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

Sooke cannabis report does little to answer production questions

Council is trying to get ahead of the issue

Average housing prices would have to drop by $413,000 for Victoria to become affordable

Alternatively, salaries need to increase to $134,000 per year, more than double current levels

Bears have killed 17 people in B.C. since 1986

Number of bear complaints and bears killed rose sharply during same period

Oak Bay resident wins fight to remove tree

With St. Patrick Street tree removal, Oak Bay now aims to plant 6,401 trees

Victoria Weekender: What’s happening this weekend, June 15-16

Car Free YYJ, a barber battle and an Outdoor Discovery Day

You might not know these B.C. records are public

Hired a lawyer to file a civil claim? Those are published online

Teen stabbed after end-of-night limo dispute in downtown Vancouver

A young man, 19, is in serious condition following a dispute between two groups

B.C. bus driver loses case to get job back after texting while driving full bus

An arbitator ruled that Tim Wesman’s phone usage was a “a reckless disregard for public safety”

Revamped B.C. Lions set to battle veteran Winnipeg Blue Bombers

The Lions’ first test of the season will be a big one

No business case for Trans Mountain expansion, says former environment minister

Cabinet is expected to announce its decision on the expansion of the Alberta-to-B.C. pipeline by Tuesday

LETTER: British Columbia’s forest industry crisis being made worse

Andrew Wilkinson warns of regulatory overload by John Horgan’s NDP

Convicted B.C. child abductor Randall Hopley back in custody 6 months after release

Correctional Services Canada could not provide further details due to privacy concerns

Three Albertans land ‘monster’ sturgeon in B.C.’s Fraser River

For angler who landed the exceptionally large sturgeon it was an ‘incredible dream come true’

Most Read