Residential schools history not always mandatory in class
Justice Murray Sinclair called for mandatory learning but results mixed
Two years ago Justice Murray Sinclair schooled provincial education ministers at a meeting in Halifax.
“We reminded them the very same message that was being taught in residential schools was the very same message being given in the public schools of this country," said Sinclair.
"We told them to change the way they teach about aboriginal people, to ensure all children going into public schools learn what the government did to young aboriginal children for 130 years.”
Sinclair, the chairman of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, has asked every province and territory to rewrite their curriculum on Indian residential schools and make it mandatory learning for every student.
He also wants the text of Canada's formal 2008 apology displayed in every school.
A survey by CBC News finds most Canadian students will be exposed to some lessons on the topic of residential schools, but it's not mandatory learning across the country and there are questions about exactly what students are being taught.
Jackson Lafferty, the education minister in the Northwest Territories, was the first to take up the challenge.
“This is our story, throughout N.W.T. and all of Canada,” Lafferty said.
Saskatchewan teacher Doug Panko thinks this is such an important lesson, he's teaching it to all his high school students — even though he doesn't have to.
“It’s a start within Saskatchewan education that finally we're bringing an important aboriginal perspective on their own history,” Panko said,
It didn't matter if they were from aboriginal background, big cities, small towns, there was a shocking lack of knowledge about the residential schools part of our history.- Terry Godwaldt, Edmonton teacher
In Alberta, it isn't until Grade 10 that the history of residential schools becomes part of the curriculum.
Edmonton teacher Terry Godwaldt started an after-school program for students interested in the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
"It didn't matter if they were from aboriginal background, big cities, small towns — there was a shocking lack of knowledge about the residential schools part of our history," Godwaldt said.
Zeynep Ozdemir is one of his students.
"My perspective changed. I didn’t know it was a recent situation, It’s not just in the past, we’re still getting impacted by it and people are being influenced by what has happened," Ozdemir said.
"It’s very impactful and very sensitive so you need a mature understanding of what's happening,"
The students will present some suggestions to the commission in Edmonton on Thursday.
Manitoba Education Minister James Allum says treaty and residential schools education is mandatory for students in middle and high school.
"Our children are already getting a good education when it comes to the history of those issues, their relevance today and how we can continue to work with our aboriginal citizenship in order to make sure all citizens of Manitoba are equal."
Meanwhile, Sinclair will ask education ministers for a report card this summer on how well they've responded to his call to ensure Indian residential schools education is part of class discussion.
But in some provinces, such as Quebec, none of the mandatory courses include lessons focusing on the residential schools experience, although teachers have the option to cover the subject.
"Sometimes we've heard that they have a mandatory content and what it turns out to be is simply mention the fact that the government sent Indian children to residential schools and that's the end of the lesson," he said.
Sinclair said he hopes he doesn't have to give out any failing grades.
CBC's Karen Pauls, Gareth Hampshire and Bonnie Allen