New Brunswick

Council of Elders helping incorporate Wabanaki content into school curriculum

David Perley and the Council of Elders are working with the Department of Education to incorporate Wabanaki content into the school curriculum at every grade level.

Content being developed for every grade level and subject area

David Perley, chair of the Council of Elders, is overseeing a project to introduce a Wabanaki perspective to New Brunswick's education system. He's optimistic the new curriculum will be ready for the 2022-23 school year. (Rob Blanchard/University of New Brunswick)

David Perley looks forward to a day when all New Brunswick school students learn about the history of Indigenous people in the province. 

Perley teaches First Nations education at the University of New Brunswick and regularly encounters students who know little about Wabanaki history and culture. 

As chair of the Council of Elders, he's helping to develop a curriculum that will introduce an Indigenous perspective to New Brunswick's education system.

"I'm really excited about this particular project," Perley told Information Morning Fredericton. "They are now developing a curriculum that will allow Wabanaki content to be included in every single subject area, right from K to 12." 

He said there are even ways to include Wabanaki content into the math curriculum. The eight-pointed star, for example, can be used to teach angles, he said. 

Perley said the Council of Elders has provided the Department of Education with the content they'd like to see included. He said department officials will then figure out how and where to incorporate the material into the curriculum. 

David Perley says the eight-pointed star, a important symbol in Wabanaki culture, can be used in the math curriculum to help teach angles. (Logan Perley/CBC)

The proposed curriculum will then be sent back to the Council of Elders to review, and they will make suggestions to ensure everything is culturally accurate, explained Perley. 

He hopes the content will help students better understand Wabanaki culture, history and how the people of the Wabanaki nations helped shape the province's history. 

Wabanaki take in five nations in eastern Canada and the United States, including Mi'kmaw, Wolastoqey, Passamaquoddy, Abenaki and Penobscot.

In New Brunswick, the predominant nations are Mi'kmaw, Wolastoqey, Penobscot, said Perley. 

As a former student of an Indian day school, Perley said it's important that students learn about residential schools and day schools.

"I would say within the next few years, we will see high school graduates who will have some knowledge about residential schools, about Indian day schools, about Peace and Friendship treaties signed by my ancestors, and about the history of Wabanaki people in general."

Understanding through education

Perley said it's important that the content be "culturally based."

"So the role of culture-based education is to ensure that we have citizens who are understanding — they understand one another, they respect one another, and they will accept one another and ensure that regardless of the culture, that they will be respected in New Brunswick society."

Perley has been involved in the education system for decades. Over that time, he's seen a shift in attitude.

"If you asked me, let's say, 20 years ago or 25 years ago, if things will ever change in the public school system of New Brunswick, my response ... at that time would have been, 'No, things will never change.' Because I didn't see any evidence of mindsets being changed within the bureaucracy, within the education system."

Now, Perley said, he's confident the new Wabanaki content will be part of the curriculum for the 2022-23 school year. 

The Department of Education was asked about the work of Perley and the Council of Elders, but a statement was not provided by publication time. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mia Urquhart is a CBC reporter based in Saint John. She can be reached at mia.urquhart@cbc.ca.

With files from Information Morning Fredericton

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