KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – At Nova Scotia’s Province House this Tuesday NDP MLA Lenore Zann delivered a petition to education minister Karen Casey asking that the government fully adopt the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Call to Action # 62.
This call urges provincial governments and educators to ensure that all students learn about Indian Residential Schools (IRS), treaties, and the contributions made by First Nations, Inuit and Métis to Canada.
When the report of the Truth and Reconciliation Committee (TRC) on the horrible legacy of residential schools was released late last year Premier Stephen McNeil confirmed his commitment to implement its recommendations.
The petition with 1,700 signatures serves as a reminder of that commitment, says Linda Scherzinger, a member of the Atlantic chapter of KAIROS, the organization that spearheaded the petition Canada-wide.
“We believe that education is the best place to start,” says Scherzinger. “Murray Sinclair, the former head of the TRC, has put an enormous amount of importance on education. After all, the residential schools were an educational process and experience, which became so negative for everyone involved.”
“Now we have a chance to use education in a very positive way. Not just to undo some of the damage, but to move forward in terms of unlearning the racism that was inherent in that system,” she says.
“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,” wrote Heather Fairbairn, spokesperson for the provincial Department of Education and Early Childhood Education for an earlier story by the Nova Scotia Advocate on the Kairos initiative.
“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,” wrote Fairbairn.
As well, 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 Nova Scotia has a ways to go.
Leaving little wriggle room for governments, the Call to Action states that these topics must be mandatory and taught from Kindergarten to grade 12. That’s not the case at this time.
“There have been some resources that have been produced for some of the school grades, and some of the schools have these very good resources. However, this call to action asks that this education be mandatory, and that it be for all grades,” says Scherzinger.
And teachers need to be properly trained, another aspect that definitely requires more work, Scherzinger adds.
“We appreciate that Nova Scotia has made an effort to connect with the Mi’kmaq leadership, but it is very important to take this seriously, which means to support the teachers and students beyond just having some resources that may be collecting dust on a shelf somewhere,” she says.
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On October 1, 2015 the NS provincial government responded to the TRC Call to Action # 62.i by signing a Memorandum of Understanding with Mi’kmaw Kina’matnewey (MK), the agency that has been responsible for developing curriculum for schools in Mi’kmaq communities since the Mi’kmaq Education Act, 1998. Over the past two years the MK team, and Mi’kmaq Elders and educators working alongside them, have designed and developed excellent materials which are being passed on to the public schools across Nova Scotia. Some schools are beginning to use these materials. However, the TRC’s Call to Action #62.i requests that teaching the history and present day reality of Indigenous peoples in Canada in the school system be mandatory. Even though curriculum materials may be available, teacher training and continuing education courses are necessary before this can become a reality. Therefore, we call upon the government of Nova Scotia to make funds available for necessary teacher training and continuing education so that all teachers in the educational system are prepared to fulfill the requirements of this Call to Action.