Northern students to learn residential school legacy

Some high school students in Nunavut and the N.W.T. will learn the legacy of Canada's residential school system as part of their curriculum this fall.

Former residential school students provided context of curriculum

Residential school survivors testify at a Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearing in Fort Simpson, N.W.T.

After a successful pilot program this spring, some high school students in Nunavut and the N.W.T. will learn the legacy of Canada’s residential school system as part of their fall curriculum.

Aboriginal children were taken from their families and forced to attend the schools, the first of which opened in the 1870s and the last of which closed in 1996.

The course, which includes taped interviews with survivors, was tested in select classrooms in May. It is designed for students in grades 10 and 11.

"Our sense is not only to understand just a historical take on residential schools in the Canadian context, but also to say, what are the things that allowed them to happen? We need to understand as Canadians [and] as northern citizens," said John Stewart, the northern studies coordinator with the N.W.T. department of education.

'We need to understand, as Canadians [and] as northern citizens.'—John Stewart, N.W.T. Dept. of Education

Stewart said the program is set up so former residential school students provide the context of the curriculum.

Curriculum will roll out in some classrooms this fall

In its interim report this year, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission called on all provinces and territories to develop residential school education materials for public schools.

Cathy McGregor, with Nunavut's Department of Education, said students need to understand their past in order to make a difference in the future.

"We want students today to say 'ok now I understand why maybe there are some of the issues that there are in my community… I'm going to make a difference and I'm going to try to change it,'" McGregor said. "That will make a better Nunavut for all Nunavummiut in the future."

The curriculum is a joint project between the Government of the Northwest Territories, Nunavut's Department of Education and the Aboriginal Healing Foundation's Legacy of Hope.

The program will roll out to grade 10 students in Nunavut this fall. Stewart said some schools in the N.W.T. will start the full course in September, but by 2013 the curriculum will be mandatory in every grade 10 classroom in the territory.