Mandatory Indigenous curriculum part of N.B.'s 10-year education plan
High school students with First Nations backgrounds can take advanced Mi’kmaq and Wolasoquey classes
Students in New Brunswick's public schools can expect to learn more Mi'kmaq and Maliseet content in the near future.
It comes as the Department of Education begins to roll out a 10-year plan designed, in part, to meet calls to action from the country's Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
"The goal of the department is to ensure that First Nation realities, experiences and contributions to Canadian society are embedded throughout the K-12 educational system, not just in one class," wrote Kelly Cormier, spokesperson for the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development in an emailed statement.
"In fact, our 10-year education plans aim to ensure that the provincial curriculum is reflective of First Nation history and culture," said Cormier.
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Beginning in September 2017, high school students with First Nations backgrounds can take advanced Mi'kmaq and Wolasoquey language courses.
Other Indigenous content that will be mandatory for all students throughout the K-12 system is still in development and the department did not say when it will be rolled out.
Those curriculum changes include a new Native Studies course and new Indigenous content modules in social studies and history courses for Grades 8 and 9.
Call to Action 62
Experts monitoring implementation of calls to action from the national Truth and Reconciliation Commission applaud the new curricula, but say New Brunswick still has a lot of work to do.
Kairos, a faith-based social justice organization of 10 Canadian churches and religious organizations, has published a report card rating every province and territory's efforts to meet call to action number 62, a call for mandatory indigenous content throughout K-12 curricula.
It puts New Brunswick near the back of the pack, just ahead of Prince Edward Island and Quebec.
"New Brunswick has a very long way to go before all K-12 students in the province are learning about treaties, residential schools and the contributions of Indigenous peoples," said Katy Quinn, Indigenous rights co-ordinator at Kairos.
"There are some small steps being taken but more emphasis needs to be placed in this area of curriculum change if real progress is going to be realized."
She said Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and the territories have made implementing the Call to Action 62 more of a priority.
But overall she said curriculum changes are happening very slowly across the country.
Charlene Bearhead, the education lead at the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation, agrees.
She visited the Anglophone West School District in the fall, and said some teachers were knowledgeable while others didn't have a background in Indigenous history or knowledge.
"One of the things that I certainly see in New Brunswick is that we have teachers that are very knowledgeable, but we have many, many, many teachers that have not had that background," she said.
"And more importantly that don't have the attitude yet because there hasn't been that shift in their understanding."
Bearhead said teachers, like all professionals in the country, need to educate themselves in order to build and improve relationships with First Nations.
"One of the biggest challenges, I believe that we have in this country is not the relationship, but the lack of relationship, the lack of understanding, the lack of respect that leads to blatant racism," said Bearhead.
Ann Sherman, the dean of education at the University of New Brunswick, was once tasked with crafting Indigenous course curriculum in 1994. She said it was the first of its kind in New Brunswick.
"For far too long much of that history, culture and language, those sorts of things have been totally absent and we've been focused on colonial aspects of history, social studies and geography and yet the First Nations people here are the first people here," said Sherman.
The Bachelor of Education program that Sherman oversees at UNB now requires its students to take a mandatory Indigenous studies course.
And she is working with the different educators and elders who are rewriting New Brunswick's public school curricula to include lots of Indigenous content.
"We're all treaty people, we all need to have this knowledge and we all need to act upon it, in a responsible and respectful way," said Sherman.
She said all students would benefit from learning that different isn't wrong and being exposed to Indigenous knowledge would only help to repair a often tenuous 250 year relationship.
- An earlier version of this story referred to KAIROS as an umbrella organization representing a collection of United Church of Canada charitities. In fact, the organization is ecumenical and is a faith-based social justice organization of 10 Canadian churches and religious organizations.Feb 28, 2017 6:14 PM AT