Yesterday, I wrote a post that has been seen by some as a call for moderation in condemning the words of Bronwyn Eyre, the Education Minister in Saskatchewan. I want to be clear that while I do, in my better moments, believe that it is important to be compassionate and patient with each other, I do not for a moment believe that what Minister Eyre said is anything less than a massive demonstration of her inability to do the job she’s been given.
To understand why this is, we have to actually understand a bit about the curriculum in question. Don’t worry, this will only take a few minutes. Which is why it’s so horrifying that the Minister hasn’t done it yet.
The curriculum she criticized for not representing her child’s heritage is available online. The actual content is six and a half pages long, and it’s in ordinary English. You can read it if you want.
If she had read it, she wouldn’t have said on the floor of the legislature that nobody is telling the story of her ancestors. She wouldn’t have said that because she’d have known that her child’s curriculum explicitly contains this:
a. Research reasons for diverse peoples choosing Canada as a home (e.g., economic opportunity, economic hardship or war in the country of origin, reunification of family, escape from religious or political oppression).
b. Construct a timeline of the historical immigration patterns in Western Canada.
c. Investigate the evolution of Canada’s immigration policy and assess the impact on historic and contemporary immigration patterns.
The story she feels is being silenced is *explicitly* included, as is the story of the recent immigrant kid next to him, and of course the Indigenous and Metis kids as well. That’s kind of the point.
She also lamented that it was presented as fact that “European and European settlers were colonialists, pillagers of the land who knew only buying and selling and didn’t respect mother earth.”
Is this what our kids are taught?
Fortunately, we do not have to guess what kids are taught based on parental anecdotes. Because we have a curriculum, which specifies that kids in grade eight are asked to “analyze the relationship between the traditional Aboriginal concept of land (an animate being; the source of life) and the contemporary Western European notion of land (a resource to be owned and exploited) through the centuries”.
Pretty accurate. As a Western European, I can say that’s pretty much my cultural perspective on land. It’s hard to argue that Western Europeans didn’t see land as a thing to be owned, bought and sold, because… well… they owned, bought and sold it. And, since the original people of the land did not own, buy, or sell it… There is clearly a cultural difference there. If we want to argue back that we don’t see land as a resource to be owned and exploited, we will have to stop owning and exploiting it.
She also implies that the curriculum somehow taught her kid to feel ashamed of his ancestors. Does it?
I was surprised actually, at how little "how-bad-what-they-did-was" stuff is in the curriculum. Considering—let’s be honest—how really truly bad a lot of it was. Maybe there’s more of that in other years? The grade 8 curriculum seems to focus a lot on land and lawmaking. It does stipulate that students be asked to “Investigate the provisions of the Indian Act, and its effects on people of Aboriginal ancestory”.
Since the effects were pretty awful, I could see how that could be seen as criticizing the actions of original settlers. But for the life of me I can’t imagine how a child could develop a reasonable understanding of Canadian history without researching the Indian Act and it’s effects. To make that any nicer would require jumping ship completely on the actual facts.
Now, maybe the teacher wasn’t sticking to the curriculum. There is a possibility that what Minister Eyre read on her kids’ homework sheet did include “pillage” and other more accusatory language. Teachers do, after all, take liberties from time to time. Or, maybe Minister Eyre misunderstood. In either case, the first stop for resolving that is with the teacher, and then with the principal. Not the floor of the legislature. You do not suggest sweeping changes to the curriculum (particularly such painful, loaded, and inflammatory ones) based on your kids’ homework, because there is a real chance you might have just misunderstood the situation.
Especially if the notes in question were not in your first language, which in this case they weren’t.
A student who wishes to remain anonymous also copied down that same blackboard. She sent me her notes. They read:
La perception traditionnelle de la terre des Premières Nations :
Les dimensions physiques, spirituels, mentales, et émotionnels de la vie sont valorisés
Sens de responsabilité pour la Terre.
L’identité est reflétée dans la Terre.
La Terre mère est une fournisseuse.
Un esprit en tout chose.
Une relation d’interdépendance continuel avec la Terre.
La perception traditionnelle de la terre selon la culture européenne occidentale :
La Terre fourni des ressources pour les bénéfices économiques.
La possession de la Terre est important dans la statue et la qualité de vie.
La Terre est utilisée pour répondre aux besoins et désirs des personnes.
La Terre peut être achetée, possédée et vendue.
Just in case you don’t read French, I had a friend translate it and then I had three others verify that translation. They all agree that this is an accurate translation:
Social Sciences - The Importance of land to Canadians
The traditional perception of land by First Nations peoples :
- The physical, spiritual, mental, and emotional dimensions of life are valued.
- Sense of responsibility for the land.
- One’s identity is reflected in the earth.
- Mother Earth is a provider.
