The Ontario government announced reforms to the school curriculum a day before Canada’s National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, promising to increase Indigenous learning in Grades 1 to 3 over the next two years, including an introduction to the residential school system.
The Progressive Conservative government announced on Wednesday that by September 2023, it intends to “address the current gap” in Indigenous learning by incorporating teachings about First Nations people into the social studies curriculum for the first three grades. The following are examples of this:
The role of family and resilience in First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities and nations
First Nations, Métis and Inuit historical and contemporary realities
Indigenous peoples’ interrelationship and connection with the land
The residential school system and the reclamation and revitalization of identity, language, culture and community connections.
The province will also be offering Inuktitut as a language of instruction elementary and secondary levels within Ontario’s Indigenous languages curriculum.
The government says the changes are in response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Call to Action.
“Like all Canadians I have been saddened by the recovery of unmarked graves at former residential schools across this country. For more than 120 years Indigenous children across the country were taken from their families by the government, many of whom would never have been reunited with their loved ones,” Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce told reporters at a news conference.
“We believe that all students, Indigenous and non Indigenous, are enriched by learning about the history, the culture, the perspectives and contributions of First Nations, Métis and Inuit individuals and communities in Canada.”
The government also committed to providing $23.96 million in Indigenous education funding in 2021-22 “as part of a broader commitment to reconciliation” in addition to a multi-year funding agreement for $3.19 million over three years to strengthen partnerships with the Chiefs of Ontario and First Nation Provincial Territorial Organizations.
The province implemented mandatory Indigenous learning in social studies classes in Grades 4 to 6 and history classes in Grades 7 to 10 in 2018 following years of work by the previous Liberal government. This included mandatory learning about residential schools in Grade 8 and Grade 10.
However, that same year, the newly-elected Progressive Conservative government abruptly cancelled curriculum-writing sessions with Indigenous leaders that would have seen further inclusion of First Nations learning in schools.
Speaking to CTV News Toronto, Liberal Leader Stephen Del Duca said that he was proud of the part his government played in those early changes, but also recognized that they “didn’t get the entire job done.”
“I think in those earliest days of the Ford government it was a willful decision to be tone deaf on this and to move in the wrong direction because I suppose, on an ideological level, Doug ford at that point in time just didn’t believe that it mattered,” Del Duca said.
“I hope Doug Ford realizes he made a mistake. He made a grievous mistake by canceling that curriculum, those studies, and he restores them, and he looks at the rest of the options available to him as a premier to actually advance the cause of Indigenous reconciliation.”
In a news release issued Wednesday, the government said that it has been discussing the curriculum revisions with Indigenous partners since 2019.
In light of this announcement, officials were asked why the Progressive Conservative government did not make Sept. 30—Canada’s National Day for Truth and Reconciliation—as a statutory holiday or commemorate it with an event at Queen’s Park.
Many Indigenous leaders and politicians have spoken out, and there is little agreement on how the day should be commemorated, according to Greg Rickford, Minister of Indigenous Affairs.
“We want to make sure, first and foremost, as Minister Lecce said today, that this is incorporated in our curriculums that, that it’s integrated in standalone courses but also in the context of how Canada came to be,” he added.
“The debate will continue in Ontario and across the country, as a number of other jurisdictions have yet to declare a holiday as an official event.”