History of residential schools may be taught in Alberta

Education: Truth and Reconciliation commission encourages First Nation courses

By: Bruce Campbell

  |  Posted: Wednesday, Apr 09, 2014 06:00 am

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A Turner Valley woman is taking a wait-and-see attitude for making the history of residential schools part of Alberta’s education.

“I have heard the government say that many, many times before,” said Kate Webb-Harris. “I see very little honour in them following up on that, but I am always hopeful that they are going to walk their talk.”

Webb-Harris attended the final pubic sessions of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings March 27-30 in Edmonton. The commission was formed to better understand the history of residential schools and the affects to the more than 100,000 First Nations students who attended those schools.

Alberta Aboriginal Relations Minister Frank Oberle announced at the hearings future Alberta school curriculum will include the history of residential schools.

Webb-Harris is fully aware of the emotional scars for students who attended residential schools. Her mother was a student at a residential school.

“I am an inter-generational survivor of (residential school) abuse,” Webb-Harris said. “I do aboriginal awareness training for foster parents with the provincial government. Most people who come into the room have no idea even what a residential school is.”

She said she has heard parents’ replies of “What’s the big deal — this is so nice that the government set up these wonderful school to educate the Indians.”

Residential schools were in Canada for more than 100 years. Aboriginal children were removed from their families and sent to residential schools.

They were government-funded, church run schools, located across Canada, including one in the Dunbow area.

The mortality rate of students in residential schools was significantly higher than traditional schools. As well, residential students were stripped of their First Nations culture, often not allowed to speak their own language.

“We have to help people understand,” Webb-Harris said. “Honourable Justice Murray Sinclair has said there is not one person living in Canada today who is not affected by residential schools… If you came to Canada today are affected. If your parents or grandparents went to residential schools you are affected.

“It is important to be aware of the history — this is a shared history.”

She added she was heartened by the recent one-woman show by First Nations actress Michelle Thrush at Oilfields High School in Black Diamond. Thrush’s play spoke openly about the impact of residential schools, the reserve system and other factors in First Nations peoples’ lives.

Foothills School Division trustee Jeannine Tucker attended the education session of the hearings with Paul Rasporich, the division’s First Nations, Metis, Inuit lead teacher.

Tucker said there is an education program in place based upon residential school history.

“It is up to jurisdictions as to whether or not they teach it or not,” Tucker said.

Rasporich said there is Aboriginal 10, 20, 30 program that has not been embraced in most Alberta jurisdictions.

“It’s been shelved for five years in many places across Alberta,” Rasporich said. “Because administration and teachers don’t really know about it — it hasn’t been embraced.”

Oilfields High School principal Scott Carey said he is aware of the Aboriginal programs.

“It is on the radar,” Carey said. “To offer Aboriginal 10, 20, 30 is an amazing opportunity.

“I definitely think it is a piece of the puzzle. The bigger piece of the puzzle is how do you create that fundamental awareness mindset shift where a student will say: ‘Hey I want to take this course.’”

Oilfields has a First Nations population of around 20 per cent.

Carey fully supports the teaching of residential school history as part of the curriculum.

“I think it would fit very well in the nature of the high school Social Studies curriculum because it is about exploring issues,” Carey said.

“It’s been an issue that has been ignored.

He said now maybe the ideal time to introduce the topic as Alberta Education is looking at redesigning the curriculum.

“It’s a significant issue in not only Canadian history, but a North American issue,” Carey said.

Christ the Redeemer Catholic Schools superintendent Scott Morrison said due to administrative meetings it was not able to attend the hearings.

“We are not part of the curriculum redesign process but feel the history of the residential schools in Alberta and Canada is a vital curriculum topic.” Morrison said.

“We believes the provincial focus on this issue is excellent.”


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