More local Indigenous perspectives coming to P.E.I.'s school curriculum

The province is getting ready to try out some new curriculum to help students learn more about Prince Edward Island's Indigenous history.

'It's meaningful work. It's long overdue'

The experiences, language and culture of P.E.I's Mi'kmaq communities are forming a larger part of P.E.I.'s school curriculum in recent years. (Brian Higgins/CBC)

Prince Edward Island is getting ready to try out some new curriculum to help students learn more about the Island's Indigenous history. 

Right now, Indigenous content in P.E.I. schools focuses on a Canada-wide perspective. Now, the goal is to include local Indigenous voices and views on everything from Mi'kmaq culture to historic places and events important to the Island's Indigenous population.  

"We knew there was chapters that hadn't been told yet," said Jack Headley, grade 7-12 social studies curriculum lead for the Department of Education. 

"We wanted to add the Indigenous perspectives, some Indigenous content, Indigenous knowledge, some Indigenous ways of knowing, and we knew we had to seek the advice of the Indigenous community to help us with that journey." 

Jack Headley, grade 7-12 social studies curriculum lead for the P.E.I. Department of Education and Lifelong Learning is also a member of the Indigenous Education Advisory Committee. (Jane Robertson/CBC)

From there, the province's Indigenous Education Advisory Committee was formed — a group of Indigenous educators, and representatives from L'nuey, the Mi'kmaq Confederacy and both First Nations on P.E.I. (Abegweit and Lennox Island). Headley is on the committee, and said one of the main goals is to help Island students learn and analyze history through multiple perspectives.

"We're hoping to incorporate the idea of disempowerment or talking about groups that have been disempowered or disenfranchised in Canadian history, and for our students to understand that not all Canadians have experienced Canada in the same way," said Headley. 

He said the department is looking for Mi'kmaq community members and resources to help expand student's understanding of P.E.I.'s Indigenous history, including the effects of Confederation, the Indian Act, the Shubenacadie Residential School, the Lennox Island Day School, the Sixties Scoop and in later grades, additional content around missing and murdered Indigenous women.

"It's meaningful work. It's long overdue," said Headley. He said what is taught about Indigenous history and culture has changed drastically in the last few years as Canadians paid more attention to Indigenous issues.

"Our students know more about residential schools than they did in any other time, and they come to school with questions, so we have to make sure that our teachers are prepared to answer those questions."

The new curriculum will be piloted in some grade 7 and 8 classrooms this fall. Headley said this work has been underway for several years, but it isn't a quick process because there aren't many ready-made resources specific to P.E.I. 

"That's where working with our Indigenous partners to procure resources comes in, whether it be The Ice Walk, etc., and resources in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick that deal with similar issues," said Headley. 

Officials with the Indigenous Education Advisory Committee say the Indian Day School on Lennox Island, a federally-funded school that Mi'kmaq children were forced to attend, will form one of many additions to existing curriculum involving Indigenous history and culture. (Submitted by Judy Clark)

After piloting the content, adjustments will be made and the plan is to introduce it in schools Island wide in 2023.

Headley said specific components of the curriculum are still under development, but an important part of teaching Island students about Indigenous history will be helping them get to know the Mi'kmaq language and culture that could have been eradicated but endures today, largely due to the strength and resilience of Indigenous communities.  

"It's cultural awareness," said Headley. "Students understanding the diversity of the Canadian mosaic and the contributions that they've made to the building of Canada."

He said the Indigenous Education Advisory Committee has a lot of work ahead — and he doesn't see a point when that work will officially be complete. He hopes this curriculum renewal process sends a message to Indigenous Islanders that their stories are important, and passing them on to future generations is a priority.  

"I just want to reassure them that we'll work with our Indigenous partners to make sure that story is told and it's told truthfully." 


Jessica Doria-Brown


Jessica Doria-Brown is a videojournalist with CBC in P.E.I. Originally from Toronto, Jessica has worked for CBC in Newfoundland and Labrador, New Brunswick, and Ontario.