Actions and Commitments

Call to Action # 62: Education for Reconciliation (62-65)

Indigenous course requirement now in place for B.C. high school students

September 13, 2023

School districts say they are still working with First Nations to develop regionally specific courses

Three graduates, in gowns and caps, are seen from behind.
As of this school year, British Columbians will not be able to graduate high school without taking a course with an Indigenous focus. (Shutterstock)

First Peoples law Report: CBC News: Grade 12 students in British Columbia this school year are the first required to take an Indigenous-focused course in order to graduate.  The Indigenous-focused grad requirement, announced last year, was developed by the Ministry of Education and the First Nations Education Steering Committee. 

In a statement sent to CBC News, the Ministry of Education and Child Care said the requirement is “intended to build further awareness and understanding of First Peoples’ perspectives, cultures, and histories among all B.C. students and serve as an important step toward reconciliation.”

The requirement fulfils one step in the province’s Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act Action Plan

For most students, it means taking a course similar to English or Social Studies, but with a focus on Indigenous readings, teachings, culture and history. Courses like English First Peoples 12, and Contemporary Indigenous Studies 12, have been on the provincial curriculum for years, but were optional.

Now students must take one in order to graduate, or another provincially-approved course their school offers. There are 10 provincially-developed courses schools can use, as well as courses teaching 20 different First Nations languages.

Local course development underway

School districts also have the option of developing their own courses, based on local knowledge, but they must be developed with, and approved by, one or more local First Nations. 

So far only four districts have ministry-approved, locally developed courses. That’s partly because it takes time to develop curriculum, especially when it’s in partnership with groups outside the school system. 

But Jo Chrona said it is key. 

Photo shows a smiling First Nations woman
Jo Chrona is an Indigenous education consultant who helped develop the new requirement. (Jean Paetkau/CBC)

She is an Indigenous education consultant who works with both First Nations and the province, and helped to create the graduation requirement.  “Yes, it will require more time because collaboration requires more time. But what we’ll end up with are courses that respond to local First Nations’ priorities, and really robust and meaningful courses that get developed for students in specific, different traditional territories in the province.”

The Sooke School District, on southern Vancouver Island, is working with nations in its region to do that.  Deputy Superintendent Paul Block said potential new courses could cover local languages, plants, diets and culture.

A First Nations man and a woman use cedar boughs on a construction site.
Russ Chipps, Chief of Beecher Bay First Nation (Sc’ianew) and elected trustee in Sooke, and Shirley Alphonse, an elder who works with the school board’s Na’tsa’maht Indigenous Education council, bless a new school site in August 2023. (Kathryn Marlow/CBC)

Like Chrona, Block acknowledges it may take time to get the new courses figured out — but he says it’s for the best.  “I think we’ll come out with a much stronger, healthier product for our students to be learning in terms of content [and] our relationship with our nations, which is primary, will be intact and will be stronger because of it.”

In the meantime, local content is infused into the provincially-developed courses, and elders hired by the school district help by creating videos, giving workshops, and sharing teachings.