Indigenous educators puzzled, disappointed after Ontario cancels TRC curriculum writing sessions

A last-minute cancellation of curriculum writing sessions aimed at introducing more Indigenous knowledge and history into Ontario classrooms, in line with Truth and Reconciliation Commission calls to action, has been met with disappointment and frustration by Indigenous educators.

'It sends a terrible message,' says OSSTF president of cancellation at short notice

Shy-Ann Bartlett, an Indigenous educator, travelled to Toronto from Nipigon, Ont., to be part of the TRC curriculum writing sessions that were set to start Monday before being cancelled at the last minute by the Ministry of Education. (CBC )

A last-minute cancellation of curriculum writing sessions aimed at introducing more Indigenous knowledge and history into Ontario classrooms, in response to Truth and Reconciliation Commission calls to action, has been met with disappointment and frustration by Indigenous educators.

Indigenous educators and Elders were supposed to convene in Toronto starting on Monday for the first of two writing sessions that would address revising the Ontario curriculum.

A message went out to the TRC curriculum writing team members on Friday that the Ministry of Education would be cancelling all summer curriculum writing sessions.

"I'm extremely disappointed; it's a pivotal part in our history to be able to move forward," said Shy-Anne Bartlett.

"The old education system definitely did a lot of cultural misappropriation this was our chance and our opportunity to bring to the table something that was authentic and real, teaching our children the accurate histories of Canada."

Bartlett, an Indigenous educator in multiple areas, was already in Toronto after traveling from Nipigon, Ont., when she received the email on Friday that the writing sessions would be cancelled.

'Sends a terrible message'

Harvey Bischof, president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation, said it is in the process of trying to track down details as to the reason for the cancellations.

"What we know, more or less what we saw on social media, where those who had been called to consult on the curriculum had been told the day before that it was being cancelled," said Bischof.

He said that now the federation is scrambling to catch up after such short notice and is "truly disappointed" about the news.

"How anyone could doubt that the curriculum needs to be updated and to do a better job at including Indigenous issues, having seen the TRC report," he said. 

"It sends a terrible message at this point to cancel at short notice this consultation and curriculum writing."

The meeting of educators was set to be a culmination of the work that has been going on over the last couple of years between the provincial government and Indigenous Elders, knowledge holders, and educators.

'It's not moving...reconciliation forward'

"It's really upsetting," said Peter Irniq, who has been involved in figuring out how knowledge about Inuit culture and history should be incorporated into the Ontario curriculum.

"It's not moving the TRC healing and reconciliation forward that would have allowed us to introduce Indigenous cultures into the classrooms of Ontario."

Maurice Switzer from Alderville First Nation was asked to participate in the curriculum planning session as an advisor. He said he received a phone call on Friday from the Ministry of Education informing him of the cancellation that left him disappointed and puzzled.

"There's been no explanation, certainly from the point of educators, and I think they are owed one," said Switzer.  

"We're talking about this huge gap in learning; teachers need to have the support of their government ministry and one way that is essential is in the provision of proper curriculum."

The office of Education Minister Lisa Thompson issued a statement Monday saying the ministry "will continue to move ahead with the updated Truth and Reconciliation Commission curriculum revisions" and will work "with experts, elders and Indigenous communities to develop the support materials for the updated curriculum."

The statement said "In keeping with the commitment Premier Doug Ford made to run government more efficiently, all ministries will seek to carry out initiatives in the most cost-effective way possible."


Rhiannon Johnson is an Anishinaabe journalist from Hiawatha First Nation based in Toronto. She has been with CBC since 2017 focusing on Indigenous life and experiences.