National Column: Ontario PCs cut indigenous curriculum writing courses

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by Shree Paradkar

Even before the new Ontario government was sworn in on June 29, Premier Doug Ford announced a public-service hiring freeze and restrictions on out-of-province travel.

Over the weekend, the government gave a glimpse of just what it considers a non-essential extra.

In an email that it sent out last Friday around 4 p.m., the Ministry of Education abruptly cancelled a series of summer curriculum writing sessions, including the development of Indigenous content. One of those sessions was set to begin Monday.

“If you have booked travel to attend this writing session, please cancel your travel and hotel arrangements immediately (including flights, rail, vehicle rentals, etc.),” said the note that a few recipients shared. “Reimbursements will be provided for any expenses that are non-refundable.”

“This is a step backwards on our journey towards reconciliation,” Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) Deputy Grand Chief Derek Fox said.

Ministry spokesperson Ben Menka told my colleague Robert Benzie in a statement:

“The Ministry of Education will continue to move ahead with the updated Truth and Reconciliation Commission curriculum revisions.”

But the updating is far from done; in fact, it has only just begun.

The Indigenous curriculum writing sessions that were so unceremoniously cancelled constituted Phase 2 of three phases in a project set up in response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) Calls to Action 62 and 63. These actions required provincial governments to include Indigenous content in curriculum.

Phase 1, which ran from the summer of 2016 to the spring of 2018, involved mandatory history curriculum for students from Grades 4 to 10.

Phase 2 was to revise and look at all social studies courses – but particularly history, geography and law – for senior classes, as well as social studies for kindergarten to Grade 3.

Phase 3 was to look at the rest of the curriculum.

The project involves elders, knowledge keepers and teachers from subject associations such as history and social sciences, social studies, the geography association and FNMIEAO or the First Nations, Metis and Inuit Education Association of Ontario.

Many of these people had arranged their summers in anticipation of this work.

“Elders and knowledge keepers, many of whom are Residential School survivors, have made personal investments in this work. Some will now lose income as they have booked time away from employment and other activities in order to participate,” said NANis Fox, who holds the education portfolio.

The ministry’s letter did not give any reason for the cancellation. It did not explain whether this was an austerity measure, or a review or part of Ford’s promised “line by line” budget analysis.

The ministry media 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.”

Including Indigenous content is not just a budgeting line in a cost-cutting exercise; it’s not a non-essential, optional extra in our children’s education.

It is part of the history and geography of the land we call home, and of the people of this land, whom colonizers have for too long openly maligned, criminalized and butchered.

On July 15, 2015, the Ontario government stated its support for all 95 calls to action and in November 2017, committed to bring learning about First Nation, Metis and Inuit people into Ontario’s education curriculum.

How does the government now not see the value in teaching our youth about Indigenous cultures?

Rachel Collishaw is the president of OHASSTA, an association of history and social science teachers, and was part of the Phase 1 revision. That process, she says, brought the voices and histories of Indigenous peoples across Ontario into the curriculum expectations in a meaningful way for the first time.

Collishaw has taught Indigenous topics at secondary grade levels in the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board. She says that while itís important for Indigenous students to see themselves reflected in a respectful way in the curriculum, itís also important for the well-being of all students.

Of her students, she says, “They understand itís real, itís happening around them. They are concerned. Teenagers, in general, are concerned with issues of what’s fair.

“These issues are more engaging than anything I’ve talked about in my classes.”

Twitter: @ShreeParadkar
Copyright 2018-Torstar Syndication Services

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