Reconciliation must begin in schools

Press release

Today, in schools across Ontario, students, staff, and school communities will be commemorating the tragic history and ongoing legacy of residential schools, which more than 150,000 First Nations, Métis, and Inuit children were forced to attend between the 1870s and 1997.

“While acknowledging the severe impact of residential schools, it is important to also draw attention to the broader history and experiences of Indigenous people in this land called Canada over the past 500-plus years, since European settlement and colonization began,” said Elaine Johnston, Chair of the Indigenous Trustees’ Council of the Ontario Public School Boards’ Association (OPSBA). “Indigenous people want this day to more than just ‘wearing orange shirts.’”

“We all have a role to play in reconciliation, and should all be seeking to educate ourselves about our shared history,” said OPSBA President Cathy Abraham.  “We must learn from our past, and strive to repair relationships that have been strained for centuries, while actively seeking to improve the lives and circumstances of Indigenous people.” 

“This day must be about more than taking a day off or even wearing an orange shirt to school or the workplace. There must be a focus on making concrete changes in our education system, and communities,” Johnston continued, “And that is why we have written a letter to Premier Ford and Ministers Lecce and Rickford, asking them to support the need for a Temporary Letter of Approval for Elders in Residence and Indigenous Language-proficient speakers to teach Indigenous Languages in classrooms across Ontario. We have also asked for a firm commitment to include Indigenous Education leaders in correcting the history books, and all curriculum, to allow for true engagement of Indigenous and non-Indigenous students, from Kindergarten to Grade 12. 

The revitalization of Indigenous languages is essential for maintaining our culture, traditional knowledge, and history. Minister Lecce’s announcement today about mandatory Indigenous learning being embedded throughout Ontario’s curriculum is a step forward toward greater reconciliation in Ontario. What we will need to see in the co-development of the curriculum is true collaboration with Indigenous leaders, at every stage of the process, to ensure our cultures and perspectives are properly reflected. The changes that we have proposed would be a demonstration that Canadians, as a society, understand the importance of maintaining Indigenous languages and culture for generations to come. There is much work to be done, but I’m hopeful the progress we’ve seen this week will become a catalyst towards an ongoing conversation that leads to real action in the years ahead.”