This week, as students at the University of Alberta Faculty of Law return to classes after Reading Break, The Dominion explores education in Canada. Today we make the case for strengthening Indigenous culture and history in Canadian school curricula and is in support of Calls to Action 7 to 16 of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.
By excluding Indigenous culture and experience from school curricula we minimize the experiences of First Nations people. This makes it more difficult to break the “ripple effects” of our colonial past. Last semester we wrote about Canada’s coercive assimilation policy under the Indian Act and the cultural genocide of residential schools. As many Canadians celebrate 150 years of the “birth” of their nation, they must be mindful of the original communities that colonists displaced. The effects of residential school abuse and forced adoption trauma remain with many survivors today and continue to impact subsequent generations.
Over the last 150 years, Canada created a hostile living environment for many First Nations people. Therefore, some Canadians note that the word “celebrate” does a disservice to people whose lives were impaired under the Indian Act. Stephen Paquette is co-chair of Ontario’s Halton District School Board’s Indigenous Education Advisory Council. Paquette suggested to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne that we replace the word “celebrating” with “acknowledging.”
Section 93 of the Constitution Act, 1867 gives provincial legislatures the jurisdiction to manage education. The federal government has jurisdiction over education that occurs on federal First Nations reserves. Unfortunately, federal per-student funding for First Nations students is less than the average provincial per-student funding for off-reserve education.
In her article on transforming education in First Nations communities, Jessica Ball notes that incorporating into education Indigenous knowledge alongside Eurowestern theory, research, and practice can improve the education and employment positions of First Nations children. Compared to the overall population, the First Nations population is young: 40% are under age 20. This suggests that First Nations communities have a wealth of young minds to offer society.
Considering the recent history of residential schools and forced adoption, all Canadians can benefit from an inclusion of Indigenous knowledge. For Canada150, we can celebrate the Canada of which we are proud. But we can’t ignore the sacrifices that many families endured at the hands of colonial education systems. By “acknowledging” instead of “celebrating”, it forces us to recognize that our colonial government 150 years ago made some mistakes by attempting to manage the Indigenous population. Click here for ways that you can engage in reconciliation.
 Robert Laboucane, “Canada’s Aboriginal Education Crisis” (2010) 28:7 Windspeaker, online: The Aboriginal Multi-Media Society < http://www.ammsa.com/publications/windspeaker/canada%E2%80%99s-aboriginal-education-crisis-column>.
 Doreen Nicoll, “Canada 150: What’s for Indigenous People to ‘Celebrate,” exactly?” Now Toronto (22 February 2017), online: NOW Communications Inc <https://nowtoronto.com/news/canada-150-what-s-to-celebrate-for-indigenous-people/>.
 RSC, 1984, c I-5.
 30 & 31 Victoria, c 3 (UK).
 Ibid, s 91(24).
 Laboucane, supra note 1 ; Don Drummond & Ellen Kachuck Rosenbluth, “The Debate on First Nations Education Funding: Mind the Gap” (2013) School of Policy Studies, Queen’s University, Working Paper No 49, online: https://qspace.library.queensu.ca/bitstream/handle/1974/14846/Drummond_et_al_2013_Debate_on_First_Nations.pdf;jsessionid=47F565DE66243A277E4D98969FAAE902?sequence=1>. But see Ravina Bains, Myths and Realities of First Nations Education (2014) Fraser Institute Centre for Aboriginal Policy Studies, online: Fraser Institute https://www.fraserinstitute.org/sites/default/files/myths-and-realities-of-first-nations-education.pdf> (“elementary and secondary students on reserve receive on average the same amount as other Canadian students, an in some cases more”).
 Jessica Ball, “As if Indigenous Knowledge and Communities Mattered: Transformative Education in First Nations Communities in Canada,” 28:3 The American Indian Quarterly 454, online: <https://doi.org/10.1353/aiq.2004.0090>.
 Ibid at 455.