Students learning to play traditional drums at Brebeuf College School. File photo by Michael Swan

Indigenous voice being heard in curriculum

  • August 31, 2019

Native studies have come a long way in the last two decades and there are no signs that the pace of change in the program is going to slow down.

That’s why Ontario’s new Indigenous curriculum was introduced in May and, while it was more of an update than a redo, Toronto Catholic school officials are convinced it was necessary.

“This curriculum reflects a more current situation and a more current acknowledgement of Indigenous peoples and issues,” said Vanessa Pinto, an Indigenous resource teacher with the Toronto Catholic District School Board.

The new First Nations, Métis and Inuit Studies Grade 9-12 curriculum is comprised of 10 elective courses which will provide more up-to-date learning about Indigenous perspectives, cultures and contributions. It’s the result of collaboration with Indigenous teachers, elders, knowledge keepers, leaders, residential school survivors and other stakeholders.

“In response to the (Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s) Call to Action #63, this curriculum will increase all students’ learning about First Nation, Métis and Inuit perspectives, cultures, contributions and histories in areas such as art, literature, law, humanities, politics and history,” said Heather Irwin, senior media relations co-ordinator with the Ontario Ministry of Education, in an e-mail to The Catholic Register.

The biggest change in native studies over the last 20 years has been incorporating a greater Indigenous voice in course development. “There’s a real change in the way Indigenous people are seen and the importance of their voice in the new curriculum,” said Frank Pio, also a resource teacher with the Toronto Catholic board.

“The specifications are becoming more authentic and more responsible towards the representation of Indigenous communities because now we have more knowledge,” said Pinto. “Now Indigenous partners are more involved in how they would like to see their content taught.”

Pinto said the curriculum offers “meaningful ways of addressing the Indigenous subject” in courses like English, history and art. She points to the Grade 11 English: Contemporary Aboriginal Voices course, which always advocated for the Indigenous voice but has moved into something more specific by exploring the oral communication and story telling that has long been part of Indigenous tradition.

The ministry is providing $3.25 million to support school boards in implementing the curriculum. 

Though the former Liberal government had promised to make these courses mandatory, the Progressive Conservatives have reversed that commitment since coming to power a year ago., angering some Indigenous leaders. 

Neverthesless,  Nick D’Avella, Superintendent of Equity, Diversity and Indigenous Education with the Toronto Catholic board, said he’s seen an upswing in interest in the courses, with more than 4,000 students enrolled.

“I think we’ve seen a lot of interest in Indigenous education from the community as a whole, from our students, our teachers,” said D’Avella. “Things are looking up.”

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