands.
“Students will be educated with resources that come from authentic Indigenous voices for the first time,” said Charlene Bearhead, an Indigenous education advocate who worked on the project.
“What you will not see is provincial, territorial, political boundaries. Instead, you will see land claim agreements, treaty areas, languages groups, where residential schools occurred, you will see communities that you have never seen on maps before,” said Bearhead.
Developed by Indigenous groups working with the Royal Canadian Geographical Society, the map is accompanied by a guide that's more than a hundred pages, and there are 17 lesson plans that go with it. Bearhead says, “It’s the first time for teachers to have resources to support learnings about what Canada really is.”
As the federal government is moving forward with plans to add a new statutory holiday to mark the legacy of residential schools in Canada, Indigenous groups continuously call on people to learn the real history of Canada.
“Education and awareness will lead to understanding and will lead to action,” says Perry Bellegarde, the National Chief of Assembly of First Nations. “Let’s learn from the history so we don’t make the same mistake going forward again.”
There is no clear indication of when the rewrite session will be resumed, but a statement from the office of Education Minister Lisa Thompson says, “(The ministry) will continue to move ahead with the updated Truth and Reconciliation Commission curriculum revisions." Hopefully, students are on their way to learning the truth.