Revised Quebec curriculum includes more Indigenous history. Does it go far enough?

A revised draft of Quebec's controversial new high school history curriculum includes an increased focus on the experience of Indigenous peoples, after an earlier version had been slammed by critics as "unacceptable."

Revised guide for Secondary III and IV history course obtained by CBC News

The textbooks for the Secondary III portion of the history course are being used in classrooms this year. The course begins with the 'experience of the Native peoples and the colonization attempts.' (Benjamin Shingler/CBC)

A revised draft of Quebec's controversial new high school history curriculum includes a greater focus on the experience of Indigenous peoples, after an earlier version had been slammed by critics as "unacceptable."

Some teachers, however, maintain it still doesn't go far enough to incorporate the struggles, injustices and contributions of Indigenous peoples.

Anglophone and allophone minorities are also, for the most part, left on the sidelines, according to Robert Green, the head of the social sciences department at Westmount High School.

He said the two-year course, which spans Secondary III and IV, is still built around a "narrative that is focused exclusively on the francophone majority, and it pretty much eliminates everybody else."

"There are a few minor improvements, however, I would say that the fundamental problems that existed from the outset still exist," Green said.

"The biggest and broadest problem is that this curriculum is telling the story of the Quebec nation, not of Quebec society."

Making sense of residential schools

The curriculum, obtained by CBC News, includes an increased number of references to Indigenous peoples in comparison to an earlier version, released in September 2015.

For example, the new guide states that Canada's residential school system was introduced as part of an attempt to "propagate" Christian values that "helped accelerate the decline of Indigenous languages" and "weakened the social fabric in several communities."

Inuit children pose in front of the Port Harrison school in Inukjuak, Que., in 1890. Critics say Quebec's new history curriculum still doesn't fully explore the experience of Indigenous people in the province. (Library and Archives Canada)

The previous version only included a reference about the effect of residential schools on Indigenous languages.

There are also more references to Indigenous peoples on the whole in the 74-page document.

There is, however, still no mention of minorities such as Italians, Greeks, Irish or Haitians in the new version. The British are referenced numerous times, largely in the context of the years-long power struggle with the French. 

The curriculum, which will be used as a reference guide for publishers who will create the new textbooks, requires final approval from the Education Ministry before being implemented across the province.

Bryan St-Louis, a spokesperson for the ministry, said Wednesday the changes were made after consultation with francophone, anglophone and Indigenous experts, who were "satisfied by the changes" made to the curriculum.

St-Louis said those consultations are ongoing.

Province sends mixed messages

The new course has been the subject of controversy and mixed messages from the province since it was first launched as a pilot project by Quebec's Liberal government in 2015.

Teachers and activists criticized the program for failing to adequately take into account the contributions of Indigenous people, as well as anglophone and allophone minorities.

Quebec Education Minister Sébastien Proulx has overseen the development of the new curriculum. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)
In response, Education Minister Sébastien Proulx announced he would delay the roll-out of the course to make changes to better reflect Quebec's cultural diversity.

Nevertheless, the majority of Quebec school boards opted to adopt the Secondary III portion of the course in the 2016-2017 school year.

For instance, the English Montreal School Board, Green's employer, expressed reservations but went ahead, saying it didn't want to miss the opportunity to get new textbooks or teacher training.

Course revision launched under PQ

The two-year course begins with the arrival of French settlers in the 1500s and runs to the present day.

It 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.

Senator Murray Sinclair was the head of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission's final report, released in December 2015, recommended that Indigenous history, and in particular, the legacy of residential schools, be emphasized in school curriculums across Canada.

In light of that recommendation, Premier Philippe Couillard told reporters he would like the history of Indigenous peoples and their contribution to the building of Canada to be taught in Quebec schools.

"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 that time.

Chief Christine Zachary-Deom, a member of the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake, said education about Indigenous people should be a priority — and shouldn't begin when the first explorers arrive.

The earlier draft of the curriculum begins in 1500, whereas as the new draft has no fixed start date, a nod to the fact that Indigenous people lived in the province for thousands of years before the arrival of European settlers.

That first section, however, remains largely unchanged.

"Our community has a history that's really deep and really old," Zachary-Deom said. 

"If you're going to be looking at our history in high school, in any place in Quebec, there has to be that recognition that our peoples' histories are really important."


Benjamin Shingler is a reporter with CBC in Montreal covering health and current affairs. He previously worked at The Canadian Press, Al Jazeera America and the New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal.

With files from Ainslie MacLellan and Sabrina Marindola