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National Aboriginal Day: OISE prof challenges the status quo

National Aboriginal Day sign

(Photo: The Hill Times)

On National Aboriginal Day, OISE professor Dr. Charles Pascal is calling attention to important issues related to Aboriginals in Canada.

Toronto Star:
In his Toronto Star op-ed, Dr. Pascal advocates for national Indigenous holiday status. Read full article.

In the blog below, Dr. Pascal argues that a new stat holiday to recognize Aboriginals should be an "accountability day" to take stock of TRC's education calls to action. See below.

New stat holiday should be an 'accountability day' to take stock of TRC’s Education Calls to Action

By Charles Pascal

The recently released Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) report provides 94 Calls to Action that challenge Canadians to deal truthfully with the past– one scarred by the residential school initiative that saw Indigenous children taken from their families to assimilate them into a Canadian “way of life”.

According to the TRC, moving forward through a process of reconciliation will rest, in large part, with reforming Canada’s education systems. Today’s National Aboriginal Day provides an apt moment to take stock of the TRC’s expectations.

As TRC chair, Senator Murray Sinclair has noted: “It is through the educational system that non-Aboriginal Canadians have been taught what they've come to learn about Aboriginal peoples, or not learned about Aboriginal peoples in this country…we believe it is through the educational system that information can be corrected.”  

So what’s the score regarding education systems in Canada and TRC progress?

Well, it’s good to see politicians like Ontario’s Premier Wynne offering both an official apology regarding the devastating effects of residential schools and a pledge to ensure Ontario’s curriculum provides a truthful rendering of this past to future students. All good, that is if the curriculum is more than a bland one-off course. Unless Indigenous elder-led with vivid experience placed on the table, I am not sure.

And what about the number of post-secondary institutions that have already stepped up to respond to the TRC with their own offerings of  “a course” for undergrads and graduate students alike? Excellent start.

But I am hoping these efforts will be evaluated in terms of impact on student attitudes and behaviours to ensure, over time, these offerings become genuine difference-makers.

While hopeful, I am also a bit skeptical. Sure, over the past number of months I keep hearing about another university or college announcing one of these new courses.

Sometime, sooner or later, it would also be good to hear about a post-secondary institution that understands that if changing the world regarding “truth and reconciliation” through education is key, then faculty, staff and administrators should also be provided a mandatory experience – courses, workshops, whatever it takes – led by Indigenous elders. If these “courses” are good for students, surely the context in which they are offered must become an enlightened culture of support and understanding.

So my skepticism derives from the simple notion that too many leaders of public, private and political organizations charged with considering the TRC’s recommendations, do not seem to know what they do not know. A noble speech here and there with the notion that “others” need serious “re-education” rather than the leadership itself, seem all too common. 

To be clear, the notion of re-educating current and future generations of non-Indigenous students about the consequences of residential schools is strongly suggested by the TRC report.

But it’s Calls to Actions regarding education, focus on a challenge to the Federal government regarding issues that deal directly with the quality of education offered to Indigenous learners from pre-school through post-secondary education.

In a political world in which government cultures are steadfastly risk averse, it will require a critical mass of support from Canada’s non-Indigenous people to lessen the courage required for our Federal and provincial governments to do the right thing.

So reforming our public education curricula is important to both to erase systemic ignorance about the past for all non-Indigenous people; and to ensure we understand how important it is for us to support governments’ responsibilities when it comes to Indigenous learners and their moral and legal rights to have equal access to high quality educational opportunities.

Today, is, indeed, a moment to respectfully observe and honour the rich traditions of Indigenous peoples. But it is also an opportunity for those of us who work and learn within our education systems, to recommit to supporting the TRC’s Calls to Action that deal directly with a better collective future through education [link here, the following—below the TRC Calls to Action 6to12].

Charles E. Pascal
Professor, OISE/University of Toronto



OISE's Indigenous Education Network (IEN)

OISE partnership with former Prime Minister Paul Martin to support Indigenous school principals

OISE responds to Truth and Reconciliation Calls To Action (with Dean Glen Jones, Prof. Suzanne Stewart & Indigenous Elders)



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