By Jake Cardinal, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
(ANNews) – On March 4, 2022 the government of B.C. announced that all secondary students in the province will be required to take Indigenous-focused classes in order to graduate. The change was made in collaboration with the First Nations Education Steering Committee.
The change was done in response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s recommendation to make residential schools, treaties and Indigenous history curriculum mandatory for K-12 students. It also reflects the the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which describes how Indigenous peoples have the right to the dignity and diversity of their cultures, traditions, histories and aspirations, which should be appropriately reflected in education and public information.
B.C. is the first province or jurisdiction in Canada to have Indigenous coursework as a graduation requirement.
“The curriculum is there and we have a number of the courses already there,” BC Education Minister Jennifer Whiteside said. “It’s really a matter of bringing more structure and more intentionality to ensuring that all students have access to these courses.”
“This will help us to understand the truths of our shared history, while also building knowledge so all students feel a sense of responsibility for our collective future.”
According to the education ministry, over ninety percent of high school students in B.C. graduate with more than the required amount of credits, however fewer than five percent have taken an Indigenous-focused course.
The change has been met with great positivity from the Indigenous population in the province.
Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, President of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs (UBCIC), said of the government’s decision, “This … represents an opportunity to drive a desperately needed anti-racism and reconciliation strategy to counter the systemic and inter-personal racism Indigenous peoples face.
“We know that too often the public education system has misrepresented or omitted First Nations within the provincial curriculum. Furthermore, too many Indigenous students have faced the racism of low expectations in the public education system.”
Regional Chief Terry Teegee, BC Assembly of First Nations, also spoke positively about the decision, “Students will graduate with a more robust understanding of the histories and perspectives of BC First Nations.
“The graduation requirement will be an important learning tool for all students and all British Columbians. It is an important step toward improving BC’s education system in the spirit of recognition and respect.”
The ministry has noted that they are currently working out a plan on how the implementation will take place and has invited parents and students to provide feedback in an online public engagement survey. In addition to public input, the ministry is expected to consult with Indigenous communities and the education sector for further feedback.
The new graduation requirement will take effect in the 2023 -2024 school year, as the province believes that it is unfair to ask a grade 11 student who already has their next few years planned to take said courses.