• reconciliactionyeg

Education for Reconciliation?

Updated: Nov 13, 2021


Tansi Nîtôtemtik,


I’m a mom. My oldest is 6. He started Grade 1 this year. It’s our first experience with the public school system. I worry about how he’ll be taught, what he’ll learn, and what kind of frame he’ll put together with all the pieces of all the lessons.


I also worry about what the lessons will be. In 2020, the Government of Alberta released a new draft K-6 curriculum to be piloted over the 2021-2022 school year with a province-wide launch set for September 2022. [1] The flaws in this draft are too many to count, and too numerous to list. However, many others have and I encourage you to check out their critiques here, here and here.

The government webpage “Education for Reconciliation” currently reads [2]:

“The Alberta government is in the process of renewing the Kindergarten to Grade 12 curriculum. The new curriculum will enable students to develop an understanding of, and respect for, the histories, contributions, and perspectives of Indigenous peoples in Alberta and Canada. There will be age-appropriate content related to Treaties, agreements, residential schools and their legacy.”

The draft curriculum is advertised as incorporating Indigenous perspectives in all courses, throughout all grade levels. What does this look like? Well, treaties are introduced in Grade 4 and Residential Schools in Grade 5. [3] Other highlights:


Math: “Calculate the distance in kilometers travelled by the North West Mounted Police from Regina to Duck Lake during the 1885 Métis uprising.” [4]

Science: “Students will learn about objects created from natural materials by First Nations, Métis, and Inuit, such as Dene birchbark baskets”. [5]

Social Studies: “Students will learn that Fort Chipewyan on Lake Athabasca was home to Cree, De’né and Métis peoples as well as traders”. [6]


These ‘highlights’ bring me back to my own elementary education, replete with yearly lessons about who was nomadic, and who lived in long homes. Nothing in those lessons explained that there were distinct Indigenous nations. Nothing in those lessons shed light on why Indigenous peoples, cultures and practices were framed in the past tense. Perhaps most shockingly, there was nothing to indicate that Indigenous people still exist. This left me, a little white girl from the suburbs growing up believing Indigenous peoples were a vestige of history.


This is what worries me about this new draft curriculum. When lessons utilize a colonial lens with language that portrays negative imagery (Metis uprising? How about Metis resistance?), or when facts are presented without any context (birch bark baskets – how about sustainable harvesting and responsible resource use?), students learn irrelevant trivia or deeply problematic mistruths.


According to the Confederacy of Treaty 6 Chiefs:

“What was anticipated to be an opportunity to tell future generations of Albertans about the fulsome and diverse history of this province, including the histories of Treaty First Nations that have existed here since time immemorial, has instead devolved into a Eurocentric, American-focused, Christian-dominant narrative that perpetuates rather than addresses systemic racism and falls far short of providing a balanced, nuanced perspective on Treaty 6 First Nations history and culture.”[7]

I’m not suggesting that the draft curriculum erases Indigenous people in the same way it did when I was in elementary school, but it continues to perpetuate a ‘white washed’ history based on Eurocentric worldviews.


I’ve taken great comfort in the absolute outrage that met the curriculum – by parents, Indigenous communities, teachers, school trustees, academic experts, and even a member of the government caucus. [8] Shockingly, even the curriculum’s own “validators” have resoundingly panned on the draft. [9] It’s encouraging to see such vocal protest by people taking the call to reconciliation seriously.


What is less hopeful is the government’s stubborn refusal to take heed of the outrage. With about 2% of Alberta students piloting the draft, the government maintains that it will launch province wide next Fall. [10]


This is a step so far backwards on the path of reconciliation that it feels like all the hard work that has gone into getting us here, was fruitless. When we’re trying to reconcile for harm done, a good first step is to stop inflicting further harm. The fact that this draft curriculum is so close to being a reality in our children’s classrooms says plenty about this government’s priorities. Despite what their website says, reconciliation does not appear to be one of them.


Until next time,


Amy and Team ReconciliACTION

 

[1] Government of Alberta, “Draft K-6 Curriculum: How we got here” (last visited 4 November 2021), online: alberta.ca <www.alberta.ca/curriculum-how-we-got-here.aspx>.


[2] Government of Alberta, “Education for Reconciliation” (last visited 4 November 2021), online: alberta.ca <www.alberta.ca/education-for-reconciliation.aspx>.


[3] Janet French, “Indigenous leaders, elder feel used by Alberta government tactics to bolster new curriculum”, CBC News (25 May 2021), online:<www.cbc.ca/news/canada/edmonton/indigenous-leaders-elder-feel-used-by-alberta-government-tactics-to-bolster-new-curriculum-1.6033499>.


[4] Yvonne Poitras Pratt and Jennifer Markides, “Promises Made Promises Broken: How the draft K-6 curriculum recolonizes the Metis in Alberta” (27 April 2021), online (blog): Alberta Curriculum Analysis <alberta-curriculum-analysis.ca/promises-made-promises-broken-how-the-draft-k-6-curriculum-recolonizes-the-metis-in-alberta-2/>. Note also, that the original version of the draft located Regina and Duck Lake in Alberta, not Saskatchewan.


[5] Emily Mertz, “Métis Nation of Alberta has ‘monumental concerns’ with proposed curriculum”, Global News (31 March 2021), online: <globalnews.ca/news/7731446/metis-nation-alberta-proposed-school-curriculum/>.


[6] Ibid.


[7] Shari Narine, “UCP draft curriculum for K to Grade 6 has inside-the-fort logic all over it, says professor“, Windspeaker.com (8 April 2021), online: <windspeaker.com/news/windspeaker-news/ucp-draft-curriculum-k-grade-6-has-inside-fort-logic-all-over-it-says>.


[8] French, supra note 3;


Janet French, “UCP MLA Tracy Allard urges education minister to slow down proposed curriculum”, CBC News (20 August 2021), online: <www.cbc.ca/news/canada/edmonton/ucp-mla-tracy-allard-urges-education-minister-to-slow-down-proposed-curriculum-1.6148192>;


Janet French, “Proposed Alberta curriculum baffles parents, sparks protests”, CBC News (30 March 2021), online: <www.cbc.ca/news/canada/edmonton/proposed-alberta-curriculum-baffles-parents-sparks-protests-1.5970643>;


Lisa Johnson, “Alberta Teachers' Association releases report calling draft curriculum unfit for K-6 classrooms”, Edmonton Journal (29 September 2021), online: <edmontonjournal.com/news/local-news/alberta-teachers-association-releases-report-calling-draft-curriculum-unfit-for-k-6-classrooms>.


[9] French, supra note 3


[10] Janet French, “Government says curriculum pilot will give 'strong indication' of effectiveness, despite low uptake” CBC News (2 November 2021), online: <www.cbc.ca/news/canada/edmonton/government-says-curriculum-pilot-will-give-strong-indication-of-effectiveness-despite-low-uptake-1.6235024>.



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