Hamilton

Assignment asking students to pretend to be French colonists 'insensitive,' says Catholic chair

The chair of Hamilton's Catholic school board says an assignment asking students to pretend to be French colonists and write a speech to convince "aboriginal people" to let them stay in North America was "insensitive and inappropriate."

HWCSB committed to promoting truth and reconciliation, says Pat Daly

Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic District School Board chair Pat Daly says an assignment asking Grade 7 students to pretend to be French colonists was inappropriate and insensitive. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

The chair of Hamilton's Catholic school board says an assignment asking students to pretend to be French colonists and write a speech to convince "aboriginal people" to let them stay in North America was "insensitive and inappropriate."

A photo of the assignment was shared on Twitter by Stephanie Allen (@BuiltJustice) Sunday afternoon.

It's described as a Grade 7 history culminating activity and invites students to "pretend that you are a colonist from France" that has just discovered North America.

"The aboriginal people who were there before you are having issues with you staying," it reads.

"You are going to create a speech (as the French colonists) to convince the aboriginal people to let you stay on their land."

"THE MORE CONVINCING YOUR ARGUMENTS ARE THE BETTER YOUR MARK WILL BE!" it reads, before offering a reminder of some speech-writing tips.

Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic District School Board Chair Pat Daly confirmed a teacher with the board tasked Grade 7 students with completing the assignment, though he would not say at which school it was handed out.

"We absolutely acknowledge that it was insensitive and inappropriate and .. it's important to know that the teacher has acknowledged that as well and I'm sure has learned from it," he said Monday.

Allen's tweet says the assignment was sent home last week.

"Black & Indigenous students playing the role of their enslaver/colonizer/land thieves," her post added. "White supremacy is a system in Canada, working as designed."

CBC News attempted to contact the student and their family, but they did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Daly said it's his understanding the teacher was attempting to contrast the experiences of French and British "explorers" or "colonizers."

While the general topic is within the provincial curriculum, the wording and suggestion there was even a difference was insensitive, he said.

The assignment comes amid a nation-wide discussion about racism following the death of George Floyd, a Black man killed by police in Minneapolis, Minn. on May 25, and the deaths of Rodney Levi and Chantel Moore who were both Indigenous and died after interactions with police in New Brunswick.

"I would not suggest that it would have been appropriate at any time, but absolutely we understand why it would seem that much more insensitive and inappropriate now," said Daly,

The board's Indigenous Education Lead will be following up about the incident, he added, and that the systems remains committed to "doing everything they can to promote truth and reconciliation."

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