'Exponential growth' in Indigenous education has occurred across the school boards, say education leaders

·4 min read

Indigenous education leaders for both the Catholic and public school boards in Windsor-Essex are proud to say that Indigenous education has been very progressive over the last few years and the desire for more knowledge is growing.

Darlene Marshall, Indigenous education lead for the Windsor Essex Catholic District School Board, said she has seen "exponential growth" in the curriculum regarding Indigenous education.

"Indigenous education has had a life, a growth spurt; a recognition and an understanding of how important Indigenous perspectives are," she said.

On Canada's first National Truth and Reconciliation Day, Marshall said this is a time to reflect.

"This isn't a day of celebration. It's a day of understanding, a day of reckoning and a day of personal reflection to see where we are and how we have moved forward with this," Marshall said.

In terms of the education system, strides have been made through unique initiatives and more educational resources. The school board has provided more resources and access to vetted web sites in order to help staff and teachers understand the material and become more comfortable teaching it.

Each school has access to one or two volunteer Indigenous education contact teachers. These teachers provide more education to students and staff which Marshall said has been a positive experience for the students and the initiative has received positive feedback.

Most of all, during professional development sessions, Marshall has noticed a growing desire to incorporate Indigenous education and history into the curriculum from across the board.

"They used to say, how come I don't know about this? And now they're saying, how can I embed that in my curriculum? In my classroom," she said.

Jason Viau/CBC
Jason Viau/CBC

'Fear of being scooped'

It has been a very uplifting observation for Marshall who identifies as an Anishinaabe woman from Caldwell First Nation.

Marshall's grandmother was a student of the residential school system.

She said many choices throughout her upbringing were based on a consistent "threat" and "fear" of residential schools.

"I'm one of five [siblings.] When there was that threat, it was a constant fear that we as children would be scooped and be brought away to residential schools or the threat of being taken away from our homes," she said.

"It's a solemn day," said Marshall.

'Contrast is pretty amazing'

For Brieanne John, First Nations Metis and Innuit Students Support Worker for the Greater Essex County District School Board (GECDSB), truth and reconciliation is for the children.

"I think it is a good reminder that it is about children. Children of the past, children of the present and children of the future. When I think about this day and the impact it has on my own family, I get overwhelmed a little bit but I also get really hopeful," John said.

Like Marshall, John has seen tremendous growth in Indigenous education within the public school board over the last decade.

Thinking back to when she was in high school, John said the amount of Indigenous content back then compared to the information available now is very different and the "contrast is pretty amazing."

"I honestly remember the first time I ever heard the word residential school was in Grade 12 and the only reason I heard it in school is because I was in a Native Studies course," said John.

"We had never talked about true Canadian history really, but also just Indigenous topics in general. In the curriculum, it was written as if it was something of the past, so we [Indigenous Canadians] were never ever present in my learning," she said. "Now it's the total opposite."

According to John, the GECDSB provides three First Nations Metis and Innuit Students Support Workers, a teacher consultant for Indigenous education, a part-time social worker designated to Indigenous students, a graduation coach for Indigenous students and two academic teachers.

All of these educational supports are available to students from across the public school board.

"We have a massive team that we support the system with which is very, very different from when I was in high school," she said.

John said when was in high school, there was one teacher in support of Indigenous education.

Despite the strides that have been made, John said there is always room for growth.

"When you listen to Indigenous experts, the one thing they'll say is, there's no such thing as experts. If anybody were to ever feel they've reached the point they know enough, then they took a wrong turn somewhere," she said.

Support is available for anyone affected by their experience at residential schools and those who are triggered by these reports.

A national Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support for residential school survivors and others affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866-925-4419.

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