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B.C. to make Indigenous-focused coursework a high school graduation requirement

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Many are calling the change long overdue. But some teachers are asking questions about what it will look like, and how they'll be supported in making the shift. Neetu Garcha reports. – Mar 5, 2022

When British Columbia’s high school class of 2024 collects their diplomas, they’ll be the first in the province to pass Indigenous-focused coursework required to graduate.

B.C.’s Ministry of Education, in partnership with the First Nations Education Steering Committee, announced the new requirement on Friday. The details still have to be hammered out through consultations starting next week.

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“I’m actually excited about it,” Kúkpi7 Judy Wilson, secretary-treasurer with the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs told Global News.

B.C. Indigenous advocates have been asking for something of this nature for a long time, Wilson said, and it marks an important step.

“The graduation requirement will serve as an important piece of a larger anti-racism and reconciliation strategy that will benefit all of us. Learning at a very early age and in the classroom, I think that’s going to be a tremendous difference.”

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While details are still unclear, the ministry said students will be able to meet it through “a variety of existing and new course options.”

Annie Ohana, the head of the Indigenous department at Surrey’s L.A. Matheson Secondary, said she is hopeful about that open-ended approach.

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“We can do it through PE, we can do it through English, social studies, art,” she said.

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Current L.A. Matheson students will already meet the requirement because of the school’s default Grade 12 class: English First People’s 12.

The initiative develops the same reading and critical analysis skills as traditional English 12, while centering on Indigenous voices. Ohana said it’s a good example of the way the new graduation requirement could be integrated.

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But she said there were still big questions to be answered about funding to ensure the courses were well executed, and to give teachers tools to do the material justice.

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“Training for settlers like myself. Absolutely we want to be a part of this, but that settler gaze — we need to be very careful about,” she said.

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“We don’t want to tokenize, we don’t want to turn this into just residential schools. That’s so important, but what about celebration? What about that expertise, that knowledge?”

Wilson said she wants the material to highlight the atrocities committed through the residential school system, while showing how Indigenous peoples were able to survive and thrive despite it.

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There are many Indigenous perspectives that can be brought to the table, she said.

“We have a lot of Indigenous knowledge … plants, waters. We could deal with the climate crisis … not such a large footprint on the land,” Wilson said.

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“There’s a lot of value and benefit we can bring to schools, education, curriculum.”

The ministry will launch online public engagement on March 7. It will consult with Indigenous communities and stakeholders through the spring.

Students who are currently in Grade 10 will be the first to have the requirement, starting in the fall of 2023.

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