A Cree Elder who was part of a working group tasked by the UCP government to review the First Nations, Metis and Inuit portions of its new kindergarten to grade six curriculum says it is missing huge pieces of Indigenous history, and she cannot endorse it.
“The work in this curriculum has to continue,” Elder Betty Letendre told Global News.
Letendre was part of a group of five elders asked by the government in December to first provide feedback about areas of the curriculum dealing specifically with First Nations, Metis and Inuit perspectives.
“I believe about six days of meetings and talking about this review and the changes we thought had to be changed,” said Letendre.
She says the group was then tasked with providing feedback on the curriculum as a whole a couple of months later, and was only given a small window of time for that work as well.
“What we had to do was way too extensive for us to say, okay, now it’s done. It’s not.”
Global News saw a portion of the new curriculum on Friday, but the UCP government plans to publicly release the full text of the new elementary curriculum in the coming days for Albertans to review. It will begin to be piloted in classrooms starting in September.
“The final draft of this curriculum will not be finalized until 2022, so we have lots of opportunity to hear from Albertans and hear what is important to them,” Education Minister Adriana LaGrange told Global News in an exclusive interview.
Throughout its development, Minister LaGrange has assured Albertans that Indigenous perspectives and history will be a key component of the updated curriculum. Lessons will begin in kindergarten, where students will listen to oral traditions and discuss the connections First Nations, Metis or Inuit have with nature.
Lesson plans will expand across all core subjects for students starting in Grade 1. In Grade 5 students will begin to learn about the creation, mandate and impacts of residential schools on children, and the banning of First Nations, Metis and Inuit languages and ceremonies by the Canadian government.
“These stories are impactful, there’s many opportunities for teachers to really engage with the Indigenous community across Alberta,” said Minister LaGrange.
Last fall, the UCP government was heavily criticized after documents leaked to the CBC showed the government received advice to remove references to residential schools for students in kindergarten to grade 4. The documents included a note saying residential school learning should be held off, potentially until Grade 9 “when learners are more mature.” At the time, Minister LaGrange made it clear elementary students would begin to learn this history.
“This government, and the education minister, they’ve been consulting with their friends, and it’s a very faulty model for political leadership, especially on an issue like curriculum,” Dr. Dwayne Donald, an associate professor of education at the University of Alberta told Global News.
Dr. Donald believes the government can’t be afraid to start teaching the difficult truths about what happened to Indigenous children at a younger age.
“Children at that age are actually fairly sophisticated when it comes to being compassionate and empathetic and understanding,” he said.
And to ensure those lessons are fully delivered, Letendre says Indigenous voices need more time at the table.
“Bring us with you, we are the experts of our histories, our oral history, our western history.”