Ottawa

Mandatory Indigenous lit class expanding to more schools

Ottawa's English public school board has introduced a mandatory Grade 11 English course with an all-Indigenous reading list, and it's expanding to classrooms across the city.

Reading list inspired by Truth and Reconciliation Commission could be in half of OCDSB's high schools by fall

The OCDSB's Jane Alexander says the board has offered optional courses on First Nations, Métis and Inuit issues, but this is the first mandatory one. (Andrew Foote/CBC)

Ottawa's English public school board has introduced a mandatory Grade 11 English course with an all-Indigenous reading list, and it's expanding to classrooms across the city.

The class was inspired by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, which seeks to undo the damage caused by the country's residential school system.

"It provides different perspectives for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous students," said Jane Alexander, who oversees the secondary school curriculum for the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board (OCDSB).

"It's an opportunity for them to look at contemporary Canadian themes and literature that maybe they have not been able to do before."

The course made its debut at Hillcrest High School, and draws from a reading list that includes authors such as Thomas King, Dawn Dumont and CBC radio host Waubgeshig Rice.

Thomas King won the 2014 RBC Taylor Prize for The Inconvenient Indian. (Hartley Goodweather/Doubleday Canada)

Alexander said the board's Indigenous community partners helped curate the list, and are also helping guide non-Indigenous teachers in discussing Indigenous issues with their students.

"We're all treaty people, we're all responsible for teaching our students about our shared culture and history," she said.

"With non-Indigenous teachers, we're careful to say that you don't teach culture; you would invite a community partner in to speak to that."

Goodbye Shakespeare, hello Indigenous lit. This fall Grade 11 students in half the high schools in the English public board could be learning from books by Indigenous authors instead of the classics. 6:54

The course has now expanded to nine of the OCDSB's 30 high schools this year, and the board is hoping to see in half its schools by the fall.

Still room for the classics

Alexander said there's still plenty of room to teach the classics.

"While Shakespeare is important, I would suggest we don't live in Elizabethan England and neither do our students," she said.

"I think it's important for them to understand our current modern identity."

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission's 94 calls to action include mandatory age-appropriate curriculum on Indigenous history and residential schools from kindergarten to Grade 12.

It also calls for the creation of a senior-level position in provincial and territorial governments dedicated to Indigenous content in education.

With files from CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning