Education (6-12): Current Problems

Indigenous History

June 15, 2021

Canadian Race Relations Foundation Poll on Residential Schools

Thirteen years after the Government of Canada offered a formal apology to the survivors of the residential school system and families, 68 percent of Canadians polled still say they were either unaware of the severity of abuses at residential schools or completely shocked by it. A poll conducted by the Canadian Race Relations Foundation, the Assembly of First Nations and Abacus Data shows that the majority of Canadians believe governments are not doing enough to teach students about the legacy of the residential school system. “The results of the survey expose glaring gaps of knowledge and education related to Canada’s history and renew calls to re-examine questions around who should be held accountable.

  • 93 percent of Canadians are aware of the discovery of remains at the site of the Kamloops Indian Residential School, with 58 percent Canadians following the news closely.
  • This is a slight increase (seven percent) in the number of Canadians who were closely following the news on the legacy of residential schools upon the release of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report, nearly six years ago.
  • Despite 72 percent of Canadians being saddened by the news of the mass grave, only 10 percent of Canadians are very familiar with the history of the residential school system.
  • 62 percent of Canadians believe that provincial education curricula do not include nearly enough about residential schools,
  • 65 percent believe the level of education around residential schools should increase.
  • 70 percent of survey respondents say that the framing of residential schools has been downplayed in the education system.
  • The majority of Canadians are unequivocal about whom should take responsibility for the damage done by the residential school system:
    • Ninety percent of respondents believe that the federal government is liable for the damage caused by residential schools, followed by the Catholic Church (81 percent) and the RCMP (80 percent).
      Four out of five Canadians would like to see the Pope formally apologize to the survivors of residential schools. Nearly as many want the federal government to offer more funding to identify other possible mass graves at all residential school sites.

“By margins of greater than three to one, Canadians are telling us they want action on First Nations priorities,” added AFN National Chief Perry Bellegarde. “People want to see Canada accelerate progress on the 94 Calls to Action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report, invest in efforts to identify all unmarked graves at residential schools, and to stop fighting against our children and residential school survivors in court. Decisionmakers at all levels must heed these calls for action. These are some of the ways we can truly honour the lives of those who were so tragically lost.”

June 20, 2022

AB, BC, Fed. Govt., MB, NB, NL, NS, NT, NU, ON, PE, QC, SK, YT

How familiar are Canadians with the history of Indigenous residential schools?

Toronto Star: One year after more than 1,000 unmarked graves were discovered on the grounds of former residential schools — putting a global spotlight on Canada’s horrific history of assimilation and abuse of Indigenous children — Canadians are barely any more familiar with the painful legacy of the institutions, new research shows.

According to data shared with the Star, 62 per cent of Canadians say they feel very or somewhat familiar with the history of residential schools, compared to 60 per cent who said they felt the same way in early 2021.

“I’m not surprised,” says Nunavut MP Lori Idlout. “If there’s interest in Indigenous history, it has to be sought out, so I’m not surprised that the history is still not well understood by mainstream Canada.”

The numbers come from a new report on Canada’s relationship with Indigenous peoples, as part of the annual Confederation of Tomorrow survey conducted by the Environics Institute and its partners. More than 5,400 adults took part in the survey, which was first rolled out in 2019. This year’s report is the first release since the burial sites were confirmed last year.

But while the discoveries dominated political and public discussions over the past year, awareness has hardly changed, the report notes. “The education system in Canada still does not incorporate the history of First Nations, Métis and Inuit at all levels,” said Idlout, who serves as the NDP’s critic for Indigenous services, Crown-Indigenous relations and northern affairs.

It’s not for a lack of available material, Idlout told the Star. She said two landmark documents — the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s final report and the inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls — are rife with the experiences, stories and recommendations necessary to improve Canada’s understanding of its history.  “There’s already been a lot of gathering to try and educate more Canadians about what needs to happen, and a huge part of it just needs to be to ensure that (the recommendations) are being implemented,” she said.

The survey findings suggest that bridging that gap could pose a challenge. It found that over the past year:

  • the percentage of Indigenous people who felt that relations between themselves and non-Indigenous people were positive dropped from 47 per cent to 34 per cent. Similarly, those who felt their relationship with non-Indigenous people was negative climbed from 47 per cent to 60 per cent. 
  • The survey also found that in 2020, 63 per cent of Indigenous people felt all levels of government had not gone far enough to advance reconciliation, a number that rose to 71 per cent in 2022. The figure was much lower when the same question was posed to non-Indigenous people, with 44 per cent of those respondents reporting in 2022 that governments had not worked hard enough on reconciliation. 
  • Overall, the proportion of all respondents who said governments had not gone far enough increased in all parts of Canada aside from the north, where figures were already higher than in other regions. The numbers also increased across all age groups, but were more pronounced among Canadians aged 18 to 34.

Last month, Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Marc Miller said the process of fully investigating the deaths that occurred at residential schools could, according to some communities, take up to a decade. “I think most of us aren’t really prepared for what that truth, ultimately, will reveal as a country. We’re really at the tip of the iceberg in terms of discoveries,” Miller said.

Among other pledges toward advancing reconciliation, the federal government has put $78.3 million toward 70 projects involved with commemorating and investigating sites of former residential schools. The federal budget earmarked $122 million over the next three years to further support the Residential School Missing Children’s Community Support Funding program.

Two weeks ago, the government named Kimberly Murray, the former executive director of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, as its special interlocutor for missing children and unmarked graves at former residential schools. The appointment fulfilled the Liberal government’s 10-month promise to create the role, which is focused on crafting a federal legal framework to appropriately address the discoveries and investigations.

Idlout said that while Indigenous advocacy is often “ignored” by governments — and that the survey results bear out her belief — she said she has sensed “sincere empathy” from the cabinet ministers tasked with pushing reconciliation forward. 

“We do have great meetings,” she said, “but I’m at a point where I need to turn that empathy into action.”

July 10, 2021


Premier Pallister whitewashes Manitoba history

A First Nations leader is among those accusing Manitoba’s premier of offering a distorted reframing of the province’s history, omitting the displacement of Indigenous people and violence against them in what feels like “a punch in the gut.” “It’s very disheartening, very disrespectful to Indigenous people,” said Leroy Constant, the interim grand chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs. Constant is among a number of Indigenous people calling on Brian Pallister to educate himself on the history of colonization in the province, after the premier spoke publicly about the toppling of the statues of Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth on the Manitoba legislative grounds on Canada Day.

On Wednesday, Pallister admonished those involved in bringing the statues down and announced they will be restored. “The people who came here to this country, before it was a country and since, didn’t come here to destroy anything. They came here to build. They came to build better.” Brian Pallister.

That take on history doesn’t sit well with Leroy Constant, the interim grand chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs. Constant, is also the chief of York Factory First Nation in northern Manitoba. Pallister’s comments served to “minimize, romanticize and celebrate the settler colonialism that displaced First Nations from their ancient and sacred lands in the most brutal and heinous ways,” Constant said. That’s “unconscionable and a desecration to the graves of the ancestors on which the legislature is built and on which the city of Winnipeg now lies,” he said. Pallister is out of touch with reality, says Mary Jane Logan McCallum, a history professor at the University of Winnipeg and Canada Research Chair in Indigenous people, history and archives. “I think his knowledge of Manitoba history is about 50 years out of date, maybe 60 years out of date,” said the member of Munsee Delaware Nation in Ontario.

Settlers in Canada did come to build farms, businesses and churches as Pallister says, but that building came from dispossessing and destroying Indigenous peoples’ way of life, she said. In the 1870s, the numbered treaties that cover Manitoba were signed by the Crown and First Nations leaders. They allowed the Canadian government to actively pursue agriculture, settlement, transportation links and resource development in exchange for payment or other promises, the Treaty Commission of Manitoba says.

