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

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

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

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

Nisga’a leader named UNBC chancellor

Dr. Joseph Arthur Gosnell is the first Indigenous leader to assume the role

Northwest local governments team up to fill in future employment gaps

Around 17,000 jobs will need to be filled in the region over the next eight years

Housing affordability in Northern B.C. sees slight improvements: report

Higher paying jobs mitigating effects of increased housing prices, Realtor says

Repen: FOI data proves Telkwans being ripped off by ICBC

Former Telkwa mayor received a response from ICBC and says the results don’t look good for residents

Fires still burning near Telegraph Creek

BC Wildfire Service assures residents of a proactive plan heading into wildfire season

VIDEO: ‘Alarm bells’ raised by footage allegedly from B.C. pig farm, SPCA says

PETA released video Wednesday showing dead and injured piglets next to nursing piglets

Haida youth travels to New York for UN forum on Indigenous issues

Haana Edensaw presented her speech in Xaad Kil, Masset dialect of the Haida language

Female real estate agents warned of suspicious man in Metro Vancouver

The man requests to see homes alone with the female agent, police say

Can you put your phone down for Mother’s Day?

#DiningMode campaign encourages people to leave the phone alone while eating

Horgan heckled as gas prices sit at record high, could go up more

Premier John Horgan blames refiners, not taxes

SPCA investigating after newborn kittens found in Vancouver dumpster

The kittens were found suffering from hypothermia and dehydration

Judge rejects hunter’s bid to get back a sheep shot in northern B.C.

Despite expert testimony, judgement says ram probably underage

‘B.C. cannot wait for action’: Top doctor urges province to decriminalize illicit drugs

Dr. Bonnie Henry says current approach in ‘war on drugs’ has criminalized and stigmatized drug users

“Oona River Poems” captures northwest B.C.’s landscapes

Canadian writer Peter Christensen releases his latest book, will tour the northwest later this year

Most Read