Alberta schools to teach Indigenous history and culture, education minister announces

Students in Alberta will be taught about the history of First Nations, Métis and Inuit — and the legacy of residential schools — under revamped lesson plans unveiled Tuesday in Calgary by Education Minister David Eggen.

'It is critical our students understand the history of residential schools'

Alberta Education Minister David Eggen announced on Tuesday that the province is giving teachers new lesson plans on First Nations, Métis and Inuit history and culture. (Government of Alberta)

Students in Alberta will be taught about the history of First Nations, Métis and Inuit — and the legacy of residential schools — under revamped lesson plans unveiled Tuesday in Calgary by Education Minister David Eggen.

The plan to teach Indigenous history and culture in Alberta schools is part of the provincial NDP government's effort to incorporate the recommendations that came out of the national Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

"Today we can embed the true and shared history of First Nations, Métis and Inuit into the education experience of every student," Eggen said.

"We will break down barriers and continue to build understanding and work to make sure that every child in Alberta and teachers and support workers have an enhanced learning experience to advance reconciliation."

Lesson plans were developed for Grade 1 to Grade 9 in English language arts, fine arts, science and social studies and will be available as resource for teachers to be used at the discretion of school jurisdictions, individual schools and teachers.

Secret Path — a multimedia project, solo album, graphic novel and animated film based on the story of a boy who died while trying to get home after escaping a residential school — by the late Gord Downie of the Tragically Hip will be one of the resources included in the lesson plans.

Tsuut'ina education director Val McDougall says the new lesson plans are a good first stepto honour Truth and Reconciliation Commission commitments made to include First Nations, Métis and Inuit perspectives.

"These lesson plans will bring reconciliation to life in the classroom and will highlight the significance of residential schools and treaties," she said. 

'Cultural genocide'

Released in 2015, the commission's summary report said the "establishment and operation of residential schools were a central element of [Canada's Aboriginal] policy, which can best be described as 'cultural genocide.'"

About 150,000 First Nations children went through the church-run residential school system, which ran from the 1870s until the 1990s. In many cases, native kids were forced to attend under a deliberate policy of "civilizing" Aboriginal Peoples.

Twenty-five of the 140 schools were in Alberta, more than in any other province, according to the commission.

In the 1990s, thousands of victims sued the Canadian government and the churches that ran the schools. A $1.9-billion settlement of the lawsuit in 2007 prompted an apology from Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and the creation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Eggen says the ongoing, comprehensive curriculum revamp will go beyond the discretionary lesson plans announced Tuesday.

The new K-4 curriculum, set to be revealed next year, will be infused with elements of First Nations, Métis and Inuit history and culture in all subjects, as will later grades, he said.