Another View: Aboriginal education or victim studies?

Columnist Tom Fletcher speculates on aboriginal courses

B.C. Views

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.

In lieu of evidence, Hansman recounted old anecdotes of American-style stereotyping from his own schooling in Ontario. 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 had some “settler constructs” 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 Email: tfletcher@blackpress.ca

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Bike lane closed, traffic impacted by landscaping in Metchosin

Construction begins May 25, to be complete by mid-July

Homeless shelter at Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre creates 40 jobs

The arena can house 45 people in pop-up pods

Bears spotted near Saanich lake spooked by police, wandered off

Bear, cub not seen over weekend but police ask residents to be on alert

Victoria’s 75,000 veggie plants ready to find a home

New gardeners line-up for Get Growing Victoria

Vancouver Island hasn’t seen a new homegrown case of COVID-19 in two weeks

Island’s low and steady transmission rate chalked up to several factors

Facing changes together: Your community, your journalists

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the world in ways that would have… Continue reading

Dump truck in Nanaimo snags power lines, snaps hydro pole, crashes

No injuries in incident Monday morning on Old Victoria Road

Ferry sailings scheduled once again at Nanaimo’s Departure Bay terminal

BC Ferries announces that resumption of service June 3 includes four daily round trips

Island Health signs working agreement to turn former Comox hospital into a ‘dementia village’

Island Health has signed a project development agreement with Providence Living to… Continue reading

Kelowna man charged with harming a hamster

The 20-year-old Kelowna man faces several animal cruelty charges

High tech fish transport system set up to ‘whoosh’ salmon past Big Bar landslide

Fish will spend roughly 20 seconds inside the system, moving at roughly 20 metres per second

Trudeau to seek 10 days of paid sick leave for Canadian workers, says talks are ongoing

Paid sick leave is key to keeping COVID-19 spread under control, prime minister says

Snowbirds jets will not be leaving Kamloops, just yet

The Snowbirds have been in Kamloops since May 17 when a plane crashed killing Capt. Jennifer Casey

Most Read