British Columbia

Students at Prince George Secondary told to list 'positive' impact of colonies on Indigenous people

The mother of a Prince George, B.C., high school student says she is "fuming" after her son was given an assignment to list the "positive impacts" of colonies on Indigenous people.

Superintendent says intention was dialogue about colonization but teacher regrets way in which it was started

Candace Aksidan speaks about her son's school assignment at Prince George Secondary School. (Candace Aksidan/TikTok)

The mother of a Prince George, B.C., high school student says she is "fuming" after her son was given an assignment to list the "positive impacts" of colonies on Indigenous people.

The worksheet was distributed in a Grade 9 social studies class at Prince George Secondary School during the first week of classes. It instructed students to list both the "positive" and "negative" impacts of Europeans establishing colonies in the Americas, including Canada. Students were supposed to list the impacts on "Europeans in Europe", "Europeans in the Colonies" and "Aboriginal Peoples."

"It was extremely upsetting for both my son and myself," Candace Aksidan, who is Nisga'a, told CBC. "My dad is a residential school survivor. My husband is an Indian Day School survivor ...  it was like opening up a wound."

Akisdan said initially her son, who is Nisga'a and Gitxsan, only listed the negative impacts of colonies, but was prodded by his teacher to list positive impacts such as "more trade" and "access to new resources." Aksidan said her son, being aware of his family history, felt uncomfortable with the assignment but was hesitant to say anything in case he got in trouble.

WATCH | Aksidan talks about the school assignment her son was given:

Mother 'fuming' over school assignment to list 'positive impacts' of colonies

10 days ago
2:32
The mother of a child at Prince George Secondary School in B.C. says her son was deeply upset by an assignment asking him to list the 'positive impact' European colonies had on Indigenous people. 2:32

In a series of videos posted to social media, Akisdan described her emotions, telling followers she was "fuming" and later telling her son, "I would never get mad at you for standing up for something that you know is deeply rooted in the history of our people."

"My son is very well aware of colonization and the impact it has had on Indigenous people ... there are no positive impacts."

School district assistant superintendent Kap Manhas told CBC he had spoken to the teacher and that their intention was meant to "spark conversations" about the "negative impacts and enduring effects" of colonization but said it "never got that far."

"The teacher regrets the method in which the dialogue was started," he said.

Aksidan said she had already met with the school principal and he was "extremely apologetic," and that another meeting with the teacher has been scheduled for next week.

"My intentions are not to destroy this teacher's reputation but to try to make [them] understand why this work sheet was very insensitive," she said.

Assignment comes as review finds widespread racism in schools

The assignment was distributed just weeks after an independent review of Prince George schools found "clearly discriminatory and systemically racist" practices in both classrooms and at a leadership level.

A team appointed by the B.C. government found the school district had a culture of "fear, bullying, harassment and racism" and that Indigenous staff and students were disproportionately impacted.

On Monday, the school board chair and vice-chair both resigned, saying they could no longer take part in a system they described as "racist" and "broken."

"As a First Nations Leader, I can say that my voice was not meant to be at the table," former chair Trent Derrick, who is Gitxsan, wrote.

The assignment was distributed to Grade 9 students at Prince George Secondary School. (Candace Aksidan)

In an interview with CBC Daybreak North Tuesday morning, former board vice-chair Shuirose Valimohamed said she felt ignored when attempting to bring up issues of discrimination within the school district and that she has little faith the remaining board would be able to implement the reforms needed.

"You'll hear the normal line: 'We're saddened and shocked they're leaving, their leadership was valued,'" she predicted. "The normal stuff [to] spin this."

Later that day, new board chair Sharel Warrington held a news conference in which she told reporters the board was "shocked" and "very saddened" by the resignations, and that Derrick and Valimmohamed's contributions were valued.

Asked how she would address systemic racism within the school district, Warrington said the board has been having ongoing conversations and is developing a work plan to "decide how we are going to move forward."


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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Andrew Kurjata

CBC Prince George | @akurjata

Andrew Kurjata is an award-winning journalist covering Northern British Columbia for CBC Radio and cbc.ca, situated in unceded Lheidli T'enneh territory in Prince George. You can email him at andrew.kurjata@cbc.ca. You can also send encrypted messages using Signal to 250.552.2058.

With files from Kate Partridge

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