Inuk boy takes a stand by sitting down during anthem

Story by CBC Kids News • 2019-04-11 07:30

Nunavut might start teaching younger kids about residential schools

When a 12-year-old Inuk boy decided to stop standing for O Canada in class, it wasn’t that his legs were tired.

Miles Brewster felt his teachers weren’t doing enough to teach kids about residential schools, so he decided to protest.

Turns out Nunavut’s Department of Education is considering changing the way it teaches kids about the subject, introducing it earlier instead of waiting until Grade 10, as it does now.

Brewster’s protest has also spiralled into a conversation about the value of playing O Canada in schools at all.

The backstory

Brewster, now 13, started sitting during the national anthem at Aqsarniit Middle School in Iqaluit, Nunavut, in September 2018.

The Grade 8 student said he started his protest because his ancestors weren’t getting “enough recognition” in the classroom.

Residential schools don’t appear in Nunavut’s social studies curriculum until Grade 10.

That’s not good enough, said Brewster. Turns out he’s not alone in feeling that way.

“He’s right,” said Iqaluit District Education Authority chairperson Doug Workman, when asked to respond to Brewster’s concerns.

“Of course” starting in Grade 10 isn’t good enough, Workman said, adding that only the Department of Education in Nunavut has the power to change when the subject is formally introduced.

Map shows location of Iqaluit, Nunavut in top right hand corner of Canada.

What are residential schools?

Residential schools were set up by the Canadian government and run by churches as a way to integrate Indigenous kids into Canadian culture.

Many Indigenous kids were abused and mistreated at the schools.

In many cases, they weren’t allowed to speak their own languages or practise their traditions.

Their stories are recognized every Sept. 30 on Orange Shirt Day.

Inuit children in winter coats write at desks in a classroom.

In this undated photo, students sit at their desks at the Eskimo Point Federal Hostel in what is now Arviat, Nunavut. (D.B. Marsh/Library and Archives Canada/Reuters)

‘We should know the past’

The government of Nunavut is considering including residential schools in the social studies curriculum for kids below Grade 10, said Department of Education spokesperson Sandi Chan.

“This work is in progress,” she said, and has been since 2013.

The goal is to have the new curriculum approved by 2023, Chan said, although that date could change.

Although she couldn’t say what the new lessons might look like, Chan said the goal would be to have teachers discuss residential schools with younger students in an “age-appropriate” way.

Any changes would be a victory for Brewster, who has family members who attended residential schools and were traumatized by the experience.

“We should know the past so that maybe in the future it won’t happen again,” he said.

Canadian flag flies above the federal government meetings in Ottawa.

In Nunavut, schools aren’t required to play the national anthem every morning. It’s up to local school officials to decide. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

No more O Canada?

Meanwhile, the Iqaluit District Education Authority is looking at the anthem after Brewster’s protest caught the attention of some parents.

The group, which is chosen to represent people in the community when it comes to school issues in Iqaluit, posted a survey in March on the playing of O Canada in schools.

Parents were asked to choose one of three options:

The majority voted to keep playing O Canada every day.

It will be up to school principals to decide whether to make any changes based on the survey results, Workman said.

Miles Brewster looking serious.

In 2018, Miles Brewster was one of eight kids to receive a Upinnaqtuq Award from the Nunavut Law Foundation for his peaceful protest. (Travis Burke/CBC)

Award-winning protest

Brewster has continued to sit during the anthem almost every day since September. He said a few kids have joined him.

In December 2018, Brewster was one of eight kids to receive a Upinnaqtuq Award from the Nunavut Law Foundation.

The awards are given to kids in Nunavut each year as a way to honour their leadership when it comes to resolving conflicts peacefully.

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