Prince George School District apologizes for insensitive school assignment on impacts of colonization

·3 min read
SD57 apology for homework asking students to list 'positive' impact of colonies on Indigenous people comes just days after school board resignations over racism. (Andrew Kurjata / CBC - image credit)
SD57 apology for homework asking students to list 'positive' impact of colonies on Indigenous people comes just days after school board resignations over racism. (Andrew Kurjata / CBC - image credit)

Prince George School District 57 is apologizing for a school assignment that told students to list the 'positive' impacts of colonies on Indigenous people.

"We are deeply sorry for any harm that this has caused to the students, parents, families and the Indigenous communities," said Kap Manhas, school district assistant superintendent in a statement.

"This assignment is not a reflection of our teachers or our commitment to truth and reconciliation. We are working through a restorative process with the parents, the teacher, the principal and our resource staff to apply safeguards to ensure this does not happen again."

On Tuesday, CBC News reported on student and parent outrage over a worksheet distributed in a Grade 9 social studies class at Prince George Secondary School during the first week of classes.

It instructed students to list both the "positive" and "negative" impacts of Europeans establishing colonies in the Americas, including Canada.

"I was appalled," Lheidli T'enneh Chief Dolleen Logan said at a news conference Wednesday morning.

"Why would somebody put that out there? .. There is no positive. No positive at all. We're trying to stop racism and this is just feeding it."

Logan said she still hasn't spoken to the school district about what comes next, but she wants to see action come soon.

SD57 defends curriculum, blames implementation

The school district said the intent of the assignment was to spark a conversation about the negative impacts and enduring effects of colonization, and insists there is no issue with the wider school curriculum.

"This is not an issue with the curriculum. This is an issue with the resources and activities chosen to teach that curriculum," said Cindy Heitman, School District 57 acting superintendent.

"I also realize that saying 'we're sorry' isn't enough. We need to put action behind those words," she said.

Heitman says a five-year strategic plan is being implemented to address criticisms of racism.

The plan includes a review of educational resources to make sure they are culturally sensitive, staff development, and building stronger ties with Indigenous leadership and elders.

District still reeling from resignations over racism

Earlier this week, the Prince George School Board chair and vice-chair resigned in the wake of a special advisors report into systemic Indigenous racism.

"I can no longer be part of the Board of Education or a system that this report has shown to be racist, a culture of fear, and broken," former board chair Trent Derrick wrote in a resignation letter provided to local media.

"As a First Nations Leader, I can say that my voice was not meant to be at the table."

In February, B.C. Minister of Education Jennifer Whiteside ordered an investigation into governance practices in SD57 and appointed two special advisors to the board.

The report, released in late August, found systemic anti-Indigenous racism and a "substantial culture of fear" within the district.

The report stated SD57 is behind other school districts in best practices, and that Indigenous students are disproportionately held back, placed in alternative programs or removed from the typical graduation path.

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