Teachers have to un­tan­gle com­pli­cated his­to­ries. Stu­dents, es­pe­cially In­dige­nous stu­dents, must con­tend with them.


Madyson Arscott is de­ter­mined to de­col­o­nize the pub­lic school sys­tem.

Like many, though not all school sys­tems, Arscott’s Toronto school has some­what taken up the calls to ac­tion of the Truth and Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion Com­mis­sion, in­clud­ing land ac­knowl­edge­ments at the be­gin­ning of the school day.

But sit­ting in his­tory class last week, she heard some­thing that in­fu­ri­ated her.

“The teacher said John A. Mac­don­ald started them, which I had never known be­fore,” said the Grade 10 stu­dent, who is Ojibwe.

Just up the street from Arscott’s school sits Sir John A. Mac­don­ald Col­le­giate In­sti­tute, one of 13 pub­lic schools named af­ter Canada’s irst prime min­is­ter.

For her, rec­on­cil­i­a­tion now in­cludes chang­ing the name of schools that bear his name. So she set up a pe­ti­tion on Change.org to ask her school board in Toronto to con­sider decolonizing, in­clud­ing re­mov­ing the name and gen­er­ally mov­ing away from the colo­nial­ist struc­tures that un­der­pin the ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem.

“Aim­ing at the TDSB was just a small step for me,” she said. “I would re­ally like the schools named af­ter Sir John A. Mac­don­ald to be named into some­thing else or to hon­our an In­dige­nous per­son. That’s a start to rec­on­cil­i­a­tion.”

“He caused a lot of pain and he causes a lot of pain to this day. We shouldn’t be idol­iz­ing him.”

Arscott’s right­eous anger is sup­ported by the Ele­men­tary Teachers’ Fed­er­a­tion of On­tario which passed a mo­tion in Au­gust ask­ing On­tario school boards to do the same thing Arscott wants: re­move Mac­don­ald’s name from any of their schools. The usual sus­pects were outraged that teachers might have some thoughts on his­tory. We can’t erase his­to­ries that we don’t like, they claimed. Then the politi­cians weighed in ren­der­ing the con­ver­sa­tion largely in­de­ci­pher­able.

The voice of teachers and stu­dents got lost in the sum­mer drama.

Teachers have to un­tan­gle com­pli­cated his­to­ries. Stu­dents, in­clud­ing and es­pe­cially In­dige­nous stu­dents like Madyson, are left to con­tend with learn­ing those his­to­ries.

Al­ready, there is a gen­er­a­tion with an in­com­plete ver­sion.

Saskatchewan ed­u­ca­tion min­is­ter Bron­wyn Eyre re­cently com­plained that her son was taught that Euro­pean set­tlers, her an­ces­tors, were pil­lagers and colo­nial­ists.

That’s not what hap­pened in his class. CBC News found the les­son in ques­tion “out­lined the ‘tra­di­tional per­cep­tion of land’ by First Na­tions and Western Euro­pean peo­ples.” (Eyre apol­o­gized for dis­cussing her son’s home­work in pub­lic, which misses the point en­tirely al­though I’m sure he ap­pre­ci­ates it.)

An ed­u­ca­tion min­is­ter who mis­char­ac­ter­izes ed­u­ca­tion is a re lec­tion of an ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem that still re lects the prej­u­dices of his­tory, and is marked by colo­nial­ism and white supremacy.

For Madyson, that means decolonizing the ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem is big­ger then just her: “It would feel kind of re­as­sur­ing. Not just In­dige­nous his­to­ries; schools should ac­knowl­edge LGBTQ his­to­ries, Black his­to­ries – not just some­thing that you learn for a cou­ple days.”

She con­tin­ues, “It would feel like a safe place.”

Vicky Mochama is Metro’s na­tional colum­nist. She ap­pears every Mon­day, Wed­nes­day and Thurs­day.


Grade 10 stu­dent Madyson Arscott.

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