Ontario‘s Ministry of Education is facing significant criticism for scrapping curriculum development sessions aimed at revising what students learn and a key component involves truth and reconciliation.
“I personally find it disturbing that we are where we are with this cancellation,” said Sam Hammond, President of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO).
Hammond said there was insufficient notice provided to participants. The event was slated to begin Monday. It was cancelled late Friday afternoon.
“It’s all very troubling in terms of all the work that’s gone in to getting us to this point so that that writing team, with authentic voices … for Indigenous peoples, can come up with and develop culturally relevant Indigenous education on a factual basis,” he said.
Hammond said he believes the decision to abruptly cancel the sessions could set educators, and ultimately students, back by at least a year.
Global News contacted the Government of Ontario to ask about the cancellation of the sessions. Ben Menka, a spokesperson for the Minister of Education’s office, said in a written statement that the government will move ahead with updated Truth and Reconciliation Commission curriculum revisions.
“The ministry will work with experts, elders and indigenous communities to develop the support materials for the updated curriculum,” he said.
“The Ministry of Education cancelled three writing sessions: Truth and Reconciliation Commission curriculum revisions, American Sign Language and Indigenous languages in Kindergarten. The ministry moved ahead with the cancellation unilaterally with no direction from the Minister of Education.
“In keeping with the commitment Premier Doug Ford made to run government more efficiently, all ministries will seek to carry out initiatives in the most cost-effective way possible.”
In response to the statement by Menka, Hammond said the decision on the cancellation should have been made by the minister.
“Something so critical to the future of reconciliation in Ontario and in this country … the final decision should be made by the minister of education. I would suggest that’s what the minister is there for,” he said.
The Ontario NDP slammed the decision to cancel the sessions.
“Indigenous education benefits all students and promises a better shared future. Scrapping the TRC curriculum writing sessions at the last second is a damaging step backwards on the road to reconciliation — and it sends a horrible message to Indigenous communities about their importance to the Ford government,” MPP-elect Peggy Sattler wrote in a statement.
Nishnawbe Aski Nation Deputy Grand Chief Derek Fox issued a statement on Monday calling the decision to cancel the session “a step backwards on our journey towards reconciliation.”
“Truth-sharing and education on the Indian Residential School experience is one of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 94 Calls to Action,” Fox said.
“We have heard from many educators, Elders and knowledge keepers and share their frustration as this important work was dropped just before it was set to begin.”
Fox said he hopes the provincial government will reconsider its efforts to provide teachers the opportunity to integrate the TRC curriculum.
“We are asking this government to reaffirm its commitment to The Journey Together: Ontario’s Commitment to Reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples where the province committed to working with Indigenous partners to address the legacy of residential schools, close gaps and remove barriers, support Indigenous cultures, and reconcile relationships,” Fox said.
Senator Murray Sinclair was the chair of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). He told Global News the decision doesn’t support the reconciliation process.
“I suspect that, as with any other government that comes into power, when people are told that you have to cut back on spending, it’s these kinds of programs that are the first to go,” Sinclair said.
“It also indicates a total lack of commitment to the whole issue of reconciliation and the importance of it.”
Sinclair said education itself is a key component towards reconciliation.
“The way that we educate our children — both Indigenous and non-Indigenous — is really important for the future because the public school system has largely educated people to believe in the myth of European superiority and Aboriginal inferiority,” he said.
For six years, the TRC studied Canada’s dark history of residential schools and heard from more than 6,500 survivors. The commission made 94 ‘Calls to Action‘ in 2015. Multiple levels of government and educators were called upon to devise age-appropriate curriculum on subjects including residential schools, treaties and Aboriginal peoples’ historical and contemporary contributions to the country.