I want to start a discussion, not about the state of education in Aboriginal schools, but about what we are all taught about the place of Aboriginals - our First Nations - in Ontario and Canada. Since the introductory article in this category focuses on the education of and not about Aboriginals, I decided to start a discussion about what all students are learning.
Given the Idle No More movement, I hope to see more interest generated in this topic. I love that teach-ins are being held by First Nations groups across the country, but what are our kids learning in school? I know that my boys have learned more about First Nations peoples than I ever did, but I'd like to hear from any teachers out there - what kinds of things are you talking about?
Jacqui, I'm not a teacher but I would like to add my name to your request. In fact I would like to go further and ask two questions:
(1) Where can I get high school curriculum materials that teach about Canada's FN and (2) who decides what goes into the materials (specifically whom do I contact)?.
Also I would love to know if anybody out there would like to join me in reviewing those materials?
Here's my view on what is taught. My family and I arrived in Canada from Poland seven years ago. My daughter "dropped" into grade 12 and my son into grade 7. Recently I asked them what they were taught about the FN. The answer was "next to nothing". My daughter's current sensitivity to FN issues comes from the fact that one teacher invited an Aboriginal speaker to address the class. She doesn't remember his words, but she remembers his bitterness.
I had been in Canada about twenty years earlier as a student. I asked fellow students where there was a reservation near Toronto I could visit. Nobody knew. Eventually I found and went to the Six Nations reservation near Brantford. Driving the back roads of the reservation, I stopped at a small silversmith's hut. There I had a very open discussion with the Mohawk silversmith. I remember the shock I felt when he told me how he had been beaten at school as a child for speaking Mohawk.
I think my biggest "education" came much later when I read "A Fair Country" by John Ralston Saul, husband of ex-Governer General Adrienne Clarkson and the current head of PEN International. I encourage everybody to read it. It is a real eye-opener!
To know everything about curriculum materials that teach about Canada's FN you can ask all the question in Idle No More https://www.facebook.com/IdleNoMoreCommunity?ref=stream they have a lot of great discussion very respectful and true answers.
Thanks Matt. I will certainly look through this discussion. But I would really like to see the original materials. I have received one response (private) from a high school teacher who suggested that I look at the Ministry of Education Curriculum for grades 9 and 10 which is where are kids get their last mandatory history and geography. After that, any relevant courses are in a ocean of other optional couses, so stuff there on Aboriginal issues will not have much impact on our students as a whole.
I will take a look at the grades 9 and 10 materials, but I really hope others in this discussion group will join me.
Well, here is my review of the Ontario Ministry of Education's curricula for history courses. I encourage anybody more familiar with the curricula than me to identify any errors of fact. I believe it confirms my assertion that these curricula do not give the First Nations (FN) the treatment one would expect - given their role as one of the three founding nations of Canada or as the original peoples of Canada. It is hardly surprising then that most of our children come out of the school system with, at best, a minimum awarness of the FN. Futhermore, it is hardly surprising the the FN themselves are embittered at their lack of recognition.
It is not the purpose of this review to justify the position that the FN should have in our history courses. That justification has already been given by others. The role of the FN in the creation of a unique Canadian culture was well described in John Ralston Saul's book "A Fair Country". References in political and social language to the FN as one of the founding peoples abound. For example, during the 2007 ceremony commemorating the Battle of Vimy Ridge, the Master of Ceremony (with the obvious approval of the Prime Minister's Office) said "We will now have the prayers in the languages of the THREE FOUNDING NATIONS of Canada."
When I refer to Canada, I mean Canada as a culture, and not as an independent political entity. Our history began long before Confederation. It began with the coming of the FN to this part of the continent. We were already well on the way to being Canadians hundreds of years before McDonald and Cartier decided to unite the four provinces.
Only the curricula for grades 7, 8 and 10 have been looked at in this review. There is no history taught in grade 9, and history courses beyond grade 10 are optional – only a minority of students take them. In other words, it is during the three years of grades 7, 8 and 10 that our children's views, attitudes and prejudices about the FN are set.
Here is the introductory section to the grade 7 curriculum: "The study of history focuses on the development of Canada from the seventeenth to the early nineteenth century. Students investigate the contributions of significant groups and individuals and develop an understanding of Canada’s European roots". Indeed, the title of the first section is: "New France" and the Overview to it states: "Students examine the roots and culture of the French communities in North America during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries." Clearly, according to these statements, the history of Canada before the seventeenth century (primarily aboriginal) is deemed unimportant, and our children start off on their journey through the history of Canada understanding that it is essentially that of its European settlers.
In next section titled "British North America", under Specific Expectations, students are asked to learn about key events and the biographies of key personalities. Nice, but were there no key events or key personalities before the British came to Canada? What about the 1701 Treaty of Montreal when the Governor of New France, Hector de la Calliere (representing Louis XIV) met with 1300 delegates of 40 aboriginal nations lead by Petun chief Kondiaronk? At this key meeting, peace was agreed, with the clear implication that both sides would be equal in the new land.
