Aboriginal education or victim studies?

BCTF and trustees want mandatory high school course on residential schools. Will it tell the whole story? Not likely

Colonial Chief Justice Matthew Baillie Begbie holds court in Clinton during the Cariboo gold rush in 'Justice

VICTORIA – The B.C. School Trustees’ Association is calling for a mandatory high school course on the history of residential schools set up to assimilate aboriginal children into European culture.

Trustees propose a 25-hour course required for all graduating students, using interviews with residential school survivors, presentations by aboriginal leaders and discussion of current events.

This would build on aboriginal courses already in offered in B.C. schools, and a public education effort that began with Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s 2008 apology and compensation for Canada’s residential school policy.

B.C. Teachers’ Federation vice-president Glen Hansman gave a speech on the need for mandatory education to a 2012 teacher conference. He said current aboriginal culture courses are poorly attended, and went on to denounce a school system he said is still based on “colonialism” and a “settler construct” of history.

“We need to acknowledge that racism is the norm in public schools – still today,” Hansman said.

Is it really? He also claimed that the purpose and legacy of the residential schools have been “deliberately hidden” from school curriculum.

Rather than provide current evidence, Hansman recounted an old anecdote about American-style stereotyping in the form of a tomahawk-waving sports mascot, from his own high school days in Ontario in the 1990s.

But mostly he demanded social engineering in schools that must of course include more funding, more teacher professional development time and an affirmative action program to recruit more aboriginal teachers.

Do Hansman’s allegations reflect the kind of attitude that would lead to truth and reconciliation? Or are they signs of another unfortunate legacy, that of the victim studies mentality that permeates our universities?

Here’s a suggestion for this mandatory course. Students could spend a couple of hours on one of the definitive works of B.C. aboriginal history, A Stó:lo Coast Salish Historical Atlas. A long-term project of the Stól:lo Nation, the atlas has meticulously documented chapters on European contact and residential schools, and others that piece together oral histories and what few written records there are of B.C. First Nations life at the time of European contact.

A journal kept at Fort Langley from 1827 to 1830 documents some of the raids between aboriginal communities on the Fraser River and Vancouver Island, corroborating elders’ accounts. During those three years, Cowichan men attacked the Chilliwack Stó:lo community four times. In the same period, the journal records 30 incidents of inter-community violence, some reaching down to present-day Washington state.

Atlas editor Keith Thor Carlson summarized the research this way: “Viewed from the perspective of the aggressor, raids and attacks appear to have been motivated primarily by a desire to obtain quick wealth (in the form of slaves and property such as dried and smoked salmon) or to exact revenge for previous insults.”

Archaeological study of stone fortifications and weapons at fishing sites in the Fraser Canyon traces a history of inter-community violence back at least 3,000 years.

Historians characterize some of this as warfare. British colonial authorities developed a “settler construct” about these activities: they saw them as assault, robbery, abduction and murder as well as slavery.

This is the seldom-discussed backdrop for the European settlement of British Columbia, the imposition of British law and the later establishment of church-run residential schools.

None of this is to excuse the forced removal of aboriginal children from their families, the horrendous abuse and neglect or the multi-generational damage to a culture already weakened by waves of smallpox. This 1928 plan to fix what was called the “Indian problem” deserves to be understood by everyone.

But glossing over historical context and presenting a guilt trip to students would serve no one well.

Tom Fletcher is legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press. Twitter: @TomFletcherBC

Just Posted

Don’t let mosquitoes take a bite out of summer enjoyment

Tips from Interior Health to limit the mosquito problem

Mercury rises in the Okanagan-Shuswap

Temperatures reach about 36 C with humidex in the Okanagan and Shuswap

Stay safe in the heat

Hot sun can cause burns and life-threatening illness

Commercial/residential development planned for foreshore

Salmon Arm project near regional district building goes to hearing

Marijuana to be legal in Canada Oct. 17: Trudeau

Prime Minister made the announcement during question period in the House of Commons

VIDEO: Vernon-area students read for rank

RCMP visited JW Inglis on Wednesday as part of the Read with Me and the RCMP program.

New Jersey forward Taylor Hall wins Hart Trophy as NHL MVP

Vancouver’s Sedin brothers share King Clancy Award for humanitarian efforts

Unfiltered: IPAs explained with Cannery Brewing brewmaster

Checking out the new IPA created by Penticton brewery Cannery Brewing Company

Man gets 2 years in prison for assault on Okanagan Correctional officer

Union rep said inmate sucker punched correctional officer, continued assault after officer fell

50 new fires sparked in B.C. after lightning strikes across province

Similar conditions seen at the beginning of 2017 wildfire season

B.C. woman graduates high school at age 92

Nanaimo’s Joan Deebank the oldest high school graduate ever in B.C., as far as ministry can confirm

B.C. Appeal Court rules lottery winner must be paid back $600,000 loan

Enone Rosas won $4.1 million in a lottery in 2007 and loaned a portion to a friend

B.C. man surprised after used needle falls from sky

A Vernon resident said a syringe fell out of the sky and landed at his feet

Liquor review finds issues with B.C. wholesale monopoly

Report calls for ‘conflict of interest’ in system to be fixed

Most Read