GTA book publisher accused of whitewashing Indigenous history

Indigo is among bookstores that have pulled a children's educational workbook that angry parents say glosses over the history of Indigenous people since the arrival of European settlers.

Parents express outrage over workbook in Grade 3 social studies section

The publisher of the workbook Complete Canadian Curriculum 3, the Popular Book Company Canada, based in Richmond Hill, Ont., says the description about the experience between the First Nations and European settlers needs revising. (Facebook)

Indigo is among bookstores that have pulled a children's educational workbook that angry parents say glosses over the history of Indigenous people since the arrival of Europeans to North America.

The social studies section of the Complete Canadian Curriculum 3, published by a Richmond Hill, Ont., company, sums up First Nations and settler relations this way: "When the European settlers arrived, they needed land to live on. The First Nations peoples agreed to move to different areas to make room for the new settlements."

Another passage says: "The First Nations peoples moved to areas called reserves, where they could live undisturbed by the hustle and bustle of the settlers."

Stacey John, who has two children five and seven years old, became aware of the textbook passage through a shared Facebook post. A member of the Saugeen First Nation, she was at a healing ceremony held this weekend at the site of the Mohawk Institute, a former residential school in Brantford, Ont.

"This is very disappointing for First Nations people, who do know the truth. And that's definitely not the truth. And that kids are being taught this," said John. 

This is how the social studies section of the Complete Canadian Curriculum 3 sums up relations between First Nations and settlers. (Facebook)

The educational workbook is part of a series called the Complete Canadian Curriculum published by the Popular Book Company Canada.

Indigo, one of Canada's largest book retailers, said it will remove the book from sale.

"We are taking this matter very seriously as we recognize the importance of educational workbooks to ensure the accuracy of issues in Canada, such as Reconciliation and Indigenous history," said Indigo spokesperson Kate Gregory in an email.

"We have made the workbook unavailable to order from our website and are removing copies from our stores. We have been in touch with the publisher and we will not be bringing in more copies until appropriate edits have been made."

Popular Book Company Canada did not respond to CBC Toronto's repeated calls for an explanation, but posted this statement on the company's Facebook page:

"We strive to publish quality workbooks and other learning materials for preschool and elementary school children. We realize that the description about the experience between the First Nations and European settlers in our Complete Canadian Curriculum 3 needs revising," the statement said.

"Our Editorial team has been made aware of this matter and we will make the necessary changes in upcoming reprints. This particular book is set to be reprinted shortly. We appreciate the feedback we have received as well as the opportunity to make revisions to produce effective and quality workbooks."

A page from the workbook Complete Canadian Curriculum 3 puts to the test what is true and false in its version of the history of how Europeans and Indigenous people interacted. (Facebook)

That's not good enough, says Isabel Patton, who owns the store Books and Company in Picton, Ont.

Patton said she had stocked the book, but immediately pulled it when the error came to light.

"They should apologize wholeheartedly and correct it," said Patton. She said the publisher supplies some of Canada's major larger retail outlets.

"We decided to pull it because of inaccuracies," she said. "We rely on the publishing industry to be responsible and check these things. I'm not sure how this slipped through the cracks. This is not something you want to teach your children."

'I'm really just shocked,' author says 

Patton said teaching the next generation of Canadians about Indigenous issues is a priority. Her store houses Canada's first permanent Downie Wenjack legacy room — set up by Tragically Hip singer Gord Downie and the Chanie Wenjack Fund.

Downie wrote a book about 12-year-old Chanie Wenjack, who died in 1966 after running away from a residential school near Kenora, Ont. 

Authors who write about the Indigenous experience were also disturbed that the passages made their way into print.

"I'm really just shocked — especially when across the country kids were just wearing orange shirts," said children's author Christy Jordan-Fenton.

A statement from the Popular Book Company Canada, which says it would make the necessary changes in upcoming reprints, was not popular with people posting on the company's Facebook page. (Facebook)

Sept. 30 marked Orange Shirt Day, a campaign that encourages Canadians to remember the wrongs of the residential school system and honour its survivors.

Jordan-Fenton co-authored a book called When I was Eight about life in a residential school with her mother-in-law  Margaret Pokiak.

"That they haven't got the message is a wake-up call about how far we still have to go in reconciliation," said Jordan-Fenton. "The information is out there already, unfortunately," 

People commenting on Popular Book Company's Facebook page called on the publisher to issue an apology and recall the books containing the inaccurate information.


Philip Lee-Shanok

Senior Reporter, CBC National News

From small town Ontario to Washington D.C., Philip has covered stories big and small. An award-winning reporter with three decades of experience in Ontario and Alberta, he's now a Senior Reporter for the National Network based in Toronto. His stories are on CBC Radio's World Report, World This Hour, World at Six and The World This Weekend as well as CBC TV's The National and CBC News Online. Follow him on Twitter @CBCPLS.