NDP wants Eyre to apologize for ‘poor judgment’
Minister sorry she discussed her son’s homework in a public forum
Education Minister Bronwyn Eyre needs to explain herself and apologize after attempting to use her apparent misinterpretation of a single Grade 8 homework assignment as justification for changing parts of the provincial curriculum, says the Saskatchewan NDP’s education critic.
In a Nov. 1 speech to the legislative assembly, Eyre said that as “background” for a Grade 8 worksheet assignment brought home by her son, he’d copied from the classroom board “the following facts which were presented as fact: That Europeans and European settlers were colonialists, pillagers of the land who knew only buying and selling and didn’t respect Mother Earth.”
A copy of the French-language worksheet assignment and class notes obtained by the Saskatoon StarPhoenix do not use words that could be translated as “colonialists” or “pillagers.” Instead, students are asked to provide perspectives on how Indigenous and non-Indigenous people appreciate the land differently.
“I think the minister really eroded trust, has shown some really poor judgment with regard to this issue,” NDP education critic Carla Beck said Monday in a telephone interview.
In a statement on Monday, Eyre apologized for discussing her son’s homework in a public forum.
Eyre, in the statement, said that while she did not want to weigh in on another student’s interpretation of the work, she would not discuss her son “in an educational context in the future.
“Our government was the first in Canada to implement treaty education,” Eyre said in the statement. “I 100 per cent support treaty education taught in every school in Saskatchewan, and I want to build on that foundation.
“As (Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations) Chief Bobby Cameron said last week following a discussion with me: ‘We need to work together … We had a good conversation. What (Eyre) meant was maybe we need to look at different avenues or approaches to teaching treaty. Her stance is that teaching treaty has to continue.’”
A mother whose child is in the same Grade 8 class as Eyre’s son acknowledged that information can get lost in translation but said her reading of the homework assignment shows it to be fair, accurate and non-judgmental. The mother, who spoke with the Saskatoon StarPhoenix on the condition of anonymity to protect her child’s identity, said the school has done a consistently good job of presenting a complex issue in a “thoughtful” and “respectful” manner.
Eyre, the Stonebridge-Dakota MLA, has previously defended her comments, arguing that she was only suggesting the province should examine the “infusion” of Indigenous content in all subject areas rather than have a single class. Indigenous education, Eyre said last week, “is certainly broadly and extensively infused beyond treaty education, and … that’s something we should talk about.”
Infusion — which, according to the minister, means incorporating a subject into other classes already being taught rather than introducing an entirely new class — has “come to be more the norm in recent years.”
She said the province is at a bit of a crossroads in how it is “developing curriculum” and that she might want to discuss having a specific course on Indigenous history in high school “as opposed to maybe more infusion.”
Beck said Eyre should have addressed any concerns she had with her son’s teacher and the school principal, rather than “single out” the teacher in the legislative assembly in a speech aimed at changing education curriculum.
The Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations and the Saskatchewan Teachers Federation (STF) have both defended treaty education, with the latter group saying Eyre’s comments “could serve to divide communities and create unsafe space for Saskatchewan teachers and students.”
Saskatchewan’s Grade 8 social studies curriculum asks students to “analyze the relationship between the traditional Aboriginal concept of land … and the contemporary Western European notion of land through the centuries.”
STF president Patrick Maze said Monday that Eyre’s comments “didn’t help” the alreadytense relationship between his organization and the government, which has been strained by recent budget cuts. At the same time, he continued, repairing that relationship is vital.
Saskatchewan, in 2007, was the first province in Canada to mandate students learning about treaty education and a K-12 continuum for treaty education was put in place.
Beck said that while children’s interpretations of homework can vary, Eyre’s assessment of it is not reasonable, and her use of the incident as a political tool is both “disappointing and reckless.” It has damaged the minister’s credibility, she said, urging an apology from Eyre.
“I think she does have a lot to account for,” Beck said. “Trust once broken is very hard to regain.”