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Alberta’s Curriculum: Political Football or Important Tool in Reconciliation?

Tansi Nîtôtemtik,


A province’s K-12 education curriculum is more important than some people realize. While teachers have some discretion in how they teach their students, the curriculum lays a framework in which the teachers build their lesson plans. A good curriculum not only provides consistency, but also adjusts to keep up to a changing world and reflects the culture of the society in which it is based.[1] The ideas that are presented to children through the curriculum shape young minds and impact the way that they will grow to perceive the world around them.


Photo Credit: https://the-pigeon.ca/2020/09/23/indigenized-art-therapy/


Call to Action 62(i) calls upon the federal and provincial governments, in consultation with Indigenous groups, 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.”[2]


In late 2021, the Alberta government announced a new proposed curriculum for grades 2-6.[3] The announcement was met with heavy criticism and protests.[4] The critics stated that the curriculum was not age-appropriate, focused on memorization rather than comprehension, had Euro-centric views, and, in some cases, inaccuracies were reported.[5] Notably, the proposed social studies curriculum would not mention the history and legacy of residential schools until the fifth grade, which many said was much too late.[6] Although the government stated that they had consulted with Indigenous peoples in drafting the curricula, it was later revealed that elders were given only six days to review the extensive proposals, which was simply not enough time.[7]


Thankfully, the government took the feedback and made adjustments to the curriculum.[8] They also decided to implement the changes in stages, rather than all at once.[9] One of the more contentious subjects, social studies, is slated to be released “later in 2022”[10] and implemented in 2024.[11] In order for Alberta to meet its obligations under TRC Call to Action 62(i), it is crucial that monumental changes to the 2021 drafts are incorporated into the upcoming proposal.


For example, the practices undertaken in the development of the 2021 drafts were not sufficient in meeting the goals of Call to Action 62, and can not be considered ‘meaningful consultation’ in my understanding of the phrase. The elders and other Indigenous groups were involved at the tail-end of the process, seemingly for the sole purpose of allowing the government to satisfy themselves that some sort of consultation took place. Meaningful engagement requires a two-way dialogue and allows various Indigenous individuals and groups to contribute in whatever way they feel appropriate, and, most importantly, the consultation process should not be rushed.


The importance of K-12 education cannot be overstated. Rather than being used as a political football, the Alberta curriculum should be used as an essential tool in teaching children about this country’s history and the historical and contemporary contributions of Indigenous people while also molding minds to create adults that are informed, respectful, and knowledgeable with regard to Indigenous people in Canada. Education goes hand-in-hand with reconciliation, and implementing a curriculum informed by Indigenous peoples that covers the history of residential schools in an age-appropriate manner is an important step toward moving forward in a positive way.


Until next time,

Team Reconcili-ACTION YEG

[1] “7 Reasons Why Your Curriculum Matters More Than You Think” 22 February 2022), online: Chalk <chalk.com/resources/7-reasons-why-your-curriculum-matters-more-than-you-think/>. [2] Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada: Calls to Action (Ottawa: Public Works and Government Services Canada, 2015) at 62(i). [3] Diego Romero, “Alberta announces 3 phases for curriculum rollout as criticism continues” (13 April 2022), online: CTV News <edmonton.ctvnews.ca/alberta-announces-3-phases-for-curriculum-rollout-1.5860077>. [4] Ibid. [5] Janet French, “Alberta government releases final versions of new math, English and wellness curricula” (13 April 2022), online: CBC News <cbc.ca/news/canada/edmonton/alberta-government-releases-final-versions-of-new-math-english-and-wellness-curricula-1.6419182>. [6] Jake Cardinal, “Indigenous Groups Slam Alberta’s Proposed New Curriculum- What Happens to Orange Shirt Day?” (21 April 2021), online: Alberta Native News <albertanativenews.com/indigenous-groups-slam-albertas-proposed-new-curriculum/>. [7] Ibid. [8] Supra note 5. [9] Supra note 3. [10] “Social Studies: Highlights of the draft social studies design blueprint (Dec 2021)”, online: Government of Alberta <alberta.ca/curriculum-social-studies.aspx>. [11] Supra note 3.

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