By Jeremy Appel, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
(ANNews) – About half of Albertans say they know little about Canada’s residential schools system, while 20 per cent say they know nothing at all, according to a new national poll conducted by the Canadian Race Relations Foundation (CCRF), the Assembly of First Nations and Abacus Data, placing the Alberta government’s draft K-6 curriculum under heightened scrutiny for its lack of meaningful Indigenous content.
“The most difficult thing to watch in our communities is the continuous effects of residential schools,” Blood Tribe councillor Iitoomsaokaa’sii Diandra Bruised Head said in a statement announcing the findings.
“It’s isolating knowing that the majority of Albertans, for whatever reason, did not know of these horrible institutions. This lack of education has led to some extremely negative perceptions of First Nations people.”
The updated curriculum has come under sharp criticism from the Alberta Teachers Association and education experts for its Eurocentric perspective that forces children to learn about the fall of Rome and European artists, such as Picasso and Monet, while delaying instruction about residential schools, of which there was at least 25 in Alberta, until later grades, in addition to its reliance on outdated modes of learning.
The poll, which was conducted after the discovery of the remains of 215 children buried at the site of a Kamloops residential school, shows that while 70 per cent of Albertans were saddened by the discovery and about half were angered about it, 62 per cent were either shocked by the news or unaware of the extent of the horrors of residential schools.
While 80 per cent of southern Alberta residents believe not enough is being taught about residential schools in Alberta classrooms, just half of northwestern Albertans agree. And while almost 60 per cent of women believe the residential school system was an instrument of genocide, only half of men do.
CRRF board member and Métis activist Roy Pogorzelski says the data demonstrates the need to better equip the education system to teach Indigenous history as part of broader reconciliation efforts.
“This is a time for non-Indigenous people to act in meaningful allyship with Indigenous communities while we continue to work towards eliminating anti-Indigenous racism by breaking down racist systems and institutions that have been maintained in this country for generations,” Pogorzelski said.
Assembly of First Nations regional chief Marlene Poitras points out in a statement that Kenney’s handpicked curriculum advisor Chris Champion’s Dorcester Review publication has repeatedly engaged in genocide denial.
She called on the curriculum to be re-written to include education about the legacy of residential schools in kindergarten. “Alberta’s children are bright and our educators are gifted. I have no doubt they can find creative and appropriate ways to teach this content to children at all levels of learning,” said Poitras, who also called for Champion to be fired.
“It’s time for the provincial government to admit its wrongdoing in its drafting of this curriculum and in putting a racist like Chris Champion in a key drafting position. Alberta Education must take (its) social studies curriculum back to the drawing board and ensure they have scrubbed out those parts in which Champion had a hand in penning.”