Ontario announces new Indigenous curriculum for Grades 1-3

One day ahead of the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, Education Minister Stephen Lecce has promised to devote more money and time to Indigenous education in Ontario’s schools.

Minister Stephen Lecce says goal is to ‘embed’ reconciliation into learning

Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce announced new funding and curriculum aimed at 'strengthening mandatory Indigenous learning.' (Christopher Katsarov/The Canadian Press)

One day ahead of the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, Education Minister Stephen Lecce has promised to devote more money and time to Indigenous education in Ontario's schools. 

Lecce said new mandatory social studies curriculum is being developed for Grades 1-3 that will include an introduction to the residential school system and the Indigenous relationship to the land. It's set to be ready for the 2023-2024 school year. 

On top of that, $23.96 million will be invested this school year into "targeted supports for First Nation, Métis and Inuit students" to pay for "culturally appropriate and safe education opportunities" for them, according to a government release. 

Ontario will also begin offering Inuktitut as a language option for Ontario students. 

"Sept. 30 is the first day for the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, but it's not the only day — it has to be every day where we realize our commitment to reconciliation, and embed that into learning," Lecce told reporters at the Wednesday morning announcement. 

While the federal government has said Thursday will be a statutory holiday in honour of the lost children and survivors of residential schools, Ontario has not made it a provincial statutory holiday.

Lecce says it's critical for the province's two million children to be in school learning about reconciliation.

Curriculum rewrite scrapped in 2018 

Lecce's announcement comes after growing calls to devote more of the school curriculum to Indigenous education — and to consult more seriously with Indigenous groups — following the discovery of hundreds of unmarked graves at residential schools earlier this year. 

The previous Liberal government had committed in 2016 to update course content at the elementary and secondary levels — including social studies, history, geography and civics — to teach all students about the legacy of residential schools.

But in 2018, those plans were scrapped by the current Progressive Conservative government, right before curriculum-writing sessions with Indigenous educators and elders were set to begin.

The PC government said that following that, changes were made to embed new "Indigenous learning and perspective" in school courses — including adding content about residential schools for Grades 8 and 10. 

However, those changes have been criticized, both for the lack of consultation in the lead-up to them, and for the amount of training teachers are given prior to being expected to teach the curriculum. 

At present, Ontario's curriculum includes Indigenous topics in social studies for Grades 4-6, and in history classes in Grades 7, 8 and 10. 

According to the government release, the new curriculum for Grades 1-3 is being developed in a process with "Indigenous partners, Elders and Knowledge Holders."

"Unilateral development and imposition of approaches and recommendations by the settler governments does not work," said James Marsden, the Chiefs of Ontario Education Portfolio Holder, at Wednesday's announcement. 

"Now is the time for collaborative co-development." 

Joanne Meyer, the chief operating officer of the Metis Nation of Ontario, said the announcement would bring the province's curriculum in line with recommendations from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

"This would ensure that age-appropriate mandatory curriculum content pertaining to residential schools, treaties and the lives of First Nations, Metis and Inuit peoples is made available to all students," she said.

With files from the Canadian Press