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

‘Re-emerging’ artist takes on Harrison’s Ranger Station residency

Painter Ava P. Christl will be the gallery’s newest artist in residence

Kent wastewater plant gets $7,500 grant for improvement study

The district will be looking at modifications to its digester system

Fantasy Farms told to stop holding special events on farmland that go against agricultural rules

The Morans say it might spell the end of their seasonal events like Reapers Haunted Attractions

New event invites Agassiz to meet museum’s resident ghost

The Haunted Museum Tour will take place on Oct. 26 and 30

REAL ESTATE: Homesteading in the Cariboo a reality

Columnist Freddy Marks talks about why so many are looking to a ranch life when it comes to property

VIDEO: Agassiz lights candles in memory of missing, murdered Indigenous women

The Sisters in Spirit vigil took place at the Agassiz United Church

A year after pot legalization in Canada, it’s a slow roll

It’s one year into Canada’s experiment in legal marijuana, and hundreds of legal pot shops have opened

ELECTION 2019: Climate strikes push environment to top of mind for federal leaders

Black Press Media presents a three-part series on three big election issues

ICBC willing to loosen grip on driver claim data, David Eby says

Private insurers say claims record monopoly keeps them out

B.C. principal suspended for failing to help student who reported inappropriate touching

Principal didn’t remove student from the teacher’s class nor call the parents within a reasonable time

Port Moody mayor goes back on unpaid leave during sex assault investigation

Rob Vagramov said he intends to return as mayor in three or four weeks

UBC issues statement after instructor tells students to vote for Liberal Party

University says partisan messaging was not intentional

Cowichan Valley brothers win big in lottery for second time

Playing same numbers net big wins over a three year period

Most Read