Students are asked to describe the impact of the European settlers on aboriginal culture, but not the impact of aboriginal culture on the Europeans. Once again, in his book John Ralston Saul shows that the FN did help shape the political culture of Canada – and that it is evident even today.
Grade 8 history is focused on Confederation. Students are asked, among others, to: "...identify ... the reasons for the exclusion of certain groups from the political process (e.g., First Nation peoples, women, the Chinese and Japanese)". Given that the Grade 7 curriculum has already marginalized the FN, the students may not give much thought as to why the FN were excluded from the process. Note that in the question itself, the FN are lumped in with the Chinese and Japanese ethnic groups – hardly what one would expect about one of the THREE FOUNDING NATIONS.
In "Aboriginal Persepctives – A Guide to the Teacher's Toolkit" (another curriculum document), teachers are advised to discuss the contribution of the aboriginals to Canadian culture. Unless the whole context of FN marginalization is discussed first, a student, not understanding how the aboriginals have been marginalized, may indeed answer "...not much". A more appropriate question would have been "How have the FN been prevented from contributing more to Canadian society?".
The history course deals with the history of Canada since World War I, with a focus on the shaping of the Canadian identity.
Under 'Specific Expectations – Forging a Canadian Identity', we find the following: "By the end of the course, students will be able to "...identify contributions to Canada’s multicultural society by regional, linguistic, ethnocultural, and religious communities (e.g.,Aboriginal peoples, Franco-
Ontarians, Métis, Black Canadians, Doukhobors, Mennonites, local immigrant communities)". Once again, the FN are marginalized by being lumped in with other small groups.
While there is a whole section on French-English governmental relations, Aboriginal-government relations are all but ignored. Danica Taylor of York University in "Border within Borders: Ontario’s Canadian and World Studies Curriculum" puts it well: "Blatantly missing from the outline of the curriculum are Canada’s Aboriginal groups. In CHC2D there is an entire subheading for French-English relations, and yet no subheading for Aboriginal-government relations. Aboriginal conflicts are relegated to one outcome which reads: “evaluate the impact of social and demographic change on Aboriginal communities (e.g. relocation, urbanization, pressures to assimilate)” (Ontario Ministry of Education 2005a, 48). While these are all valid instructional pursuits, missing is attention to the huge self-government movements of the twentieth century including issues with the Meech Lake Accord, territorial disputes and government treaties. In a nation that is supposed to recognize three founding groups, one has surely been left “outside” of the curriculum."
So, again, my main point is that by the time our young citizens have completed their secondary education, they have been 'conditioned' to regard the FN as an inconsequential (relatively) group. FN issues will remain on the margins of public awareness, only to surface and disappear occasionally as with the Idle No More movement. A just solution for the FN will only come when our citizens start caring. And that will only happen after we change the history curriculum.
Schools and other organizations can join the We Stand Together campaign, a joint initiative of Free the Children and the Martin Aboriginal Education Initiative. From their website:
"Free the Children stands together with Aboriginal youth and communities to look at the challenges faced by Canada’s Aboriginal Peoples. At the same time, we celebrate success; First Nations, Métis and Inuit Canadians have a rich history, with a culture and tradition that has helped form the unique diversity of our nation. By participating in the We Stand Together campaign, your friends, families, and students will take part in developing an understanding for these issues, and raising awareness for these successes.Free The Children stands together with Aboriginal youth and communities to look at the challenges faced by Canada’s Aboriginal Peoples. At the same time, we celebrate success; First Nations, Métis and Inuit Canadians have a rich history, with a culture and tradition that has helped form the unique diversity of our nation. By participating in the We Stand Together campaign, your friends, families, and students will take part in developing an understanding for these issues, and raising awareness for these successes."
Another interesting discussion about Aboriginal education...
Thanks, Jacqui. The We Stand Together campaign is a great initiative. Kudos to Paul Martin. But wouldn't it be nice if some active politicians took up the cause?
Unfortunately, that still leaves the problem of an inadequate and misleading history curriculum. How do we go about changing that? Imagine a student being impressed by this campaign ....and then going to history class and being taught that the First Nations are really marginal to the mainstream of Canadian history. If the curriculum were revised appropriately, this campaign would probably not be needed.
Well, more than a month has gone by, and still hardly a discussion. Come on Canadians! Aren't we supposed to be "nice". Aren't we supposed to be the caring ones with some sense of justice. If you disagree with what I wrote, tell me why. If you think it's unimportant, let me know why. I notice a lot of "support" in today's Ottawa Citizen readers' comments (and presumably in other newspapers) for the Nishiyuu Walkers. But that kind of support won't change anything unless these supporters become actively involved.
