Teaching Aboriginal Issues: An Argument for Inclusion

Thinking back on grade 10 history class what do you remember? You may have thought of World War I or World War II, where Canada proved to be an inclusive, gentle and peaceful country.

But these events do not give a complete picture of Canada’s history. The Ontario Ministry of Education Grade 9 and 10 History curriculum document states that the Grade 10 History course “explores social, economic, and political developments and events and their impact on the lives of different groups in Canada since 1914.” There is one overall expectation, D3 below, that specifically addresses Aboriginal peoples and how they have contributed to Canada between 1945 and 1982.

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Despite this mandate, some argue that students are not being informed on Aboriginal issues from the past, which would fall under the “national” forces that have formed Canada’s identity. The fact is, some of the saddest parts of Canada’s history are shaped into portraying Canadians in a more positive light than is appropriate, specifically those parts surrounding First Nations, Métis and Inuit. The curriculum shows that teachers should be educating  Grade 10 students on aboriginal history, but some argue that this is being glanced over.

Colinda Clyne is a curriculum leader of Equity and First Nations, Métis and Inuit for the Upper Grand District School Board. As an Anishinaabe history teacher, she brings some insight to this topic. When asked about her view of how history is taught in the province, Clyne suggested that teachers may feel uncomfortable with the lack of knowledge they have on the subject, as they have not been taught it themselves. Clyne says, “I encourage people to get it wrong if they have to, but at least put the topic of conversation on the table.”

Below is an interview with Clyne:

She also mentioned that not all of the pressure should be put on the teachers’ shoulders. She believes that if children are exposed to Aboriginal culture and art work at a young age, then it can change their perspective as they get older.

If these small adjustments are made, there will be a positive change. By making Aboriginal education more readily available to students and younger generations, it can ensure that the topic is being discussed and this hast the potential to provide social change.

Mr. Vandermeulen, the history and global indigenous studies teacher at WCI was interviewed on his thoughts about this issue. It was asked if he made an effort to include indigenous history when he teaches the Grade 10 History course. He replied, “Yes. There’s no question that the history of Canada’s development and of the issues that Aboriginal peoples have faced throughout that history is important.”

As an indigenous studies teacher, he understood the importance of issues that were faced in the past and present day that relate to aboriginal peoples in Canada. When he was asked about the key issues he makes an effort to include he said, “The Indian Act 1876, numbered treaties leading up to the Open Door Policy, residential schools, amendments to the Indian Act 1951, Trudeau’s White Paper, Meech Lake Accord, Charlottetown Accord … to name a few topics.”

Like Clyde, Mr. Vandermeulen shared the same idea surrounding the attempt to balance of the requirements of the curriculum. In his words: “There’s always to struggle to balance social history, political history, military history, history of great leaders, technological history, international history, French-English relations, Canada-America relations.”

Mr. Vandermeulen has the knowledge to teach the global indigenous course. Unfortunately, many other history teachers do not have this same knowledge set that allows them to integrate indigenous history into the content of the course.

It is extremely important for teachers to try to educate their students on Aboriginal issues. Understanding Canada’s history and Canada’s people is a significant way to transform our country into a place where each person is valued because each person can find his or her story reflected in Canada’s story, honestly and with accuracy.