New Brunswick

New Brunswick making great strides in teaching Indigenous history; official

The director of the Office of First Nation Education says people in New Brunswick might be surprised by how much the province is doing to ensure students graduate with an understanding of Indigenous history and customs.

Director of the Office of First Nation Education Sacha DeWolfe says efforts paying off

National Chief Perry Bellegarde of the Assembly of First Nations said Monday many provinces are failing when it comes to Indigenous education. (Logan Perley/CBC)

The director of the Office of First Nation Education says people in New Brunswick might be surprised by how much the province is doing to ensure students graduate with an understanding of Indigenous history and customs.

Improved education is one of the topics up for discussion at this week's 40th annual Assembly of First Nations meeting in Fredericton.

Sacha DeWolfe says New Brunswick students are beginning to learn about treaties and residential schools, as well as Indigenous music and art.

DeWolfe says the educational initiative has already had an impact on Indigenous student outcomes.

New Brunswick wellness surveys and provincial assessments indicate Indigenous students are "reporting that they are feeling safe in school. They're feeling school connectedness, they're feeling respected. So that's huge, the social-emotional piece is huge. So our students are feeling like they're ... ready to learn," she said.

DeWolfe added that math, history and Grade 2 reading are improving, as is language proficiency in Grade 9.

"So there are positive things happening," she said.

Earlier this week, the national chief of the Assembly of First Nations said many provinces are failing when it comes to Indigenous education.

Chief Perry Bellegarde said most students across the country are graduating with little to no knowledge about First Nations customs or history and that it's time for a change.

"The curriculums have to change in the school systems right from kindergarten to Grade 12," he said. "And I'm asking the provinces and the premiers to start looking at that. Teach about the residential schools in the curriculums not only on reserve but off reserve, teach about the imposition of the Indian Act, teach about the treaties as well because it's not adequately taught."

Bellegarde said many Canadians are not aware that the reservation system "was so good at controlling the Indigenous peoples, apartheid in South Africa was modelled after it.

"So that truth about Canada's history has to be taught," the chief added. "But I would say let's learn from the past. We don't need to live there, but let's learn from that so we don't make those same mistakes."

DeWolfe says there's still a lot of work to be done, but New Brunswick in 2017 signed a treaty education memorandum of understanding with seven First Nations communities to develop authentic and culturally-inclusive resources.

"We've foundationally shifted how we're developing curriculum."

A model for Grade 3 has been launched in all provincial schools and curricula for students in grades 4 and 5 are undergoing final review, she said.

New Brunswick is also developing law courses for high school with the help of indigenous lawyers, launching a virtual book club and virtual tutoring site, and inviting elders to schools.

DeWolfe said she feels positive about the changes the department is making and would welcome a visit from Bellegarde to show him what has been accomplished.

With files from Information Morning Fredericton

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