Indigenous organizations criticize science curriculum changes

By Ken Kellar
Staff writer

Provincial Indigenous organizations are criticizing the Ontario government’s recent change to the Ontario school curriculum.

The Anishinabek Nation and the Kinoomaadziwin Education Body (KEB) released a joint statement saying they are “disappointed” that the Ministry of Education has removed the Indigenous Science Framework from the provincial curriculum. The segment of the curriculum served to highlight the connections between Indigenous and Western science, according to reporting from the Globe and Mail.

The move came only weeks ahead of the release of the science curriculum for the next school year, which is generally distributed in March, per the same Globe and Mail report, and marks the first change to the province’s science curriculum since 2007. The new curriculum will include lessons on subjects including coding, the skilled trades and food literacy.

The statement from the Anishinabek Nation and KEB state that they, in collaboration with Anishinabek educators, are willing to host a meeting with the Ministry of Education to stress the importance of the inclusion of this Indigenous Framework within the curriculum, highlighting its relevance to the history of the country, as well as its importance in seeking environmentally responsible ways of living.

“Connection with the land is central to Anishinabek knowledge systems,” Anishinabek Nation Grand Council Chief Reg Niganobe said in the release.

“Our ancestors are the original engineers of this place. Long before Canada flattened lands for railways and roadways, the Anishinabek traveled vast distances using the original highways of this land — waterways. They did so using an environmentally-friendly method of transportation through coexistence in the ecosystem.”

Education facilities across all levels in the province have been developing Indigenous STEM research and resources, and the statement says this decision to remove Indigenous science from the curriculum is a major step backwards for continued progress in that area.

“Advocates for Anishinabek education have long fought for the recognition of our learning systems,” says Anishinabek Nation Southeast Regional Deputy Grand Council Chief James Marsden, Education portfolio holder for the Anishinabek Nation.

“To remove this framework from the Ontario Curriculum is a regressive decision and dishonours our partnership.”

The release notes that a new agreement, called the Master Education Agreement, was signed between the Participating First Nations of the Anishinabek Education System, the KEB and the Government of Ontario in 2017. That agreement outlined a new path forward in education in the province and specified the parties involved would support collaboration in curriculum development and review processes, something the KEB says is now not being honoured.

“The Anishinabek Education System prioritizes Anishinabek culture, language, history, and knowledge in education,” says KEB Chairperson Phyllis Anderson.

“The education system has made great strides in strengthening relationships with ministry and school board partners. This decision creates barriers to the development and inclusion of reciprocal curriculum based in reconciliation.”

On the matter of reconciliation, Article 15.1 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples also states “Indigenous Peoples have the right to the dignity and diversity of their cultures, traditions, histories, and aspirations which shall be appropriately reflected in education and public information.” The release states that it is critical that the province and their Indigenous partners work together in the future, in the spirit of reconciliation to continue to build Indigenous STEM resources, as they have existed in one form of another by way of traditional Indigenous knowledge for longer than records can track.

“The fields of medicine and biology have been enriched by utilizing the teachings and minds of Indigenous traditional knowledge holders. From the first interactions with settlers and sharing of agricultural practices to biomedical research using compounds used for millennia — Anishinabek scientific knowledge is integral to building a shared knowledge base,” says M’Chigeeng Ogimaakwe Linda Debassige.

“To have the Indigenous Science Framework removed from the Ontario Curriculum is both irresponsible and disrespectful not only to our ancestors and the deep history of our First Nations people, but to all of Ontario by going against the Calls to Action by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada calling on the inclusion of Indigenous contributions as part of school curriculum. We cannot erase the truth.”