New Quebec history course falls short on First Nations, activist says

A draft of the piloted curriculum, obtained by CBC News, contains only a single reference to Canada's residential school system, saying they "helped accelerate the decline of indigenous languages."

Ellen Gabriel says new teaching guide misses an opportunity to address the failure of previous curricula

Ellen Gabriel is a longtime Mohawk activist and artist from Kanesatake. (Laurene Jardin/CBC)

The shortage of aboriginal issues in Quebec's new high-school history curriculum is "unacceptable," according to First Nations activists.

A draft of the piloted curriculum from last September, obtained by CBC News, contains only a single reference to Canada's residential school system, saying they "helped accelerate the decline of indigenous languages."

The new teaching guide misses an opportunity to address the failure of previous curricula to educate Quebecers about aboriginal history, said Ellen Gabriel, a longtime Mohawk activist and artist from Kanesatake. 

"We've been trying to get them to change the curriculum for decades," Gabriel told CBC News. 

"It's unacceptable that it's still happening today in 2016."

The curriculum is being piloted this year in several dozen schools in 2015-2016. A final version is expected to be rolled out across the province next year.

The two-year course begins with the arrival of French settlers in the 1500s, with the first module examining the experience of aboriginal people under colonization.

David Birnbaum,the parliamentary assistant to Quebec's education minister, says the final version of the history course will more accurately reflect the province's diversity. (Quebec Liberal Party)
Another section, from 1945 to 1980, includes a focus on the conditions on reserves and the recognition of ancestral rights.

David Birnbaum, the parliamentary assistant to Quebec's education minister, told CBC News on Thursday that Quebec's new history curriculum will undergo more changes before it is rolled out across the province. 

He said the program has already been altered since the Liberals came to power to more accurately reflect the
history of Quebec's non-francophone and aboriginal communities.

The piloted curriculum has already been criticized for its lack of diversity.

TRC recommendation

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission's final report recommended that First Nations history, and in particularly the legacy of residential schools, be emphasized in school curriculum across Canada.

After the report was released, Premier Philippe Couillard told reporters he would like the history of First Nations and their contribution to the building of Canada to be taught in Quebec schools.

Truth and Reconciliation Commission Chair Justice Murray Sinclair said he hopes the final report serve as a reference document for 'generations to come.' (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)
"We have to recognize there was certainly an organized attempt, during one unfortunate period, to erase the identity, culture and even the language of First Nations communities in our country," Couillard said at the time.

The course was originally developed under the previous Parti Québécois government, which had campaigned in 2012 on a promise to emphasize Quebec's struggle for nationhood in the provincial school curriculum.

Gabriel said the history of residential schools in Canada should be considered "just as important as teaching about the Holocaust and World War 2."

Robert Green, the head of Westmount High School's social sciences department, said the new curriculum also glosses over the Oka crisis and how both Quebec and Canada dealt with the Mohawks.

"I try to give my students an accurate and critical perspective on history and that certainly won't change, but the materials I have to do that with and the official curriculum, I might have to be fighting against," he said.