By Tim Kalinowski on December 5, 2020.
The Southern Alberta Council on Public Affairs welcomed Maura Hanrahan to its weekly livestream YouTube speaker series to address the vital importance of continuing to teach about the legacy of residential schools and the impact of colonial culture on Indigenous people in the kindergarten to Grade 4 curriculum.
Hanrahan, who is half Mi’Kmaq and half-Irish, aimed her lecture at the UCP government’s controversial curriculum review which has floated the idea of stopping young children learning about this “sad history” in schools.
Hanrahan, who is co-ordinator of the Canadian Studies Program and an associate professor in the Department of Geography and Environment at the University of Lethbridge, has no doubt what underlies such a proposal from Minister of Education Adriana LaGrange and her advisers.
“Residential schooling was a tool aimed at erasing Indigenous values and identity because these posed an existential threat to Canada as a neo-liberal settler state,” she said. “The Ôobjective understanding’ LaGrange aims for is impossible. The Ôobjective understanding’ really means a default to the status quo — to the invisibility of Indigenous and colonial history, to white privilege, and to history being written by the Ôwinners.’ One of their so-called experts, Chris Champion, has called the inclusion of Indigenous perspectives in schools Ôa fad.’ Minister LaGrange’s spokespeople say this is only advice, but it is solicited advice.”
Hanrahan said it is common for young children to learn about other sad topics like slavery or the Holocaust in schools. These histories are taught in an age-appropriate way which nonetheless gives these children an understanding of the horrors victims faced.
“‘Hana’s Suitcase’ is a very sad story,” she explained by way of example, “but it is written for children by Karen Levine. And it is based on a true story. They see the photographs of Hana in the book, but it is a gentler introduction to the Holocaust, which the further you get into it you understand how absolutely horrific it was.”
There is no valid reason, said Hanrahan, that these same children could not be taught in the same type of way about the colonial injustices based in neo-liberal notions of white supremacy still faced by Indigenous peoples, and the evil legacy of residential schools in Canada.
“The earlier we can introduce children to the truth about Alberta’s history,” she said, “the sooner we can account for what has happened, and ensure it doesn’t happen again. If our children are not going to learn anything about Indigenous people that really opens the gateway for ignorance, and they are losing an opportunity to learn compassion.”
If in the end the UCP goes through with its proposal to cut the truth about Indigenous peoples’ history, culture and the ongoing injustices they face from the K-4 school curriculum, she said, it will amount to yet another broken promise in a long line by the inheritors of the colonial legacy in Alberta.
“In 2014 Alberta affirmed its commitment to Indigenous perspectives and experiences in K-12 schools at a Truth and Reconciliation event in Edmonton,” she stated. “Alberta’s promises included mandatory content for all Alberta students on residential schools, on treaties, on First Nations and Inuit experiences. Now this promise is not being taken seriously.”
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