Windsor, Ont. public schools improving Indigenous representation in curriculum

The Greater Essex County District School Board is creating a new Indigenous Education Protocol to better reflect the culture in the curriculum and those who teach it.

New school protocol calls for more Indigenous representation in curriculum

Aboriginal mother Beth Cook wants to see her two daughters Ciara Parker, left, and Leah Parker, right, represented in what they learn at school. (Jason Viau)

Indigenous youth feeling invisible in the public school system is something a Windsor mother hopes will come to an end with a new education agreement.

Believed to be the first of its kind in Ontario, the Greater Essex County District School Board is creating an Indigenous Education Protocol.

They would see themselves represented. They would feel a part of the system.- Beth Cook

Hiring more Indigenous teachers, reflecting more Indigenous people in the curriculum and offering Indigenous language classes are all being discussed. All options are welcome changes for parent Beth Cook.

Having more Indigenous teachers and employees in schools would go a long way to help students, she told CBC News.

"We'd like to see more — more employees, more teachers," Cook said. "We'd like to see representation at the administration level and the trustee position."

Acceptance and inclusion

Creating support for acceptance and inclusion are just two issues the protocol will address, said Clara Howitt, superintendent of education.

Superintendent of Education Clara Howitt says the new Indigenous Education Protocol will help promote acceptance, comfort and safety for Indigenous students. (Jason Viau)

More than 400 students have self-identified as First Nations, Inuit or Metis within the school district. Howitt says the actual number is likely higher.

"This Indigenous Education Protocol would help to pave that path towards greater trust and [having] people feeling comfortable in self-identifying," she said.

With two daughters at the local public board, Cook sees firsthand what is missing from their education. Ciara Parker, 12, once spoke to school board trustees, asking them for Ojibway language and elders to speak in the classroom.

"She spoke about these things that she needs as part of her education," said Cook, who has seen "tremendous gains" in Indigenous education. 

Improving Indigenous representation in schools would help students even further, she explained. 

"They would not feel invisible. They would see themselves represented," Cook said. "They would feel a part of the system and they would have supports and have more opportunity to grow and be proud."

Systemic discrimination

Systemic discrimination still exists too, Cook said. As a mature student in post-secondary school just a few years ago, one of her teachers said something she'll never forget.

"He talked to me about Indigenous learners and his perspective on it," Cook said. "He told me that he believed Indigenous people had a gang mentality and they couldn't get ahead because they chose to stay together in a group."

The school board's protocol falls in line with suggestions from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's final report, which made dozens of recommendations to change policy and programs when it comes to Indigenous people.

"In that spirit, move forward in making true — honest changes towards healing," Howitt said. "We want to genuinely be a part of that process."

The board has been taking steps in recent years to improve Indigenous education. Aboriginal language courses at the high school level started this semester.

Other initiatives include after-hours tutoring for Aboriginal students, cultural learning programs and aan Aboriginal parent committee.

Indigenous chiefs, parents and school administration will meet again this week to discuss the new protocol. It's expected to be finished by early Spring.