About thirty people gathered in front of the St. Paul Education Regional Division office this afternoon for a rally protesting the new K-6 curriculum unveiled by the Alberta government earlier this week.
According to organizer Sakwiskwew (Loretta Cardinal), the government needs to consult with First Nations and Indigenous people on curriculum, especially when it comes to introducing treaties.
“Treaties are what this country is founded on, and I don’t see how that’s not something that should be even slowly introduced, even in kindergarten,” said Sakwiskwew.
She said the more painful parts of Canadian history like the residential schools need to be handled carefully.
“I don’t want to traumatize these kids either. However with that being said, we need to realize that there needs to be an aspect of empathy here and we need to teach these kids what these indigenous people went through,” said Sakwiskwew.
According to the overview of the new social studies curriculum, American residential schools are discussed in Grade 6 and students will compare the American and Canadian political systems. The numbered treaties are introduced in Grade 4, early contact between colonial settlers and indigenous peoples are discussed in Grade 3 and indigenous culture and tradition are addressed in Grade 1.
Speakers at the rally included Saddle Lake councilors Pamela Quinn and Darcy McGilvery.
McGilvery said as leaders in Saddle Lake, they were rejecting the draft of the K-6 curriculum.
“If our children at the ages of four up until they were of age had to endure the violence of living in residential schools, a little non-indigenous kid can learn about it in my eyes. This way they have a better understanding of who we are and what we have to offer,” said McGilvery.
Similar sentiments were expressed on a number of signs carried by people who attended the rally.
Quinn spoke about her experience attending Ashmont School as a child and the Truth and Reconciliation Comission’s call to action #62 “Where they say you have to make age-appropriate curriculum of the treaties and residential schools. Teach them the truth,” said Quinn.
A mother of seven, Sakwiskwew grew up in Saddle Lake and attended Glen Avon School in St. Paul.
“If we can make this change, if we can teach these kids within the system of their education, we can help them understand what’s going on. The whole point is to try and get these kids to have some understanding about why they’re here, where this all came from, who was here before them. And so this [rally] is for my sons, so they don’t have to deal with the racism I had to deal with,” she said.
In an interview after the rally St. Paul Education superintendent Glen Brodziak said the board plans to actively participate in all of the engagement activities possible around the new curriculum, including the online survey.
“There’s some things to be encouraged by, but at the same time we very much recognize and we have some questions as far as the social curriculum, and specifically with respect to religion is one part that is interesting, but also very much the diversity and the Truth and Reconciliation part,” said Brodziak.
He said while the division does not write the curriculum and is responsible for teaching what the province prescribes, they do try to make sure indigenous culture is included and taught right from the beginning.
“Our young students go to powwows they take part in and honor Orange Shirt Day. The TRC call to action, we believe firmly in that report. And whether it be treaties, whether it be Truth and Reconciliation, it should be starting in kindergarten with age appropriate activities but 100 per cent we believe those things should be starting in kindergarten,” said Brodziak.
He noted that everyone needs to be heard in providing feedback on the new curriculum, whether they be teachers, parents, or community members.
“That’s why they call it a draft, let’s get it right,” said Brodziak.
In an e-mailed statement, Justin Marshall, the press secretary for Education Minister Adriana LaGrange said, “for the first time, the new curriculum will teach students about the history and legacy of residential schools and the signing of treaties.”
Marshall cited a statement made in support of the new curriculum by Former Grand Chief Wilton Littlechild, who was a commissioner on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.
“Alberta, during our hearings was the first province to ‘publicly declare that it was launching its own initiative to develop mandatory curriculum on the Treaties and residential schools for all students’. We believed that education, in general, is the key to reconciliation and with the work done to date; it is consistent with the United Nations Declaration in the promotion of respectful relationships between citizens and as a Chief, I am honoured to be a validator to the new education curriculum and look forward to its transforming and positive change,” said Littlechild.