Thunder Bay·Audio

Ontario Indigenous leader 'perplexed' with revised high school curriculum as collaboration 'never happened'

Ontario's education minister has announced the provincial government's revised Indigenous curriculum but it's not sitting well with one First Nations territorial organization that represents dozens of Indigenous communities in the province's far north.

New high school courses come after halted sessions between province, Indigenous advisers in summer of 2018

Ontario's education minister Lisa Thompson announced the provincial government's revised Indigenous curriculum on Tuesday at Westgate Collegiate and Vocational Institute in Thunder Bay, Ont. (Christina Jung / CBC)
Minister of Education Lisa Thompson talks about the provincial government 's newly revised First Nations, Metis and Inuit Studies Curriculum for students in grade 9 to 12. And Nishnawbe Aski Nation Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler weighs in on what he hears. 4:43

Ontario's education minister has announced the provincial government's revised Indigenous curriculum but it's not sitting well with one First Nations territorial organization that represents dozens of Indigenous communities in the province's far north.

The curriculum is comprised of 10 elective courses in areas the government said will cover such topics as First Nations, Métis and Inuit perspectives and cultures, as well as contributions to, and study of, art, literature, law, humanities, politics and history. It's expected to be implemented in all public secondary schools starting September 2019.

The government said the new curriculum also will help educators better support students, adding that $3.25 million has been earmarked to support school boards in implementing the curriculum.

"These supports include Indigenous graduation coach pilot programs ... that provide in-school coaches who have life experiences and connections with Indigenous communities and cultures to support Indigenous students through to graduation and beyond," Lisa Thompson announced at Thunder Bay's Westgate Collegiate and Vocational Institute Tuesday afternoon.

She said students in Grades 9 to 12 will receive up-to-date information about First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples and histories as well as a chance to "explore entrepreneurship and also apprenticeships."

"I foresee a tsunami of opportunity heading our way when it comes to a skilled work force," Thompson added. "This one gentleman that was speaking on the panel that I attended, was a cabinet maker. He began making cabinets and then he took business courses ... to further expand his personal business."

"That's what we want for students across Ontario."

The revised curriculum will also feature "culturally relevant programming" for students all across the province, Thompson said.

The minister ended her announcement saying consultation with Indigenous leaders and partners on the curriculum will take place in June.

NAN chief 'perplexed' at announcement

The grand chief of the Nishawabe Aski Nation (NAN), Alvin Fiddler, said he was "perplexed during the whole announcement," as there were "a lot of points that just didn't register," with him. Fiddler attended Tuesday's announcement.

That included when Thompson said she had met with Fiddler.

"That meeting has never happened yet," he said.

Alvin Fiddler is the grand chief of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

NAN represents 49 First Nations in Ontario's far north.

Fiddler said under the previous Liberal government, NAN had been "heavily involved" in working on a revised curriculum, however that work was "abruptly halted" in the summer when the Conservatives took over.

He had hoped Tuesday's announcement was to restart those consultations, not to release the revised curriculum as NAN "has never had any meetings," with Thompson. Fiddler said he takes issue with the new courses being elective, not mandatory.

"According to the TRC [Truth and Reconciliation Commission] calls to action number 62 and 63, they recommend that these courses be mandatory not electives," Fiddler said.

"Even the absence of some of the language that we want to hear, specifically truth and reconciliation, not something vague like Aboriginal perspectives, which is right through the documents that we saw today."

He said nothing has really happened since last year's consultations with Indigenous advisers stopped.

In a written release, the province said the curriculum was the result of "collaboration with Indigenous teachers, elders, knowledge keepers, Métis Senators, First Nations, Métis and Inuit community representatives, residential school survivors, Indigenous partners and other education stakeholders."

Fiddler remained skeptical.

"There was good work that has been done in the past with the TRC curriculum writing team and they were just halted ... and I was really concerned to hear her talk about collaboration and meeting with educators, First Nation leaders," Fiddler added.

"As far as I know that hasn't happened over this past year."