We cannot accept the status quo, Quebec teachers on deck!

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!

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12 Responses to We cannot accept the status quo, Quebec teachers on deck!


  1. phil says:

    gender equality = “because it’s 2015”; indigenous rights and history = NOT EVER (at least for now) – shame there’s no national foghorn, where you can say it once and be heard everywhere (even in the deep dark corners of government hustling)

  2. It’s the same in most provinces. Over the last two years, I repeatedly contacted the BC Ministry of Education, our school district and the teacher’s union about teaching the history, the real Indigenous histories. I received a response only from the teacher’s union, The BC Teacher’s Federation. They were the only ones who spoke out publicly about the need to teach these things too, not only for the sake of historical clarity, but to make a real inroad in dispelling myths and countering the real life racism faced by the Indigenous.. We finally have made some leeway into updating the curricula in the public schools this year to come. I feel what’s coming isn’t enough, but at the least, it’s a real effort.

    • Kathy says:

      My ten-year-old daughter did an informal survey the other month, asking her Grade 5 classmates, in a BC school, how many of them had heard of Indian residential schools in Canada. (She’s just a tad precocious.) And she was shocked that not a single one had even heard of them. She quickly explained what they were and her classmates were stunned that they didn’t know this piece of history. Contrary to popular belief they were not mortified, nor was the knowledge ‘too heavy’ for them. Instead, they welcomed knowing the truth. We have to be honest with our children and trust them with the real history of indigenous people, both the value of our culture and how it was denigrated, so we can do better. From the mouths of babes.

      • I have no doubt about that, Kathy. The children neither knowing about the residential schools or about their reactions. I have another story relating to those schools that blew me away and was what spurred me into contacting everyone I could.

        When my son was in Grade 5, his class was taught that the residential schools were a good thing because it gave the Indigenous kids an education. If that wasn’t enough to choke on your soup, his teacher in that class was Ojibway. I can only imagine how she had to have felt towing that school misinformation line.

      • Jennifer says:

        Wow. Not only is QPAT leaving this up to FNMI parents, it’s even leaving this up to the children themselves.

        Does the QPAT have any sex ed curricula? If so, do they use anything like “this information is too important to leave up to kids whispering behind the shed” in its defense?

        I wonder because if they do, then maybe they’d listen to “this history is also too important to leave up to kids!”? Yes, no, maybe, I don’t know.

  3. Donna Meness says:

    In regards to politics:

    The Algonquins has a direct memory of the relationship & agreement with the gov’ts of Canada & Quebec recorded in Wampum belts held by the estate of William Commanda right now – the Three-Figure Wampum Belt which during the last “First Ministers’ Conference in 1987.

    This remains the basis on which they enter any negotiations with either level of gov’t.

    They have never surrendered title or jurisdiction on self-gov’t or self-determination.

    And, unlike the French, they have never been conquered.

    When the conquest of the French occurred, the Three-figure Wampum belt was affirmed in 1760 by the Articles of Capitulation, Article 40, & then reaffirmed by the Royal Proclamation of 1763

    Kitigan Zibi Anishnebeg -closest to OTTAWA, won a 14 yr.legal case against Quebec & Canada regarding treaty & aboriginal rights land use case regarding the “Provincially run “ZEC” -Zone d’exploitation controlee: whose purpose was to be to protect animal populations in vulnerable areas, while providing increased & equitable access for hunting & fishing -FOR QUEBEC’S SETTLER POPULATION -NOT INDIANS- in fact the ZEC regulations makes no mention of Indian rights, makes no provision for Indian hunting or trapping & never included Indian communities in the management.

    The Quebec gov’t priority is given to outside hunters, tourist outfitters & private companies whose business is to exploit the natural resources of Algonquin land, & given exclusive rights to operate which means that only the outfitters’ clients may hunt, trap or fish.

    Quebec stance : indigenous peoples are considered INFIDELS therfore have no rights under the law.

    Well since winning at CSC we have re-established A MAPLE SUGAR BUSH

    R. v. Côté, [1996] 3 S.C.R. 139 Date: October 3, 1996

    http://www.indigenousbar.ca/cases/cote.PDF

    *******

    so for the educational system in Quebec to shield its eyes, & drag its feet..no surprise really..

    The other thing I wish people would remember is the RCAP took 5 yrs. & listed a large mandate listing specifics that Canada, the provinces, the educational , justice & society needed to address & implement to afford a space for indigenous peoples in Canada – which dont forget is less that 150 yrs. old.

    The Algonquins were here 6000 yrs. before the pyramids were constructed..

