Province to expand Indigenous curriculum in elementary schools

Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce, announces an expanded Indigenous curriculum for elementary students, September 29, 2021. Image from Government of Ontario/YouTube.

As Canada prepares to observe a new commitment to reconciliation, the Ontario government has promised to expand an Indigenous-based curriculum in elementary schools.

Education Minister Stephen Lecce announced Wednesday afternoon in Toronto that content covering the history of Canada’s First Nations, Inuit, and Metis peoples will be included in the elementary learning plan provincewide. The ministry has set a due date of September 2023 to include the curriculum in Grades One through Three.

Lecce, wearing an orange sweatshirt that read “Every Child Matters”, said the changes are long overdue and are part of the province’s mission to teach students about the history of Canada’s Indigenous peoples, as well as the challenges and tragedies they faced.

“We believe that all students, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, are enriched by learning about the history, the culture, the perspectives, and the contributions of First Nations, Inuit, and Metis individuals and communities in Canada,” said Lecce. “It’s why [Thursday], all schools will participate, at the request of our Ministry, in an opportunity for learning on residential schools and on reconciliation.”

Students in Grades One through Three will learn about the role of the family in Indigenous communities, the connection Indigenous peoples have with the land, and the residential school system. There will also be material on residential schools, and students will learn how Indigenous culture, identity, language, and community ties were reclaimed.

The province will also invest $23.96-million in targeted support for First Nations, Inuit, and Metis students, in addition to funding already received for the current school year. As part of the language curricula, the Ministry will also support the teaching of Inuktitut as a language of instruction.

The government’s announcement is a continuation of efforts to expand the curriculum that began back in 2016 under the former Liberal government of Kathleen Wynne. The Toronto Star reported in June 2018, however, that the new Tory government was cancelling sessions designed to rewrite the curriculum. A spokesman for then-Education Minister Lisa Thompson told the paper that the cancellations were due to a cutback on extra expenses.

In the years since, the Ford government increased an Indigenous focus for the Grade-Four-to-Six social studies lesson plan, as well as in the history classes for Grades Seven, Eight, and Ten. The revisions were done in collaboration with Indigenous and education stakeholders.

The announcement has received encouraging feedback from those in Opposition. Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca praised the Ford government for reintroducing the programming.

“I am relieved to see Doug Ford restore some of the Indigenous curricula to our schools,” said Del Duca. “We all have a shared duty to advance reconciliation efforts, and the curriculum changes should not have been cancelled when Ford took office in 2018. We need to expand the curriculum further, so children learn about Indigenous culture and the historical realities of this nation.”