- Everything has a spirit.
- A continual relationship of interdependence with the land.
The traditional perception of the earth according to Western European culture :
- The earth provides resources for economic benefit.
- Land possession is important for status and quality of life.
- Land is used to respond to the needs and desires of people.
- Land can be bought, owned, and sold.
You’d be hard pressed to argue that Western European people didn’t see land in this way. Which might make you a little uncomfortable, but maybe that’s a good thing and this language is certainly a far cry from “pillage”.
That said, I suspect French isn’t Minister Eyre’s first language, and I know what it’s like to have your brain not at it’s best when you are in Mama Bear mode. Having moments of “whaaaat are they teeeeaching my kid?” is a common parental experience. The online published curriculum exists to assist you when you are having that moment. Parent teacher conferences and school principals exist to assist you in that moment. The floor of the legislature does not exist to assist you in that moment. It is for a different purpose. Understanding that distinction is a big part of qualifying for the position of Minister of Education
But... politicians are human, and they make mistakes. Even huge ones, sometimes. If she’d issued an apology, signed up for the education that she missed when she was younger due to the unfortunate lack of an integrative We Are All Treaty People curriculum, and pledged to do better, I think I’d still consider her at least potentially qualified for the job.
But she didn’t. She doubled down insisting that she wasn’t attacking Indigenous content being taught specifically, just the way it was “infused” into the core curriculum.
Excuse me, “infused”? Really?
I would never say that multiplication has “infused” into how we teach math, because MULTIPLICATION IS MATH. Indigenous history cannot be said to have “infused” itself into history, because IT IS HISTORY. You can’t pull it out without doing any damage any more than you could teach “History” including the male perspective followed by “Women’s History” including the female one. If you teach the exact same content off to the side, you are missing the first and most important point which is to build a generation that sees all of the cultures that coexist side by side in this province as legitimate and worth making room for.
This kind of social integration is why Minister Eyre’s speech happened in the legislature, rather than in the women's-legislature-off-to-the-side-after-the-real-legislature-made-of-men.
Minister Eyre’s complete inability to understand that is what is most concerning. We’re not talking about the original knee-jerk-mama-bear speech any more. We’re talking about a week later, after several full nights of sleep and lots of time to read the curriculum and meet with the teacher and go for walks and think about it, and she’s still doubling down on that she wants to introduce the idea of correcting the “infusion” by separating out Indigenous perspectives.
And she's not talking about an abstract discussion, either. She’s now citing specific curricula currently under review and arguing for the correction of the “infusion” to be a part of those specific curriculum reviews. Like, immediately.
Which is where we have to draw the line in the sand because that’s putting something really precious in jeopardy. And it’s doing it without a basic understanding of what you’re even dismantling.
I do understand that politicians are people. That they have Mama Bear moments like everyone else. I understand that it can be easy to get defensive and reactive. I also understand that politicians are not always experts in the areas they’ve been assigned to. It’s unreasonable to expect that she know every curriculum cold in order to be qualified to be Education Minister.
It is reasonable to expect, though, that she read a curriculum before standing up in the legislature to tell everyone what it says and suggest major changes. It is reasonable to expect that she possess the emotional grounding necessary to know the difference between a parent moment requiring a meeting with the principal and a legislator moment requiring a big speech and a curriculum overhaul for the entire province. It’s reasonable to expect that she understand the practical and ideological difference between having history-of-all-the-people class and having history-of-some-of-the-people class plus Indigenous Studies. It’s reasonable to expect that she understand the damage that can be done by the “discussion” she so flippantly suggests. Which is not to say that she might not choose to still have that discussion, but if she did, she’d do her research first. She’d introduce it in a way that demonstrates respect for all of the people she represents, and for the painstaking process we are all in of rebuilding trust in this province. These are not detailed curriculum qualifications, these are basic professionalism qualifications.
Also, it is reasonable to expect some curriculum expertise. Not a ton--that's why she has experts working with her. But some. More expertise than, say, me. Because this article is the result of an afternoon at home with google and running a translation past a few friends who speak French.
She doesn't have to be perfect, but she needs to have the basic respect and humility to know when to google something. And the basic competency to understand what she reads.
"Better than some-hobby-blogger-who-googles-for-an-afternoon-and-rambles-her-thoughts" is not a high bar. The Minister of Education should be able to clear it.
Update: There has been a petition started to ask that the Minister resign her post. As of right now, it's gotten almost a thousand signatures in less than 24 hours! You can find it at here.
You can find the original article I wrote on this here, and the curriculum I am quoting here. Click on Outcomes and Indicators for the few pages of the curriculum that outline what children are learning, or on the full curriculum for the broader context.
If you're interested in helping protect this curriculum from the pending changes, join our Facebook Group here... parents and non-parents alike are welcome!