Moose Jaw, Sask., teacher mistakenly hands out assignment with racist terms

The teacher gave out what was supposed to be a fun extracurricular booklet to Grade 3 students, but a word search in it contained terms that are offensive to Indigenous people.

Words 'squaw' and 'papoose' found in Grade 3 activity booklet

A Thanksgiving word search in an extracurricular activity package that contained offensive terms for Indigenous people was handed out to Grade 3 students in Moose Jaw, Sask. (Jo Chrona/Twitter)

A teacher's decision to hand out an extracurricular activity package to some Grade 3 students at a Moose Jaw, Sask., elementary school has been called into question after some racist terms were found in it. 

The Thanksgiving-themed assignment at Palliser Heights that was intended to be a fun activity for students who had finished their class work included a word search that contained the terms "squaw" and "papoose."

The terms are derogatory references towards Indigenous women and children, respectively, that were used by European settlers in Canada's early years. 

Tony Baldwin, director of education for Prairie South Schools, said the activity package was found by the teacher at the school and she didn't look through all 15 pages before handing it out.

"I would have thought that things like this would have been gone from our building 10, 15 or 20 years ago," he said. 
The teacher said she never read over the activity booklet before giving it to students. She apologized on Tuesday. (Jo Chrona/Twitter)

According to Baldwin, the school division has taken steps to address the issue and the teacher prepared a letter of apology to be sent home to parents on Tuesday. 

"This is a good teacher who made a really bad error in judgement on Friday," said Baldwin. "She was as horrified as any of the rest of us."

Baldwin said the school in question is recognized as one of the more progressive schools in the division when it comes to reconciliation.

The school recently held a Treaty 4 flag-raising ceremony and Baldwin said the division's elder-in-residence Gerry Stonechild works closely with the school division.
Tony Baldwin, director of education at Prairie South Schools, said Palliser Heights raised a Treaty 4 flag earlier this month. He calls the school one of the most progressive in the division. (Palliser Heights/Twitter)

In response to the word search, Stonechild said, "It's not surprising to me."

He said there is still work that needs to be done and hopes to meet with more teachers to discuss how to move forward in the spirit of reconciliation.

"I hope the teachers get the message and put it to action," he said.

Baldwin said the unfortunate incident can help the division move forward toward a better understanding of reconciliation.

"If we can clean some of this junk out of our schools when things like this happen, that's another silver lining in what has been a tough day for us."


Brad Bellegarde

Reporter for CBC Indigenous based in Saskatchewan

Born and raised in Treaty 4 Territory, he holds an Indian Communication Arts Certificate from the First Nations University of Canada and a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism from the University of Regina. Follow him on Twitter @BBellegardeCBC

With files from CBC's Bonnie Allen