What does treaty education look like in Saskatchewan?

How some Sask. classrooms are navigating the Gerald Stanley verdict

Treaty education in Saskatchewan — brought into the spotlight by recent controversial comments by the province's education minister — is continuing to adapt and change since it was made mandatory in the province's schools a decade ago. But some say there's still room for growth.

The government's most recent guidelines were released in 2013 and included four goals for students over the course of kindergarten to Grade 12.

Students are gradually introduced to the goals in each year and subject of their schooling. Those goals include developing knowledge of treaty relationships, the spirit and intent of treaties, historical context, and treaty promises and provisions.

"I didn't have that teaching when I was in school. It wasn't until university that I started to get the treaty teachings that I had," said Darryl Isbister, co-ordinator of First Nation, Inuit and Mé​tis education for Saskatoon Public Schools.

Isbister, who is Métis, works closely with teachers and students in his job. He said much has changed in terms of treaty education, but it's still a constant journey to make sure the training is there.

"It's a challenge but we're certainly up for the challenge," he said.

He said in Saskatoon, teachers can volunteer for additional training to become "treaty catalyst teachers." They then bring what they've learned back to other teachers at their schools to incorporate in the classroom.

In 2011 the division had 13 of those teachers. This year they've reached 140.

"Within six years we've started to grow that momentum, so we need to continue that," said Isbister.

Students also get hands-on learning. In middle grades they do a simulation to explore what it's like to negotiate a treaty.

'We have a mandate, but we make no time'

Michael Cappello teaches educators-in-training at the University of Regina's faculty of education, and sees part of his job as helping them want to teach treaty education.

"The nuts and bolts of what it looks like grade to grade … on one level it's not as important as that heart, that desire," he said.

Cappello said when it comes to what that education looks like in the classroom, it's completely left up to teachers and schools to make time for the material, which can be a challenge.

"We have a mandate, but we make no time for it unless teachers or schools decide to make time for it."

'More could be done'

Conversation around treaty education in schools recently has focused on comments made by Minister of Education Bronwyn Eyre during a Nov. 1 speech in the legislative assembly.

Eyre took issue with one of her son's history lessons, saying it denigrated his European ancestors.

She later apologized and reaffirmed her commitment to treaty education.

Balfour Collegiate Grade 12 student Taye Starr-Bellegarde gave a speech of her own last week to the Saskatchewan School Boards about treaty education.

She said it's improving, but still needs work.

"I think reconciliation to me means working together to move forward and moving on from the past, but not forgetting it and still acknowledging it," said Starr-Bellegarde, who is from the Star Blanket First Nation.

She said it's good to be learning Cree in school — knowledge she then brings home to her 16-month-old daughter.

But she said it was only recently she discovered what advantages a passionate teacher could bring to treaty education.

"Now I finally have a Native studies teacher that is actually First Nations and actually takes the time to explain it more," she said.

"She's taking the time to teach things and exploring both sides and views, I guess, and I think more teachers should be like that."

Continuing renewal

Isbister said some of the standard curriculum for social sciences in the province is in the midst of being updated. He said when that is complete, high school education will also have renewed guidelines.

"We're all on this journey together and if we all lift this work together, it's going to make it easier for everybody," said Isbister.

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