Within a few short years, though, McCallum says land was given to settlers in exchange for small, remote reserves and First Nations treaty rights were never fully realized. Then came the deluge of government and church-run programs that attempted to assimilate Indigenous people and “take the Indian out of the child.” The idea that “to build you always have to tear down” suggests “that what is being torn down doesn’t matter — it’s not relevant, it’s not meaningful,” McCallum said. “In a way, that fails to bring a really deep analysis to our country’s history and it allows us to get through with a really positive story of progress.”

October 13, 2021


Protection of Inuktuk Language Rights

Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. – NTI has filed a landmark lawsuit with the Nunavut Court of Justice in Iqaluit, asserting that the Government of Nunavut (GN), by failing to provide a public school system offering Nunavut Inuit equal opportunities to complete schooling in their own language and culture, is violating constitutionally-protected equality rights of Nunavut Inuit guaranteed under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

With the adoption of a new Education Act in 2009, Nunavut Inuit had high hopes and expectations that the GN would fulfill Inuit aspirations of a public education system that embraced the Inuktut language and produced high school graduates thoroughly fluent in the Inuktut language, equally as English or French.

But after failing to meet its political commitments as reflected in the legal obligations for the provision of fully bilingual Inuktut education in Nunavut by 2019, the GN made legislative amendments in the fall of 2020 that postponed the obligation to provide Inuit language education. The new framework of amendments drastically changed the GN’s previous priorities and obligations to provide Inuit students with an education in their own language by effectively reducing Inuktut language of instruction commitments after Grade 4 to language arts courses and permanently removing the government’s legal responsibility to build a bilingual education system up to Grade 12. Further, the GN had given itself a new, later deadline of 2039 for meeting even weaker commitments.

Education delivered in Inuktut is foundational to maintaining Inuit language and culture, and a vital component of the cultural identity, history and survival of Nunavut Inuit. As many Indigenous groups in Canada struggle to protect and revive languages within their communities, Nunavut is uniquely positioned to successfully support Inuit language before it becomes extinct.

Although 85% percent of the Nunavut population comprises of Nunavut Inuit, only 64% of Nunavut Inuit reported Inuktut use during the 2016 Canadian Census, and is further declining at an alarming rate. As a result of the GNs broken commitments and continued failures of implementing bilingual education, the use and fluency of Inuktut is under threat for future generations.

Without drastic action and corrective measures on the part of the Government of Nunavut, the erosion of the Inuit language — and the associated impact on Inuit culture and self-determination — will have dire and irreversible social consequences to Nunavut Inuit.

October 26, 2021


Revision to Ethics and Religious Culture course

The Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador – The Legault government is revising the Ethics and Religious Culture course, offered to secondary school students in the province, with the objective of giving its content a more “Quebec citizenship” focus. The project is part of the new nationalist ideology championed by Premier François Legault. The Premier’s initiative raises many concerns, including those of the Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador (AFNQL).
“What kind of message to young people can be expected by a provincial government that is determined to deny the deep roots of discrimination and racism that make it a systemic scourge? What other message can we expect from a provincial government that is determined not only to deny, but to fight in court the very existence of First Nations’ fundamental rights, including the right to self-determination, to govern themselves according to their rights, customs and traditions?
If we base ourselves on statements and actions that are taken by the Legault government on a daily basis, young Quebecers will be convinced that it is legitimate and fair to have built Quebec’s collective wealth on the backs of First Nations, by depriving them of their right to their territories and resources and
That the rights of the “Quebec nation” in terms of culture, language and heritage are superior to those of other nations who share the territory and that this national supremacy is legitimate. The AFNQL is very concerned that this initiative, with such strong nationalistic content put forward by the Legault government, will be taking us back years whereas, it could have been a step forward towards the Systemic Reconciliation that First Nations are proposing to Quebecers. There are other ways to build national pride,” says AFNQL Chief Ghislain Picard.