Education featured Racism

Truth and Reconciliation in Nova Scotia’s classrooms, a progress report

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – When the report of the Truth and Reconciliation Committee (TRC) on the horrible legacy of residential schools was released late last year Premier Stephen MacNeil confirmed his commitment to implement its recommendations.

Shubenacadie Residential School. Photo

KAIROS, a Canada-wide ecumenical movement for ecological justice and human rights, believes that provinces like Nova Scotia need to be held accountable for such commitments.

At this time KAIROS is particularly focused on the TRC’s Call for Action 62, which deals with education in the classroom. Are kids taught about the importance of treaties, the damage done by the residential school system, and past and present indigenous contributions? And are these topics mandatory and taught from Kindergarten to grade 12?

“We have witnessed so many times how people are transformed when they receive this good information about our shared history. When people are operating from a place of misinformation and stereotypes it is such a barrier to build relationships,” says Katy Quinn, indigenous rights program coordinator at KAIROS.

Understanding treaties is understanding the relationship between indigenous and settler societies, both in terms of what that relationship could look like and of missed opportunities, says Jane Hubbards, a project officer with the Legacy of Hope Foundation, an aboriginal organization that raises awareness of the legacy of residential schools and partnered with KAIROS on this initiative.

“We have this amazing path forward when we look at the treaties. It is of great benefit to everyone when we respect them. We have these well thought out agreements and a framework on how to coexists. We have these living agreements, that came into being through a lengthy and deep process,” says Hubbards.

Of course provincial and federal governments have ignored and resisted that fundamental role of treaties in their relationship with indigenous peoples every step of the way.  It is a reluctance that continues today, witness the province’s recent refusal to properly consult with the Sipekne’katik Band on the Alton Gas storage project.

On the educational file the province partners with the Mi’kmaq Rights Initiative, also known as Kwilmu’kw Maw-klusuaqn (KMKNO). The KMKNO has recently been criticized for being secretive and insufficiently democratic.

Yet governments are large multi-faceted organizations, and at least on the educational front real progress is being made, says Quinn.

“There is a lot of good work underway. There is still lots of work to be done, but things are moving in a very positive direction on the education front,” says Quinn, who agrees with an update provided by the province to the Nova Scotia Advocate.

“Since the updated KAIROS report card was released in 2015, Treaty Education has been integrated in all areas of the curriculum for Grades Primary to 6 and the work continues on the curriculum for Grades 7 to 12,” writes Heather Fairbairn, spokesperson for the provincial Department of Education and Early Childhood Education.

“Starting in September, a new Mi’kmaq Studies 11 course will be introduced enhancing the opportunities for students to satisfy the mandatory graduation requirements for history,” writes Fairbairn.

Earlier KAIROS reported that all students in provincially-run schools in Nova Scotia learn about the residential school system in their Grade 7 Social Studies class. Some also learn about it in the optional Grade 10 Mi’kmaq Studies and Grade 11 Canadian History courses.

But such progress is no reason to become complacent, Quinn cautions.

“A process like this can easily lose momentum,” says Quinn. “The school system needs everyone’s engagement. Now more than ever is the time for the public to say that we support this and we want to see this implemented in a timely way.”  

You can email your MLA and MP to let them know you think TRC recommendation 62 should be taken seriously. KAIROS is also spearheading a petition that will be submitted to the Nova Scotia legislature sometime during its Fall session.   

KAIROS provides more detail on the Nova Scotia situation and what’s happening in other provinces and territories in this report. Click here for more information on the KAIROS Winds of Change campaign.