The Manitoba government and the Treaty Relations Commission of Manitoba said Tuesday it's time for both non-aboriginal and First Nations students to learn about each other, starting with the treaties that form the basis of Manitoba's history.

The Treaty Education Initiative, first introduced as a pilot project for Grades 5 to 6 in 2010, then Grades K to 4 in 2012-2013 and Grades 7 to 12 last year, will now be rolled out province-wide. 

“At its core, the TEI gets students learning and talking about how the Treaties form the very foundation of who we are as a province and as citizens with ongoing responsibilities to each other,” said Manitoba Education minister James Allum in a news release. 

Manitoba's Treaty Relations Commissioner, James Wilson said the TEI quickly changed from a pilot project to a means for both First Nations students and others to learn about each other.

"First Nations students were just as anxious to learn more about their own history as non-Aboriginal students were to learn more about First Nations," Wilson said in a statement.

Goal is to change stereotypical thinking

The mandate of the commission is to educate Manitobans about the treaties and foster dialogue and understanding. 

The hope is that educating students about the treaties will improve the relationship between aboriginal and non-aboriginal students and change "stereotypical thinking." 

The TRCM already offers a series of two-day in-service sessions for teachers.

Officials said eventually, "all Manitoba students should be expected to demonstrate knowledge of the topics, concepts and understandings of the treaties and the treaty relationship by the end of Grade 12.”

Wilson said teachers who participated in the pilots were found it was easy to bring discussion of the treaties into courses from math to art and history. 

“In turn, this opened doors to discussions that built upon the Treaties such as residential schools, traditions, and customs and gave students greater context in understanding issues like the court action over Kapyong Barracks and the Idle No More movement.”

Wilson said Treaties are the most important documents Canadians have ever put their names to, yet many do not understand them.

“Within a decade, I believe we’ll look back on the TEI as a critical step in strengthening the Treaty Relationship between both original signatory communities,” he said.

New resources on treaties 'incredibly valuable'

Kamal Dhillon, a student teacher at St. John's High School, said she's thrilled with the educational workbooks and textbooks the province has put together. 

Dhillon said the information is incredibly valuable.

"I know that treaties involve a complex and complicated relationship between First Nations people in Canada and the government of Canada," she said. "And it's that relationship that we need to explore and to understand."

The learning starts this week. Dhillon said it's not a moment too soon. 

"There's so many different sources out there, with so many different, conflicting pieces of information. To have a kit at your fingertips that has been sanctioned by people who know so much about the topic and to say, 'These are the most important resources that you can explain to your students.'"

She hopes other teachers feel the same excitement she does in teaching the new material.

"This is an opportunity that I think all teachers should take advantage of. It's been laid out so clearly for us and I think it's a really important topic that students today need to be aware of."