    Lastly RCAP again..detailed discussion in Chapter 4, on lands and resources. “The exclusive land bases held by Aboriginal peoples are, in most cases, only a small fraction of the much larger areas that constituted their original homelands. These traditional lands are now shared with other groups, both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal. While Aboriginal people generally do not dispute the need to share these territories with others, they emphasize that they have strong ties to their original homelands that involve special rights and responsibilities. Aboriginal jurisdiction over traditional territories is inherent and exists independently of any recognition by the governments of Canada and the provinces. From this perspective, agreements regarding shared lands and resources should be based on the principle of co-jurisdiction. The co-jurisdiction model differs from certain co-management approaches currently proposed by provincial governments. The latter enable Aboriginal people to participate in the management of resources, but under legislative and policy regimes developed without the participation of Aboriginal people. In the eyes of many Aboriginal people, such arrangements are unsatisfactory because they do not acknowledge the autonomous authority of Aboriginal governments regarding their traditional lands and resources. By contrast, the type of regime favoured by many Aboriginal people would involve Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal governments exercising jurisdiction in a co-operative manner as equal parties.” “One thing should be made clear at this point: we are not advocating the takeover of all fish and wildlife management, or exclusive use, in our territory. But we are asserting the right and the responsibility to regulate our own use and management of these resources in the areas where we have traditionally harvested, based on our needs. We are also prepared to challenge other governments when it appears to us that they are not managing their share of these resources responsibly. On our part there has always been a willingness to share the abundance of resources that reside in our territory, but at this stage we are not getting an equitable share, and we are not satisfied that the resources themselves are being managed properly … .Eventually we can see that there will be some areas in which we have exclusive use and management responsibilities, and others where these responsibilities are shared with the Crown.75”

  4. Donna Meness says:

    http://films.onf.ca/peuple-invisible/le-film.php

    Pour donner une certaine légitimité à cette invasion progressive, on signe des traités, on échange des cadeaux, on conclut des ententes. Après la Conquête de la Nouvelle-France par l’Angleterre en 1760, une Proclamation royale, rédigée en 1763, stipule l’existence d’un territoire amérindien ; c’est écrit noir sur blanc mais dans les faits, leurs territoires sont toujours plus petits. Cette marginalisation croissante et une sédentarité forcée, bouleversent leur mode de vie, leurs coutumes, mettant en péril leur existence même.

    C’est la rupture brutale de cet équilibre avec le milieu naturel et ses séquelles dramatiques dont témoignent Richard Desjardins et Robert Monderie dans Le peuple invisible. Les nombreux problèmes des Algonquins dans leurs communautés, où certaines n’ont ni école, ni eau potable, ni électricité (alors qu’elles vivent à deux pas de barrages hydro-électriques…), trouvent souvent leurs origines dans cette suite de malentendus historiques qui ont ponctué les rapports avec les Blancs. Quand des missionnaires oblats viennent leur parler d’un Dieu dont ils ne connaissent rien; quand les rivières deviennent des autoroutes pour les billes de bois, où leurs canots ne peuvent plus circuler; quand la musique country remplace les chants traditionnels parce qu’ils ont disparu avec les derniers chamanes, c’est la voix de tout un peuple qui peu à peu s’éteint.

    De larges portions du territoire des Algonquins n’ont jamais été officiellement cédées au gouvernement québécois, une injustice qui a permis à des villes comme Maniwaki ou Notre-Dame-du-Nord de s’ériger sur des terres qui ne leur appartenaient pas, et à des grandes compagnies de piller allègrement les ressources naturelles sans que les communautés.

  5. Jaime says:

    This has been my life for the past 13 years. Schools simply need I catch up and the more pressure they have from parents, then they will make the effort.

  6. Carl McKay says:

    With advocates like Apihtowikosisan aboriginal identity is clarified! I applaud your efforts! The Aboriginal Community nationwide will be stronger with advocacy and acceptance.

    Thank you for everything you have done and continue to do for our people.

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  8. Luna says:

    Hello there! As a (non-Indigenous, non-Canadian) college teacher in Quebec, I’ve been incredibly frustrated with the lack of space and resources to integrate Aboriginal content into *every* course we teach at every level. I know we will get there, but how long is it going to take?? I agree that we need to put pressure on the administration … but man, their heads really are somewhere else.

    Also, marginally related, I think you or some of your readers may find this job offer interesting:
    http://www.universityaffairs.ca/search-job/?job_id=34776

  9. dscokween says:

    Hi! I’m so excited to have stumbled on your blog. I can’t wait to start listening to MiS –

    I’m from the US and was reared in Montana just to the South of AB. My family (in part) descends from Red River Metis who were displaced in the uprisings in the 1890s, and opted to go to Montana rather than stay on the Canadian side. This is an interesting perspective to have from my point of view, and your blog is one of the first that I’ve seen that address the conundrum of identity and culture.

    I do science outreach for my job, and as part of my work I try to provide outreach opportunities for underrepresented students in the sciences. In Montana, there is an initiative called “Indian Ed for All” which sounds very much like your mandates. It has been many years in the works. There are some resources that have been developed and provided for teachers and students in Montana, but also through the states. Here is an index of some of the resources:

    http://opi.mt.gov/Programs/IndianEd/Curric.html

    So this is by no means a solution for the issues teachers and students are facing when it comes to addressing curriculum that is both culturally relevant and content appropriate. It is an example of something that has been accomplished.

    How would it work to have a starting point to discuss common experiences. Astronomy is an ideal place to learn about stories, seasons, travel and places….it is a common denominator for all people. It is also a place rich with possibility to integrate interdisciplinary content that has both cultural significance, scientific and contemporary research.

    Anyhow, I thought those resources and links might be a point of inspiration as you pursue your work.

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