The Northwest Territories is taking the lead in educating its students about Indian residential schools. N.W.T. Deputy Premier Jackson Lafferty accepted the historical report They Came for the Children from Truth and Reconciliation Commissioner Marie Wilson and pledged to use it as part of the school curriculum.
“We are proud to be a partner on this very important initiative that’s before us,” said Lafferty on Feb. 24. He also holds the portfolio for education, culture and employment. The N.W.T. committed to taking the lead in educating its students on residential schools when the TRC hosted the second national event in Inuvik last summer.
Lafferty announced that a small pilot project would be delivered this spring to educate students about Indian residential schools and their impact. A long-term program, as a collaborative effort between the departments of education and justice, will be rolled out in the coming years.
“In the Northwest Territories many Aboriginal people attended residential school, including myself. I was one of the lucky ones who retained my language …. During this time our language and culture were denied us …. Residential school has left us, and left many former students, struggling…,” said Lafferty.
N.W.T. and Nunavut will be collaborating in this educational effort. Wilson said the two northern territories “were now branching out” to talk to education departments in the northern and western parts of the country.
TRC Chair, Justice Murray Sinclair, said the historical document needed to be adapted by curriculum developers for age-appropriate lesson plans.
“We’re giving this to educators across the country and saying figure out how to use this, make a commitment to using this information and developing materials based upon information that’s either in here or that we refer to and work with us and we’ll help you develop sources of material so that your curriculum materials can be properly founded,” he said.
This direction is among the three education-specific recommendations presented by the TRC in its interim report, which contained 20 recommendations over all.
“There is a need to increase public awareness and understanding of the history of residential schools. This will require comprehensive public-awareness efforts by the federal government and in-school educational efforts by provincial and territorial governments and educational institutions,” said the report.
The recommendations state that the provincial and territorial governments need to work with the commission to meet these goals.
Wilson said it was clear as the commission traveled the country that many Canadians, both non-Aboriginal and Aboriginal, were not aware of residential schools and their multi-generational effect.
“Our goal … is that there would come a day, sooner rather than later, in Canada where no child will be able to go through a school system in Canada without knowing this important part of our country’s history. This is not Aboriginal history. This is Canadian history,” she said.
Wilson said the challenge to educate was clear.
Sinclair agreed. “There is a significant level of ignorance out there. I’m not using ignorance in a pejorative sense. I’m using it in a sense of a lack of knowledge exists within the Canadian population, many of whom simply do not know what went on in the schools and a significant number who aren’t even aware there were residential schools in Canada.”
Sinclair stated that education was needed before a meaningful discussion could take place about reconciliation.
“If we’re going to have a discussion around reconciliation during the term of this commission then we have to ensure we have an educated public that can contribute to it and participate in a discussion around reconciliation,” he said.