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Ontario Just Cancelled an Important Project To Update Indigenous Content in Schools

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Why Global Citizens Should Care 
Hundreds of thousands of Indigenous children were removed from their communities and placed in residential schools, where many were victims of emotional, physical, spiritual, and sexual abuse. Experiences of domestic violence, malnutrition, and a mistrust in education are just a few ways residential schools created a cycle of poverty that persists today within Canada’s Indigenous communities. You can take action on issues like this and more here.

Plans to update Ontario’s school curriculum with Indigenous content were cancelled by the province’s Ministry of Education last week, according to Indigenous educators.

In 2016, Ontario’s former Liberal government had announced it would update elementary and secondary school courses to include information about the legacy of residential schools.

Curriculum-writing sessions were supposed to start on Monday, but Indigenous educators and elders received notice last Friday that the sessions were no longer taking place.

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The Ministry of Education cancelled three curriculum-writing sessions, according to a statement from Ben Menka, a spokesman for Education Minister Lisa Thompson.

"In keeping with the commitment Premier Doug Ford made to run government more efficiently, all ministries will seek to carry out initiatives in the most cost-effective way possible," he said.

Ford’s Conservative government says it did not order the cancellation of the writing sessions, CBC reported.

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Menka added that the ministry will continue to work with Indigenous communities to create new materials for the updated curriculum.

"The Ministry of Education will continue to move ahead with the updated Truth and Reconciliation Commission curriculum revisions," he said.

In the 19th century, the Canadian government decided it was responsible for educating the country’s Indigenous people. They created "aggressive assimilation," which was a policy to be taught at residential schools, which were church-run, government-funded institutions.

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About 150,000 First Nation, Inuit, and Métis children were removed from their communities and placed in residential schools, where many were victims of emotional, physical, spiritual, and sexual abuse.

Canada has since called on its government to recognize, apologize, and compensate victims. Among the goals of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) was a commitment to assess the impact of residential school experiences and produce a report on the legacy of the residential school system.

The TRC released a report with 94 recommended calls to action.

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In the report, there is a section dedicated to education that outlines to need to create appropriate curriculum for all students in Canada.

The cancelled curriculum sessions included TRC curriculum revisions, American Sign Language, and Indigenous languages in kindergarten.

Teaching students about the legacy of residential schools and integrating Indigenous perspectives into the curriculum is an important step towards reconciliation. Critics argue this cancellation sends a strong negative message.

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"It doesn't even do one of the things that the government claims they're focusing on, which is to save money. They will have to eat cancellation costs for travel where it's too late to get out of those expenses," Harvey Bischof, president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation, told CBC.

Ontario’s current curriculum is outdated, and these changes offered a chance for the province to modernize and change the way children learn about Canada’s history.

"I was super excited to be part of this team because it is such a pivotal point in our history, to be able to move forward," Shy-Anne Bartlett, an Ojibway language expert who came from Nipigon to participate in the curriculum writing, told CBC. "It was my chance to be part of something that is historically relevant, not just for Ontario, but for Canada and also for our children."