'Our history and treaties are crucial': FSIN stresses importance of treaty education after minister's comments

The Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations says treaty rights should continue to be taught throughout classrooms of all grade levels in Saskatchewan.

Bronwyn Eyre says she was commenting on how it's taught, not if it should be taught

FSIN Chief Bobby Cameron says education about treaties is vital in Saskatchewan schools. (CBC)

The Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations says treaty rights should continue to be taught throughout classrooms of all grade levels in Saskatchewan.

It's responding to comments made in a speech by the Minister of Education Bronwyn Eyre in the legislature last week about her Grade 8 son being taught that European settlers were colonialists and pillagers of the land.

She suggested the "infusion" of education on Indigenous history be reconsidered and proposed the possibility of one high school-level course instead.

The FSIN says otherwise.

"We are the original people, the First Peoples of these lands. Our history and treaties are crucial," said FSIN Chief Bobby Cameron in an emailed statement.

"This is the reason why it's vital to teach about the treaties in the classroom and to all levels of government, who need to be taught the same thing."

Cameron, who represents 74 First Nations in Saskatchewan, said he is committed to honouring treaties and wants to see the ministry of education do the same.

"It's important that the Minister of Education understands that First Nations history and treaties will forever be a part of who we are," Cameron said in the statement.

He said, for those reasons, FSIN has consistently supported "educating all those who need a better understanding of our inherent and treaty rights."

'Not particularly helpful'

When she spoke to reporters on Wednesday afternoon, Eyre said the curriculum regarding treaty education in kindergarten to Grade 9 will not change. She said she was referring to a Grade 10-12 curriculum renewal process that began before she was the education minister.

Minister of Education Bronwyn Eyre said she was not proposing that teaching about treaties be removed from elementary schools when she brought it up in a speech at the legislature Tuesday. (CBC)

She did make one final comment on European settlers being labelled colonialists and pillagers of the land.

"All I was saying there was that it was unfortunate that that was taught as objective fact," she said.

"Perhaps it's not particularly helpful in wanting to make sure that we continue to build bridges and to make sure that truth and reconciliation is an absolute living reality."

Eyre would not say whether the province wants to make learning about Indigenous peoples mandatory in high schools if it becomes one class but said, "I think there would be no problem with it being mandatory."

Opposition responds

Carla Beck, the Opposition NDP's Education critic, said Eyre's opinion on her son's assignment would have been best dealt with individually.

"When as a parent you have a concern with a particular assignment that your child has, you go to that child's teacher and express your concerns there," she said.

"To take what should've been handled at the school as a parent and extrapolate and propose a whole upending of how we go about treaty education in this province... it's irresponsible."

Beck said the Truth and Reconciliation Commission calls for a positive path forward.

"I think you can both be proud of your pioneer relatives and understand our history of colonialism in this province and in this country," she said.

Eyre's comments 'problematic,' says educator

Sheelah McLean, a teacher at Royal West Campus and one of the organizers of Idle No More, described Eyre's comments as "ignorant." McLean is also a descendent of European settlers.

"I think understanding how our families have benefited from these racist government policies is one of the most important things that our classes can do," she said.

"I think that it should be infused in absolutely every course."  

Mike Capello, an assistant professor of education at the University of Regina and part of the Treaty Ed Camp for teachers, also took issue with Eyre's comment.

"Politicians at that level have to know what they're doing and that their words matter," said Capello.

"To not notice that this happens to connect with what others have called white fragility or settler guilt ... is really problematic from someone in that position of power."

Capello said that since it was mandated in 2007, Indigenous teachings have been part of every subject at every grade level. He said it wasn't added to curriculum documents, so teachers have had to find a way to add it in themselves.

He said though difficult, that has been successful. 

"Many of my colleagues that I work with in schools, they go at this really personally, really beautifully, in really rich and infused ways. They want to sustain conversations about not only what treaty meant, but in terms of what in means. Treaty is our present and treaty is our future."

Eyre said she'll reach out to the FSIN and the Saskatchewan Teachers' Federation and explain that she wants to discuss the best ways of teaching treaty history and not whether it should be taught at all.