Ontario needs to do more to indigenize its schools. From elementary to post-secondary, the school system lacks Indigenous content outside of the very limited history and art units spread through nine years of the public system. Schools have the structure and resources to expand the curriculum to be more inclusive, by not doing so they are disadvantaging students.
Durham College has responded to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s final report, released in 2015, by introducing Indigenous content into several programs such as Broadcasting, Journalism and Police Foundations. New methods of delivering content, like outdoor classes, have also been incorparted. Durham College is an example of how these changes can be made to school systems.
But more could – and should – be done.
It’s not like schools don’t teach different cultures and languages. French class is mandatory in schools and the province provides funding per student to schools that run French immersion programs to encourage the inclusion of French language, says TVO, Ontario’s public broadcaster.
Our school system needs to approach Indigenous culture with the same dedication it applies to French language.
A study done by a church group tested four elements of the recommended TRC for school curriculums against provincial school curriculums across the country. Only Saskatchewan and Alberta managed a passing grade. Ontario failed, indicating there is an under representation of Indigenous culture and history in schools.
The problem? Classes vary depending on where you live in Ontario. Some high schools might offer an optional course in an Indigenous subject. Outside of a unit in history about residential schools, this is all the content offered in some high schools. If there isn’t enough interest, or you aren’t at one of the schools that offer such courses, then students are out of luck.
Lambton Kent District School Board offered an optional class in Indigenous literature and absorbed it into grade 11 English class for their students. Instead of covering Shakespeare, they
cover Canadian Indigenous authors like Richard Wagamese or Shirley Sterling. Making this change provides students with a new Canadian perspective.
A study reported by the Globe and Mail found teachers feel nervous and uncomfortable teaching Indigenous curriculums for fear of getting it wrong. By partnering schools with local Indigenous community leaders, teachers have a resource to get accurate information they feel comfortable sharing with students.
But some schools are already setting up their own Indigenous centred courses, building relations with communities to be resources in classes and switching the curriculum around to accommodate this change. We know where, what and how to teach Indigenous culture in schools. The Ontario school system just needs to mandate the indigenization of the curriculum.
As much as representation matters in our school system, having students learn about the Indigenous peoples of Canada provides an equal or even greater purpose –
educating non-Indigenous students.
Misconceptions of treaties, the water crisis, the pipelines, the 60’s scoop, missing Indigenous women, poverty on reserves… the list goes on and on. Not understanding what these things really are and how they have affected our communities has led to a divide.
Imagine if we brought in a new perspective for Ontario students: to actually learn about these issues in a safe environment where there could be open and honest discussions.
Ontario schools should be educating the next generation to have a better grasp of the social and economic state of Indigenous people of our country.
To leave modern Indigenous culture out of the Ontario schools’ curriculum only disadvantages Ontario. Schools know how to do it, we have experience integrating Canadian culture in our schools and doing it would only lead to a more educated population.
Not only do we need mandatory classes, Indigenous content needs to be integrated into English courses and law classes. More guest speakers, performances and events need to be held at the schools.
Indigenous communities are more than happy to help out, because this is truly at the core of what truth and reconciliation is about. Recognizing Indigenous people as a distinct culture in Canada with history, beliefs and knowledge would only enrich our schools and students.