I have been a teacher since 2001, taking time off here and there to have babies (3 now), and to get a law degree. I started teaching in the Northwest Territories, then moved back down to Alberta, before coming out to Quebec where I currently reside. Right now I’m on a brief maternity leave, but when I am teaching, I work with Inuit youth who are either under Youth Protection Orders, or who are sentenced under the Youth Criminal Justice Act.
These Inuit youth are from Nunavik, which due to the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement (JBNQA) has its own school board, the Kativik School Board (KSB). KSB adheres to Quebec provincial curricular standards but also provides Inuit and Northern-specific content, such as Inuktitut language instruction from K-3, and then again in high school, as well as social and science topics that reflect Inuit worldview and contemporary experiences. KSB has also developed workbooks in other subjects that ensure Inuit students see themselves represented in the materials intended for their education.
When I worked in the Northwest Territories most of my students were Gwich’in (Dene) and Inuvialuit (Inuit). We had access to Dene specific curriculum, the Dene Kede, as well as Inuvialuit specific curriculum, the Inuuqatigiit.
So I suppose I work in a bit of a bubble, where integrating specific Indigenous perspectives across subjects is not just a nice idea, it is mandatory.
When dealing with my own children’s education here in Quebec, I am constantly reminded that integrating Indigenous perspectives…heck, even acknowledging the existence of Indigenous peoples, is anything but the norm. In the seven years my children have been in school here, they have never learned about themselves as Métis people. They have never learned more than the most cartoonish things about the Mohawk and Algonquin peoples on whose unceded territory their schools are built.
Yet when a Mohawk parent and I reached out to one of their schools, I found our offer of help to be warmly received. I was asked to make a presentation to teachers during one of the professional development days, providing a brief history of Indigenous peoples, as well as suggestions for integrating more Indigenous content into instruction. The other parent and I suggested and arranged activities for each of the grade levels our children’s elementary school. There was certainly an openness there to beginning with this, and expanding as the years go by. Unfortunately as both of my children went on to new schools, neither of them were able to benefit from the work we put in.
It isn’t possible for me, or any other Indigenous person or group of people to go around to every school in Quebec, offer our services providing free professional development and curricular enhancement. Nor should the onus be on us to do so! This responsibility lies with the Ministère de l’Éducation, de l’Enseignement supérieur et de la Recherche, the Quebec Ministry of Education. This responsibility also lies with each of the school boards in Quebec, to provide professional development opportunities and leadership in the integration of Indigenous perspectives in the classroom. The Ministry, school boards, and administrators need to be reaching out to Indigenous peoples and communities, which is exactly what the Truth and Reconciliation Commission has suggested.
I have been waiting to see what Quebec will do now that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission has released its executive summary. After all, a great many of the TRCs 94 calls to action are specific to educators. Alberta and the Yukon have developed curriculum to teach about Residential Schools, and Manitoba has committed to developing its own. Almost all of the provinces and territories have responded to the TRCs calls to action.
Quebec has remained silent throughout.
Last year I presented a workshop at the Quebec Provincial Association of Teachers (QPAT/APEQ) annual teacher’s convention. The focus was on providing teachers with some basic information on Indigenous peoples in Canada, as well as how to bring these perspectives and contemporary realities into the classroom. While not massively attended during supper time on a Thursday evening, it was nonetheless a fantastic group that arrived, participated and asked many, many questions. The interest among individual teachers is absolutely there, and I have seen this proven again and again. QPAT rarely has many workshops that address Indigenous issues, but I was confident that in 2015, the year of the release of the TRC executive summary, there would have to be workshops addressing the calls to action.
I proposed a workshop, and when it was rejected I hoped this meant that they had received a number of proposals on the same subject, and had simply decided to go with a different presenter. So it is with no little amount of shock that I scanned through this year’s QPAT program and found, to my horror, that not only is there NO workshop at all addressing the TRCs calls to action, there are also no workshops about Indigenous peoples, period! There is one workshop featuring (among other films) a short film about the Abenaki, produced by a non-Indigenous director. That is all.
There are many excellent workshops on other topics available this year, don’t get me wrong. I was excited to see the inclusion of a workshop on anti-Black racism for example, which is not something that is at all addressed enough in schools (where it is often so keenly felt). There are much needed workshops for dealing with more compassionate approaches to education, including how to modify instruction to address children with anxiety disorders and learning challenges. A lot gets packed into these few days of teacher’s convention!
Nonetheless, I cannot fathom how this year, of all years, QPAT can so fail to take a leadership role on the responsibility of educators to address the abuses of the past, as well as integrating real reconciliation into the classroom today. How can QPAT justify this exclusion? How can Quebec look the other way while the rest of Canada deals with the uncomfortable truths uncovered by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission?
Many teachers in Quebec want this information, they want to integrate this content into their classrooms, but they need support. The Quebec Provincial Association of Teachers should be a leader in providing this support.
So I urge you to reach out to QPAT and let them know that this is not a responsibility they should be shirking. Not only does QPAT need to make a commitment to addressing the TRC calls to action, it should also be thinking about what role it has in pushing for lasting curricular changes. Future conventions should not allow the complete erasure of Indigenous peoples and the role Canadians have in reconciliation. You can contact the QPAT here: http://www.qpat-apeq.qc.ca/en/contact-us/board-of-directors/qpat
We cannot wait for Quebec to slowly decide to get on board, these issues are present, pressing, and in need of attention now. Teachers, please ask your administration what you can do to learn about your role in answering the TRCs calls to action. Ask that professional development be provided to help support you in this, and please…when you fill out your convention evaluation forms, be sure to hold the QPAT accountable for making no mention of the TRC, and for not including any Indigenous voices this year. These choices are frankly unacceptable.
Many thanks, and enjoy the convention!