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Draft curriculum getting failing grade from Indigenous groups

Last Updated Apr 1, 2021 at 11:08 pm MDT

CALGARY (660 NEWS) — There has been constant criticism from many angles since the provincial government released its draft K-6 school curriculum this week, which aims to overhaul how Alberta students learn about many core subjects.

While it is billed as a curriculum that focuses on literacy and numeracy, many people are pointing out issues with the social studies section. In particular, Indigenous teachings have been changed in a way that the province says provides more knowledge of cultures and addresses uncomfortable subjects such as residential schools.

But critics said European cultures get more of a focus, and key parts of Indigenous history are glossed over until later grades. Now, two prominent Indigenous groups in Alberta are rejecting the draft.

The Metis Nation of Alberta (MNA) calls for a re-draft, citing significant concerns about “Euro-American colonial undertones.” Similar language is being used by the Confederacy of Treaty Six First Nations, which describes the curriculum as a “Eurocentric, American-focused, Christian-dominant narrative.”

Both groups say the draft does not accurately portray Indigenous cultures and doesn’t go far enough to address historical injustices.

“It’s like we don’t even exist, like we aren’t here,” said Audrey Poitras, president of the MNA. “I think the way it is now — it’s going backwards, not forwards.”

Poitras said a re-draft could improve the state of the curriculum, but also, there’s a sense that some concerns would be ignored after previous concerns fell on deaf ears during the initial development phase.

“We had people who had already shown concern as we went through that year, year and a half, to say we’re not feeling we’re being heard. So, they’d hoped that would change,” said Poitras.

Another specific piece of the curriculum that has been targeted is the delay before students start learning about residential schools. While students of all ages will learn about various cultural aspects of First Nations, Metis and Inuit people, specific lessons on residential schools will not start until grade 5. In addition, lessons about treaties will not begin until grade 4.

These decisions go against recommendations from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which said 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.”


Poitras said this is a mistake, and the recommendation can be followed easily.

“I believe children learn very young, and children take in what they need to take in to understand what they’re being taught. I don’t believe it’s too early in the young grades,” she said. “That’s part of our history. That’s part of why a lot of things that are happening still continuing to happen today around racism, around discrimination, all of those sorts of things. I think our kids can learn from that.”

“As a survivor of an Indian residential school myself, there is a lot missing in this new curriculum, we have many educated peoples who could have been a part of this work, I haven’t seen or read the word colonization, the dominant society doesn’t have a clue about us and our history, and that needs to change,” added Elder Richard Lightning Ermineskin Cree Nation and member of the Confederacy of Treaty Six First Nations.

There also appears to be some reluctance from a couple of school boards, as the draft curriculum will be piloted this fall. The Edmonton Catholic School Division said it has not yet committed to taking part, as they undergo various reviews.

A statement from Edmonton Public Schools said they will not participate in the pilot program, partly due to the fact many students will also be online next year as well.

“To ensure continuity of learning as we look towards a potential return to in-person instruction for the second half of the school year, we need to ensure the same curriculum is being used Division-wide for both our online and in-person students,” a statement read.

The Sturgeon Public School system also informed parents it would not participate in the pilot program in the next school year.

A statement from the Calgary Board of Education said it would be reviewing the draft over the coming weeks, and more information will become available at a later date.

Despite the criticism, the government is holding firm on the draft, and there are lots of chances for changes to be made, as public feedback is being accepted until spring 2022.

“I’m very happy to see widespread endorsements of this curriculum,” Premier Jason Kenney said during a press conference on Wednesday. “It gets us back to actually imparting knowledge to young people about who we are as a society and where we came from. It does so in a very balanced way. There’s more recognition by far, for example, of the history of First Nations and different ethnocultural and faith communities in this curriculum than in any curriculum in our history.”

Poitras and other opponents to the curriculum feel the comments ring hollow after previous concerns seemed to be ignored, and she implores the government to do more serious consultation.

“Not only have people contribute but listen to what they’re saying and actually really mean that you want input,” Poitras said. “It could be a lot better.”