Ontario's new Indigenous curriculum arrives with many questions left unanswered

After 20 years the province has delivered its first new Indigenous curriculum and Anishinaabe educator Colinda Clyne says, while she's glad it's finally been released, there are some key unanswered questions.
Ontario's new Indigenous curriculum is set to roll out in schools in September. (Shutterstock)
After 20 years the province has delivered its first new Indigenous curriculum and Anishinaabe educator Colinda Clyne says, while she's glad it's finally been released, there are some key unanswered questions.

It's been almost 20 years since Indigenous curriculum in Ontario high schools was last updated.

A new update was released Tuesday, a collaboration between the previous Liberal government and indigenous partners revised by the Conservatives. That collaboration continued until the Spring of 2018 but was stopped when the Conservatives took over.

Premier Doug Ford's government says their revised curriculum could be in high schools in September. They've pledged 3.25 million dollars to make that happen. The curriculum includes ten elective secondary school courses that the province said, in a press release, "will provide students with up-to-date learning about First Nations, Métis, and Inuit perspectives, cultures, contributions and contemporary realities in areas such as art, literature, law, humanities, politics and history."

Anishinaabe educator Colinda Clyne, in charge of First Nations, Metis and Inuit curriculum for the Upper Grand District School Board in Guelph, spoke with the CBC's Conrad Collaco about the new curriculum. You can read an abridged and edited version of the interview or listen to the full audio interview by hitting the play button above. 

Colinda Clyne, Anishinaabe educator
(Colinda Clyne)

What do you make of the new curriculum?  

I'm glad that it's finally been released. We received draft documents in the Spring of 2015 and were told we would be receiving the rest of them then. That didn't happen. So, here they are now. I'm happy about that. The documents are really substantial. I'm very pleased with what's in there, in particular the matter that directs the work educators need to do starting with a vision, which was never in there before. The vision includes that all students in Ontario have knowledge and appreciation of contemporary and traditional Metis, First Nations, Inuit history, culture, perspectives and contributions. There is information there about how you do this work in a good way including consulting with knowledge keepers and elders. I think that part's really good. 

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I only looked at the course I previously taught, myself. I haven't had a chance to go through the whole thing. It is very detailed and in depth. The course that I taught was the contemporary issues and it is fully fleshed out from what was really a skeletal outline about how to do the work. The part that I really like is the political inquiry approach. So, getting people thinking about how we investigate contemporary issues. 

What do you think these changes will mean for indigenous high school students? 

It depends if they take the courses or not. These courses are electives. I think it's important people understand that they impact only a few students that would actually take the courses. 

The last update was back in 1999 and 2000. What sort of outdated information was in the old curriculum?

If you think about what's changed since 1999 — everything from the Nisga'a land claim agreement to talking about duty to consult, apology for residential schools and then of course the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. All of that wouldn't be in there. All of those milestones changed the way Indigenous peoples are seen and have a voice in the country. That's really important. 

How do you expect this will be used in classrooms when September comes?

I'm not sure about that. This is a really short turnaround. Typically, when new curriculum is rolled out there are regional meetings that the ministry hosts and then we get together. We bring a school team. Each one of the boards in an area would gather a team. All of these teams get together. The ministry would have an outline with some suggested ways to roll it out. Then our teams would plan that. We would come back to our systems and do the roll out. I don't know how we're going to do that. I don't know if there are regional meetings. That part wasn't clear in the announcement. The other part is that there's lots of great content that is now, specifically, in the curriculum. I wonder about the money for developing resources to support the document. That's typically what has happened in the past. I haven't heard about that. (Ed. note: After the interview Ms. Clyne received an email that stated there would be a "virutal meeting" for the roll out in the fall.) 

The re-write has been in progress for a long time. A draft copy was released a few years ago, before the PCs won the election. Did anything change between that draft and yesterday's release?

Just more recent information. The draft didn't include all of the courses. The draft only included a handful of courses. It's hard for me to specifically speak to that.

The province cancelled some curriculum writing courses soon after taking office ... those were not for this curriculum but on how to weave Indigenous learning into other types of courses. What role does the Indigenous curriculum play in other types of courses, that aren't focused on Indigenous issues?

That's the bigger issue for me. This curriculum is great and it impacts very few people. So, if we're looking at really affecting change then we need to look at how do we weave through everything that we're doing. That would be the curriculum revisions that were cancelled last year which included primary which I think is a great place to start.