Edmonton woman wants Black grandmother removed from Alberta curriculum draft

An Edmonton woman says the Alberta government is using her grandmother as a token of Black history and wants references to her removed from a draft new elementary school curriculum.

Minister claims Agnes Leffler Perry Chaney an important historic figure

Agnes Leffler Perry Chaney in 2000, two years before her death in 2002. Her granddaughter, Julianne Sévère, wants references to her removed from the draft K-6 curriculum. (Submitted by Julianne Sévère)

An Edmonton woman says the Alberta government is using her grandmother as a token of Black history and wants references to her removed from a draft new elementary school curriculum.

Julianne Sévère says her grandmother, Agnes Leffler Perry Chaney, was a teacher, a mother and a wonderful person, but not a historically significant figure in the province's Black history.

She was stunned on April 30 when she saw a provincial government advertisement promoting Leffler Perry Chaney's inclusion in Alberta's proposed new curriculum.

"My grandma helped raise me," Sévère said on Tuesday. "She's sacred to me, and to see her used — I felt powerless since the UCP took power. They just changed everything that I was starting to love about this province. And now they've taken something personal. They've soiled it in a way. I don't know if I can get that taste out of my mouth."

The United Conservative Party government says Black history is conspicuously absent from the current curriculum and have pledged to include it in a new program of studies for Alberta students.

An anecdote of Leffler Perry Chaney immigrating to Edmonton from Illinois as a child appears in a book authored by Sévère's great aunt Velma Carter and godmother Wanda Akili.

The authors recount her story of arriving in Edmonton, then her family moving to a homestead in Wildwood in west-central Alberta, where she recalls picking berries and going ice fishing.

Sévère says the 1981 book, called The Window of Our Memories, is now out of print. She knows of nowhere else where her contributions to Alberta history are recorded.

She said she is angry the government used her grandmother's name to promote a proposed curriculum that has been widely criticized for being Eurocentric and created without meaningful consultation with Indigenous peoples, francophones and people of colour.

Minister says removing grandmother would be a disservice

After contacting Education Minister Adriana LaGrange, Sévère said the minister sent back a condescending reply, in which she said her grandmother was a "notable historic figure" in the province, a community building and important pioneer in the Black community.

"I did not appreciate being told who my grandmother was and that adding her to the deeply flawed curriculum would be honouring her legacy," she said. "I am her legacy, I am her family."

Agnes Leffler Perry Chaney and her granddaughter, Julienne Sévère, when Sévère was a child. Sévère wants the Alberta government to remove references to her grandmother from the draft K-6 curriculum, saying her inclusion is tokenistic. (Submitted by Julianne Sévère)

Adrianna LaGrange told reporters Akili and Carter's book is available in public libraries. She said Leffler Perry Chaney will stay in the curriculum because the government wants to include the stories of people who will inspire children.

"To not include her would be a disservice to our young people," LaGrange said.

The draft social studies curriculum proposes students in Grade 4 learn about Black settlement in Alberta, including Amber Valley and Wildwood and the pioneer stories of Jefferson Davis Edwards and Sévère's grandmother. It also says students who are age nine and 10 should learn about the arrival of the Ku Klux Klan and racism.

When asked why the government would not leave decisions about whose stories to include to teachers' discretion, Premier Jason Kenney says the curriculum should include specifics of what children should know.

"It can't be a curriculum denuded of any reference to any particular events and people," he said. "It ceases to be history if it is that."

Indigenous people who were asked by the government for advice and endorsement of the curriculum have described their inclusion as tokenistic. Leaders have asked the government to scrap the drafts and include First Nations and Métis and Inuit education experts.

A handful of school boards will pilot test some of the proposed new K-6 curriculum next fall. It is supposed to become mandatory in all schools in fall 2022.


For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

A banner of upturned fists, with the words 'Being Black in Canada'.


Janet French

Provincial affairs reporter

Janet French covers the Alberta Legislature for CBC Edmonton. She previously spent 15 years working at newspapers, including the Edmonton Journal and Saskatoon StarPhoenix. You can reach her at janet.french@cbc.ca.