Hello Andrew. I have been following your post with interest. I don´t directly teach Social Studies, but as an ESL teacher for students in Grades 4, 5, 6 - I am aware of the curriculum expectations and I see what it is that they are working on in their integrated classes. I noticed you did a thorough review of the curriculum for Grades 7 + but I wonder if you were aware that a study of First Nations Peoples in Canada is addressed in the Social Studies curriculum for Grade 3 and 6.
Grade 3 curriculum touches on a look at First Nations Peoples and Early Settlers, in particular looking at homes (e.g., log cabin/long house), family units, connections to the land/environment and clothing.
In Grade 6, the curriculum includes the following expectations, in brief:
- examine various theories about the origins of First Nations and Inuit Peoples
- describe the attitude to the environment of various First Nations Groups and show how it affected their practices in daily life (interestingly, does not suggest a look at present day connections to the environment)
- compare key social and cultural characteristics of select groups
- identify the Viking, French and English explorers who came first (e.g., Cartier, Champlain)
- explain how the fur trade served both European settlers and First Nations Peoples
- identify the results of contact for both Europeans and First Nations
- explain how differences between First Nations and Early European explorers led to conflicts
- express personal viewpoints based on historical evidence about outcomes
- select relevant resources and identify their point of view
- recognize historical context of Cartierś log book
- identify and explain differing opinions about the positive and negative effects of contact between First Nations People and Europeans
- identify achievements and contributions of Aboriginal individuals in present-day
You can view these in more detail on the Ministry website.
Like you, I do believe that our educational system could be doing a lot more and a continued analysis of our historical relationship with First Nations groups, including present day issues should be included in the curriculum for senior levelled students as well.
I am concerned about the misleading history curriculum too. What we are teaching is NOT what we are learning through present day movements.
Janet, thanks for your response.
Because I am not a teacher, and never attended an Ontario secondary school, I depend on knowledgeable people like you to correct errors of fact. The reason I focused on what is taught in Grades 7 and above is that, I believe, only at that age do children start to do heavy-duty thinking on the major issues that concern society. So if such issues are not addressed properly in the senior grades, they will be treated as minor issues not worthy of 'painful reflection'.
However, please note that my concern is not about the amount of teaching about our First Nations, but about what is actually taught. The curriculum, as it is now, starts the process of marginalization.
But I have a question. Do you know, or do you know who knows, who in the Ministry of Education is responsible for the curriculum, and what is the process for gathering public input for curriculum revisions?
Hello Andrew. I wonder if you contacted the Minister of Education´s office and asked for some direction on the matter of curriculum development and revision processes if that would be helpful. I would certainly be interested in connecting with the people responsible for overseeing the curriculum content because like you, I see where improvements can (and should) be made.
As for the Grade 6 curriculum expectations that I noted, I would like to share a few of my own observations. I have had the privilege of working alongside some like-minded teachers who care deeply about students being able to make meaningful and relevant connections to the curriculum material they are introduced to. They try their best to devote ample time to the study of First Nations groups and Early Explorers. They also are open to bringing in materials related to social justice, current events and I have seen students make incredible connections between historical personalities/events involving First Nations peoples and current issues, people and events involving First Nations peoples - and even though these students are only in 6th grade, I am always amazed at the interest and insight they share.
One student that I work with was assigned to write a report on Jacques Cartier. With help, he was encouraged and provided with numerous writings on the man and his expeditions AND at the end, when asked what he thought of the man (because he was asked to provide a conclusion) - he responded that he thought he was a great explorer but not so great a man. Why? Because of how he treated First Nations peoples. Itś a start.
Another student in my class was asked to read a book (biography) about Shannen Koostachin, a young woman from the Attawapiskat First Nation in Ontario. That reading led to bringing in a video documentary about Shannenś Dream - and from there, writing, discussion and focus group work on the inequity facing Aboriginal students in Ontario. My students were keenly interested in what this young girl was trying to do - and - they were genuinely perplexed to see the disparity between schools in Aboriginal communities and mainstream communities.
Many Junior/Middle schools have clubs such as an Equity Club, Social Justice Club and/or Eco Club. These clubs often try to raise awareness (and funds) at the school level. Another opportunity that can be seized upon in our school system. Heaven knows I have seen our school raise funds for wells in Africa and Free the Children....there is no reason to think they can´t look for opportunities to support causes closer to home as well. That in and of itself is very educational.
Unfortunately, these units of study are not always able to run on indefinitely in-class - because other areas of the curriculum need addressing and Grade 6 is an EQAO year as well - and that can impact the amount of time and attention these topics are duly given in-class. (another reason to boost those student-run, teacher supervised clubs ! )
I do agree with you though. The conversations should not just begin and end at the Grade 6 level. They should carry on throughout the intermediate and senior school years ! Young people do care and I do believe they want to know more about what is going on with people besides the Kardashians. They can be empowered and informed - but you´re right - without an understanding of the history behind these issues, it is hard to make sense of all of the movements happening. School really does need to step up to the plate here on this one.