Indigenous curriculum impacted as government looks for efficiencies

by Robert Washburn

Classes about indigenous history and residential schools will go forward as anticipated this fall in spite of the Ontario government’s announcement Monday to cancel a province-wide session to review the curriculum this summer.

Kawartha Pine Ridge and District School Board Superintendent of Education Jack Nigro said Wednesday the board will deliver its indigenous curriculum starting in September for Grades 4 through 8 and Grade 10 history.

As the board’s staff person in charge of developing the indigenous curriculum, Nigro said all the work with the local First Nations communities, teachers, parents and others is already completed for the elementary grades.

“We have done extensive preparations with staff since January,” he said. “We are not pleased with the cancellation this week. The tremendous amount of work has been done. And, I am very proud of the work done. It would be an injustice to see it get sidetracked.”

His concern is about the expansion of lessons into the high schools.

He said the reason this is being done is to meet the recommendations within the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Report, sections 62 and 63, which specifically deal with the creation of curriculum. It calls on school boards to introduce lessons about indigenous experience and culture that has been previously ignored.

However, it is not just the curriculum that is significant. Nigro said there are broader implications. He hoped to instill pride in indigenous students, he said. He wanted to create an environment of respect among students both indigenous and non-indigenous, something that may not always been the case in the past.

The Ontario government announced Monday it is scaling back efforts to improve lesson plans. A meeting involving experts, teachers, and elders was cancelled due to a ban on non-essential travel.

“We are hoping this is just a review process,” he said, adding the situation may not be as severe as many think.

“I am hoping it is just a new government getting its bearings and figuring out its responsibilities,” he added.

Still, this caused a significant backlash from educators and indigenous leaders.

Nigro joined with other educators in expressing his concerns via social media. A hashtag #teachersforTRC is part of a massive campaign to speak out.

“Many educators are nervous it is an effort to strip out all the work done by indigenous educators,” he explained.

However, Northumberland-Peterborough South MPP David Piccini said Wednesday his government is fulfilling its promise to review all spending and find efficiencies.

“We were elected on a promise to undertake an audit of the finances, and we are keeping that promise. We also elected to find efficiencies. And, we are going to do that, too,” he said.

Piccini vowed to meet with educators, indigenous groups, the community and parents to get a sense of what is going on.

Meanwhile, public school board chairman Diane Lloyd said the trustees have drafted a letter to send to the Ontario government asking them to continue with the development of the curriculum.

“It is currently being reviewed by the trustees,” she said. “As soon as that is done, we will send it out.”

She is also concerned about the loss of momentum, considering all the work done to date.

“It is very disappointing,” she said. “To stop completely would be difficult with all the work done so far. And, it would be hard to start up again later, if that was the case.”