'Telling ourselves into the future': Quebec Cree finish rollout of new history curriculum

"We're looking at history from an Eeyou perspective and as a way to support identity construction of our students," Sarah Pash, the Chairperson of the Cree School Board, said. 

From pre-contact to present day, new curriculum will empower students, officials say

Both Cree and Inuit school boards in northern Quebec are calling for their students to be exempt from Bill 96. The controversial bill overhauling the Charter of the French Language was passed in the Quebec National Assembly on Tuesday. Indigenous leaders say it will make it even harder for their students to succeed in post-secondary. (Cree School Board)

For Sarah Pash, a new history curriculum making its way into some Cree high school classrooms in northern Quebec this fall is about so much more than teaching the past. 

Pash is the Chairperson of the Cree School Board, and the new curriculum, developed by the board, teaches history from a Cree perspective. 

This fall, it is being introduced in secondary 3 (grade 9) classrooms. Last year, it was taught for the first time in secondary 4 (grade 10).

"We're looking at history from an Eeyou perspective and as a way to support identity construction of our students," Pash said. 

"We know that our students have very different needs from students in the south."

The Cree School Board has been adapting the standard Quebec history curriculum, since the early 2000s according to Pash. That was when the board received what's known as a derogation from the Quebec Ministry of Education. Pash said the work of this new curriculum has been several years in the making. 

It's really time ... our children hear our own stories from our own mouths.- Sarah Pash, Chairperson of Cree School Board

She says this new curriculum is a powerful tool to help decolonize and move on from past traumas, something Pash calls "telling ourselves into the future."

Sarah Pash is the chairperson of the Cree School Board. (Submitted by Sarah Pash)

"It's really time now that our children hear our own stories from our own mouths, from our own perspectives," Pash said, adding the new curriculum is based on an Eeyou worldview or Miiyubiimaatisiiwin, which literally translated means, "the good life" and one's ability to find their own place in creation. 

The curriculum starts with pre-contact and takes a comprehensive look at the impacts of colonization and confederation on Indigenous people, according to Pash. 

It offers suggestions about how to involve the whole community, in particular elders, into the assignments and class work.

It also takes a trauma-informed approach to teaching students about the history of residential schools, the sixties scoop, as well as treaties signed between the Crown and Indigenous people, including the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement, signed by Quebec Cree in 1975. 

"It really tries to ensure that any traumatic events in our history are understood [and] where we are working towards our own future as a nation from a place of healing and empowerment," Pash said.

The history curriculum also includes present-day efforts in self-determination and self-governance for the Cree.