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Beyond Beads and Bannock: Reconciliation through school curriculum and conversations with kids

What does reconciliation look like in the classroom? As Indigenous curriculum is introduced in B.C., CBC Radio producer Jean Paetkau weaves together stories about Indigenous perspectives and cultures in schools with her own family's journey of reconciliation.
Veronica Smith is a member of the W̱SÁNEĆ nation and a Grade 5 student at the ȽÁU, WELṈEW̱ Tribal School. She is part of an immersion class in SENĆOŦEN. (Submitted by Jean Paetkau)

CBC Victoria producer Jean Paetkau is raising her two Indigenous children to not only understand the dark chapters in Canada's history, but to cherish their Indigenous heritage.

Learning and speaking Hul'q'umi'num' together as a family is part of a journey of reconciliation for Paetkau, who lives on the territory of the Esquimalt and Songhees First Nations

Paetkau, who is not Indigenous, says her family's acts of reconciliation parallel what is happening in B.C. schools, with the inclusion of Indigenous curriculum from kindergarten to Grade 12.

The B.C. government is implementing a new curriculum, as announced in 2015, which includes Indigenous people's cultures and their perspectives.

It incorporates Indigenous content into every subject from social studies to science. There are also optional high school classes like English First Peoples, which focus on Indigenous authors.

Paetkau weaves together her family's celebration of Indigenous cultures with an in-depth look at the new curriculum in the CBC Radio holiday special: Beyond Beads and Bannock

What does reconciliation look like in the classroom? As Indigenous curriculum is introduced in B.C., CBC Radio producer Jean Paetkau weaves together stories about Indigenous perspectives and cultures in schools with her own family's journey of reconciliation. 54:00

Beyond Beads and Bannock also features the voices of Indigenous and non-Indigenous students who explain how studying the new Indigenous curriculum has changed their lives.

And Paetkau drops by the ȽÁU, WELṈEW̱ Tribal School on Vancouver Island, which has a full SENĆOŦEN immersion program for elementary grades, and visits a Hul'qumi'num high school language class, where students are rehearsing a play in the language on many Coast Salish Communities.

Grade 3 students in a SENĆOŦEN language class at the ȽÁU,WELṈEW̱ Tribal School on the Saanich Peninsula are featured in the series Beyond Beads and Bannock. (CBC/Jean Paetkau)

New curriculum highlights Indigenous content

Jo Chrona, the curriculum coordinator for the First Nations Education Steering Committee, has taken a lead role in creating provincial Indigenous curriculum for teachers.

"The First Nations Education Steering Committee has helped push the Ministry of Education over a number of years to be paying attention not only to Indigenous education for First Nations students, but what is the learning that has to happen for all students and adults in our public education system," she said.

Jean-Paul Restoule, chair of the department of Indigenous education at the University of Victoria, leads courses to help non-Indigenous teachers overcome their fears of making mistakes while presenting Indigenous curriculum.

"I like to encourage teachers to become co-learners with their students in a spirit of inquiry-based learning … To say, 'I don't know this stuff either. Let's learn it together,'" Restoule said.

Legacy of residential schools

Beyond Beads and Bannock also looks at the challenge of sharing the legacy of residential schools in the classroom.

Joann Green teaches in Bella Bella, B.C., a community that is home to many residential school survivors and their children. She says counsellors in the classroom can help prevent the traumatization or re-traumatization of students and staff.

"If we don't do that, I am pretty sure that some of the students, and maybe even some of the people that are working in our institute, may bottom-out because of the experiences they've had," she said.

Paetkau's six-year-old son already understands that his own father was taken away from his family and forced to attend the Kuper Island Residential School on Penelakut Island. His older sister organized a special day at her school to honour the survivors of residential school.

"We do this to remember the Indigenous kids who were taken away from their families and taken to residential school, which caused so much pain," she said. "My brother and I are so lucky because we don't have to go to those schools."

Hear the Beyond Beads and Bannock radio special on Jan. 1, 2019 at 6 a.m. ET and 5 p.m. ET on CBC Radio One or listen online.