After the confirmation of remains at the residential school site in Kamloops became public, Premier John Horgan acknowledged that he hadn’t learned of residential schools during his public school education or two post-secondary history degrees.
Both of his degrees were earned in the 1980s, before the last residential school in Canada closed in 1996. It wasn’t until a residential school survivor spoke publicly in a gymnasium that Horgan heard about what many people have known all along.
Since that time, there’s been a huge evolution in what is taught in schools, SD46 district principal of Indigenous education, Kerry Mahlman, told me in an interview.
“With the premier’s statement, it might be true of someone his age, but I’d like to think it’s really different now,” she said.
On the Sunshine Coast, the school district follows the BC Ministry of Education’s curriculum from kindergarten to Grade 12, which includes information about residential schools throughout the curriculum and is supported by the First Nations Education Steering Committee. Mahlman said she’s grateful to the shíshálh Nation and Skwxwú7mesh Nation for their involvement as education partners with the school district.
Around 40 Indigenous volunteers give their time, share their knowledge and personal experiences with students and staff of SD46. Hearing personal stories is an ideal way to learn, Mahlman said, acknowledging that not everyone is ready or able to tell their story.
“This is not something that can be taught about in one day. This topic of Canada’s treatment of Indigenous peoples is something that has been ongoing and needs to continue to be ongoing,” Mahlman said. “It brings more and more detail and truth to students as they mature, but needs to be done in an informed way and gently, respectfully over time, and taking the lead of First Nations, Inuit and Métis people at every step.”
This is important work, and shows that there’s much more to learn and, for some, to unlearn. Education should not stop once a student graduates. More information will always come forward, and inevitably our understanding must evolve to include it.
If you find yourself without the information you need to understand, the Truth and Reconciliation report can be found at www.trc.ca, and more resources are available at the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation’s www.nctr.ca.
Keep learning. Keep listening.