Some Indigenous leaders in British Columbia say the provincial government’s decision to mandate Indigenous learning for high school students is a step on the road to truth and reconciliation.
Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, says he found the news “encouraging” and says students have a fundamental right to understand the history of the lands on which they live. live.
He says learning about Indigenous history, in a truthful and objective way, will help combat racism.
“Our only hope to purge this country of bad, ugly and racist notions is… through the public education system,” he said.
The province announced March 4 that all BC high school students will be required to take Indigenous-focused courses before graduating. The change will take place at the start of the 2023-2024 school year.
The Department of Education said in a statement that the graduation requirement aims to help students gain a broader knowledge of the perspectives, histories and cultures of Indigenous peoples.
Chance to develop empathy, says lawyer
Tyrone McNeil, chair of the First Nations Education Steering Committee (FNESC), is part of the team working with the province to develop the curriculum.
FNESC is an advocacy organization working on behalf of BC First Nations. Its mandate is to support Indigenous students and advance First Nations education in the province.
McNeil agrees that requiring these courses will reduce prejudice and racism over time, not only among the student population, but also among teachers and educators.
“It’s an opportunity to continue to create opportunities for that empathy, for that compassion, for a better understanding of who we are and what we’ve been through,” he said.
What the courses might look like
The ministry said it was still developing a plan to implement the program and launched an online public engagement survey to seek feedback from parents and students.
Staff will also be engaging with Indigenous communities and teachers throughout March and April to determine the best way forward.
The province has proposed that students will need to complete four credits in new and existing Indigenous-focused courses, such as BC First Peoples 12, Contemporary Indigenous Studies 12 and several First Nations language courses. Previously, these courses were optional.
According to an overview provided on the ministry’s website, BC First Peoples 12 covers topics such as BC First Nations traditional territories and relationships to the land, the role of oral traditions, and the past and current impacts of colonialism.
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Contemporary Indigenous Studies 12 focuses on diverse identities and worldviews of Indigenous peoples, community building, partnerships, controlling economic opportunity, and restoring balance through truth, healing, and reconciliation in Canada and throughout the world.
Once the engagement process is complete this spring, the province will work with the First Nations Education Steering Committee and teachers to determine if current courses need to be updated. Although the proposed model does not allow for the creation of additional provincial courts, it does allow for the creation of new courts at the district level. The ministry said local school boards should work with their local First Nations to help develop the course.
McNeil, who is from the Stó:lō Nation in the Fraser Valley, hopes school districts and teachers will want to create specialized courses at the district level.
“It’s an opportunity to have a bit more of our individual identity shared across the system,” he said.
Phillip said he hoped there would be more focus on the critical role Indigenous peoples played in shaping British Columbia and the contributions they made throughout the history of the province.
British Columbia is the first province or jurisdiction in Canada to implement this type of education requirement, the ministry said.