Are B.C.’s public schools racist today?

Aboriginal education has been built into our social studies curriculum for years

St. Michael's Indian Residential School in Alert Bay B.C. was opened by the Anglican Church in 1929

VICTORIA – Last week’s column on the proposal to add a mandatory high school course on the effects of Canada’s aboriginal residential school policy attracted a range of responses – some of which are printable.

I referred to comments made by B.C. Teachers’ Federation vice-president Glen Hansman at a 2012 aboriginal education conference, where he insisted that “racism is the norm in public schools – still today” because of a colonial perspective that remains ingrained in our culture.

Aboriginal education has been built into social studies curriculum for years. It’s come a long way from my high school days, where Mr. Spillers, my Grade 8 English teacher, assigned us an essay proposing solutions to Canada’s “Indian problem.”

That was 1972, and it was the only time the subject came up. My lone aboriginal classmate wasn’t around by then. I never saw him again after we graduated from our rural elementary school.

How are things now? I received a thoughtful letter from a young woman who graduated from high school in the Okanagan last year. She writes:

“The idea that information about residential schools is not presented to students is entirely incorrect. The social studies curriculum that I went through included a large emphasis on First Nations culture and post-European colonization history.

“First Nations studies began in elementary school and continued to the last mandatory social studies course in Grade 11. I can say with no hesitation that if anything, I have been informed too often about the residential schools, and the horrendous things that occurred there.

“If aboriginal culture courses are poorly attended, I would be inclined to suggest that it is because students are tired of being taught the same limited perspective over and over, and, if of European descent, being made to feel somehow responsible for all possible troubles plaguing First Nations today.”

Another reply I’d like to share is from Keith Thor Carlson, editor of the Stó:lo Nation historical atlas I referred to last week. Carlson is now a history professor at the University of Saskatchewan, specializing in the Salish people of B.C. and the Métis of Northern Saskatchewan. He writes:

“We do need to teach the history of the First Peoples of this country in our schools, and we do need to keep vigilant about the racism that continues to haunt the hallways and classrooms where our children learn.

“Of course aboriginal history should never be reduced to victim history, and with the Stó:lo atlas we sought to show the complexity of aboriginal history, and we sought to show that not only are there aboriginal people in Canada’s history, but that Canada is in aboriginal peoples’ histories.

“There were times in the past when aboriginal people were victimized (residential schools being a tragic example), and there were times when aboriginal people showed great agency (retaining the masked dance, and continuing to fish salmon, for example).

“Knowing that native society was not a Utopia when Europeans arrived does not take away from the importance of learning about the full history of aboriginal people and their relationship with Canadian society.

“And of course, as Ernie Crey has reminded me many times, let’s never forget that native rights are not based on race. Rather, they are rights based on prior occupation. And let’s also not forget that it is British and Canadian law that recognizes aboriginal peoples’ inherent rights.

“Let’s teach good history to our youth so they can understand the complex relationship between settler society and aboriginal society. Through knowledge comes understanding and through understanding can come reconciliation.”

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

Just Posted

Column: Snow clearing a big job in Salmon Arm

Council Report/Mayor Alan Harrison

District of Sicamous and Federal government come to terms on biomass heater grant

Once completed the project could heat arena elementary school and more using wood waste

City to renew agreement with Shaw for public Wi-Fi access

Wireless networking hotspots will continue to be available at Salmon Arm parks and facilities

Longtime Shuswap school bus driver takes one last ride

Kathy Keam drove students on the same bus route for 38 years

Dogs called heroes in Blind Bay residential blaze

Homeonwers safe but one pet missing, another confirmed dead following fire

Fashion Fridays: Inspirational gym outfits

Kim XO, helps to keep you looking good on Fashion Fridays on the Black Press Media Network

Inflation rises as higher airfares, veggie prices offset cheaper gas

Statistics Canada says inflation accelerated to two per cent in December

Social media strains over Prince Rupert’s boil water notice

Resident forms Community for Clean Water, and Jennifer Rice responds to acting mayor’s comments

Russian fighter jets collide over Sea of Japan crews eject

One plane crashed after its crew ejected safely, the other crew also ejected but they have not been found

Judge to deliver verdict in British sailor’s gang rape case

The alleged gang rape took place at a Halifax-area military base in 2015

B.C. minister fears money laundering involves billions of dollars, cites reports

The government had estimated that it was a $200-million a year operation, instead estimates now peg the problem at $1 billion annually

Heavy snowfall expected on the Coquihalla

Snowfall warning in effect for the Coquihalla Highway, from Hope to Merritt

BC Hydro scammers bilked customers out of nearly $45,000 in 2018

Nearly 2,000 people reported scams to the utility, as they continue to be more common

Windmills returns to the stage for what could be the last time

The musician took a break from music for a year to recover from his last EP

Most Read