BWDSB wants province to add more Aboriginal content to curriculum


By Barb McKay

Ontario’s young people need to know the truth about Canada’s Aboriginal history and that begins with improvements to the curriculum, according to Bluewater District School Board vice-chair.

Marg Gaviller introduced a motion during the BWDSB meeting last Tuesday, calling on the province to review and expand its curriculum and resources on the history of Aboriginal people in Canada and the history and legacy of residential schools. She recommended that it be done in consultation with First Nations bands and that the request be sent to Premier Kathleen Wynne, Ontario Public School Boards’ Association president Michael Barrett, members of provincial parliament and school board chairs across the province. The motion was supported by fellow trustees.

“While the Ontario Ministry of Education has made some important first steps in providing curriculum for Native studies courses and a resource guide to enable connections of the present curriculum to our Aboriginal history, this motion goes well beyond what exists now, as does the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report,” Gaviller said. “The truth about our Aboriginal history and the colonization of North America and the growth of Canada as a nation has remained buried for a long time, for far, far too long, and it can’t wait any longer.”

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was established as a component of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement with a mandate to document the stories of survivors and educate Canadians about what happened in residential schools. The TRC published a 338-page report documenting the history and outlining a series of recommendations to the Government of Canada.

With the report, Gaviller said, there is an opportunity to strengthen Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal relations and it starts with education.

“Education is a provincial responsibility,” she said, “and we can lead the way.”

Gaviller said the motion also serves to honour Aboriginal scholar and author Basil Johnston, a member of the Chippewas of Nawash Unceded First Nation, who died earlier this month. Johnston is considered to be one of Canada’s most successful Aboriginal writers and participated in the TRC.

First Nations trustee Stacey John thanked Gaviller for introducing the motion.

“I truly believe that Bluewater can lead the way,” she said. “Why can’t we start now in consultations with Saugeen (First Nation) and Nawash to get that curriculum and history of our local First Nations that are in this geographical area into our local schools? We don’t need to wait for the Ministry of Education to say we should be doing this. I think we could do that ourselves.”

BWDSB superintendent of education Lori Wilder said there is Ministry curriculum that the board has to follow but that does not mean that the local Aboriginal histories could not be further incorporated into certain courses. She said the board offered 44 native studies courses last year and is offering 36 this year. The board receives funding from the province for the courses contingent on enrollment of at least 12 students in each course. That is an indication that there is an interest, she said.

“We’ve made some great strides but there are opportunities to do more.”

Jim Dawson, trustee for Grey Highlands and Southgate, said that he was surprised to learn that residential schools existed in Canada into the 1990s.

“When we ignore certain elements of our history we are not being true to ourselves or to the world,” he said. “Personally, I believe we have an obligation to never forget it.”