Murray Sinclair served as chairman of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The students who met him will never forget the encounter, says teacher Margaret McDougall. The new Ontario government has cancelled its curriculum-writing sessions that would have updated the Ontario Ministry of Education’s “Native Studies” curriculum documents, which were first introduced in 1999.
The original documents were developed in partnership with members of the First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities, including leaders, elders and language experts from across the province. The revised documents were to be developed in the same way. However, they were to include recommendations from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), led by Murray Sinclair, then a justice, now a senator.
This cancellation by the ministry will be deeply disappointing to a number of stakeholders including teachers and – most importantly – students. And while at this point we don’t know who actually made this decision, many have drawn the conclusion that it reflects the priorities of Premier Doug Ford.
I happen to think the cancellation of the curriculum-writing sessions – and therefore the creation of the documents themselves – is particularly short-sighted.
As a teacher with the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board, I have had the privilege of teaching “Native Studies,” as our board has shown leadership concerning such education for years. In my capacity as a teacher of Native Studies, I have received some of the best professional development of my career.
Furthermore, I found that the students I taught were meaningfully engaged in the topics we studied. Non-Indigenous and Indigenous students alike were keenly interested in the just how we arrived at this crossroads in our history.
A highlight of our studies was the field trip we took to one of the closing sessions of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The keynote speaker was Sinclair, whose presence is commanding. The students also heard various personal accounts from residential school survivors. They told me that they would never forget these stories.
My students were deeply touched by Murray’s call for Non-Indigenous Canadians to participate in reconciliation in some way. Our bus ride home was almost silent. These students had had an encounter with history that had changed their lives.
I doubt that these are the kinds of anecdotes that really grab the attention of political leaders. I accept that.
But if trying to right past wrongs and being enthusiastic about student engagement does not get the attention of Ontario’s new government, this old adage should: “It is too late to shut the stable door after the horse has bolted.”
The students I taught have graduated. They are out making their way in the world. With respect to this curriculum revision, the horse has already bolted.
My students know that Canada’s Indigenous population is growing four times faster than the rest of the population. This means that Indigenous youth will soon become an increasingly “important” group of voters … even by the next election.
And for me, I will maintain my own commitment to bring the Truth and Reconciliation recommendations to my classroom. #GiddyUp.
Margaret McDougall has been teaching English in the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board since 1991. Currently, she teaches at Canterbury High School. Play Video
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