ED­I­TO­RIAL

The McGill Daily - - Contents -

Last week, a book that in­cluded slurs against Black and In­dige­nous peo­ple was used to teach a grade nine hu­man­i­ties class in Van­cou­ver. The book, Su­sanna Moodie: Rough­ing it in the Bush, was taught along­side a class­room ac­tiv­ity that asked chil­dren to match the “po­lit­i­cally in­cor­rect” slurs with the “ap­pro­pri­ate def­i­ni­tions,” in or­der to re­flect the “racial, eth­nic, and so­cial prej­u­dices of the time.” While the in­ten­tion of the les­son was to con­demn this lan­guage while giv­ing it his­tor­i­cal con­text, it failed to con­sider the con­se­quences of ex­pos­ing Black and In­dige­nous stu­dents in the class­room to such deroga­tory and po­ten­tially harm­ful con­tent. Fram­ing such de­grad­ing lan­guage as sim­ply “po­lit­i­cally in­cor­rect” not only un­der­mines the grav­ity of the is­sue, but also re­futes the ex­is­tence of Cana­dian set­tler- colo­nial­ism and anti-black racism as on­go­ing in­jus­tices.

This failed at­tempt to prop­erly ad­dress Black and In­dige­nous his­to­ries should not be re­garded as one teacher’s per­sonal fail­ure, but as a sys­temic prob­lem. Al­though Canada is nom­i­nally com­mit­ted to in­clud­ing more Black and In­dige­nous his­tory in pub­lic school cur­ricu­lums, prov­inces are not legally obliged to do so, and thus there is no stan­dard­ized way to teach this ma­te­rial. In 2015, only two prov­inces of­fered manda­tory train­ing for ed­u­ca­tors to im­prove aware­ness on In­dige­nous cul­tures, while five prov­inces do not even of­fer In­dige­nous his­tory as op­tional ma­te­rial. Mean­while, mul­ti­ple stud­ies have con­firmed that anti-black­ness is preva­lent at all lev­els of ed­u­ca­tion in Canada. In a 2009 re­port by the Que­bec Board of Black Ed­u­ca­tors, many Black stu­dents and ed­u­ca­tors em­pha­sized the per­sonal value of see­ing fair rep­re­sen­ta­tion of Black his­to­ries and cul­tures in the cur­ricu­lum, de­scrib­ing the ex­pe­ri­ence as a “restora­tion of in­di­vid­ual dig­nity and pride.”

To ad­dress these prob­lems, the fed­eral gov­ern­ment must pro­vide re­sources for Black and In­dige­nous peo­ples to be able to ed­u­cate chil­dren and young peo­ple for them­selves, in­stead of ex­pect­ing in­di­vid­ual teach­ers to fa­cil­i­tate ed­u­ca­tional re­forms. This can be done, for in­stance, by pro­vid­ing more fund­ing to In­dige­nous schools and pro­grams, which are cur­rently ne­glected by fed­eral fund­ing mod­els. The Trudeau gov­ern­ment is back­logged on their prom­ise to spend $2.6 bil­lion on In­dige­nous pri­mary and sec­ondary ed­u­ca­tion, and gov­ern­ment-funded re­serve schools re­ceive 25-30 per cent less fund­ing than provin­cially run, non-re­serve schools. While the Cana­dian gov­ern­ment has promised no fund­ing to ini­tia­tives specif­i­cally di­rected at Black ed­u­ca­tors, pro­vin­cial and school- dis­trict level ef­forts have been made to in­crease rep­re­sen­ta­tion and pro­vide more em­ploy­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties to Black ed­u­ca­tors. In On­tario, where only 10 per cent of teach­ers are racial­ized de­spite a ris­ing racial­ized pop­u­la­tion, many are call­ing for work­place anti- dis­crim­i­na­tion and ha­rass­ment poli­cies that tar­get racial bi­ases in em­ploy­ment. Ad­di­tion­ally, the last Que­bec re­port on the is­sue out­lined sim­i­lar rec­om­men­da­tions for more pos­i­tive images and role mod­el­ing of Black peo­ple in ed­u­ca­tion.

Mcgill stu­dents must in­ter­ro­gate the ways in which Black and In­dige­nous his­to­ries are taught through­out the ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem, in­clud­ing in the Mcgill con­text. We should aim to talk to our pro­fes­sors and de­part­ment heads, and ad­vo­cate for an em­pha­sis on Black and In­dige­nous nar­ra­tives and more eq­ui­table hir­ing prac­tices. Stu­dents should re­fer to the Truth and Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion Com­mis­sion’s 94 calls to ac­tion, and the On­tario Al­liance of Black School Ed­u­ca­tors’ “The Voices of On­tario Black Ed­u­ca­tors” re­port, as start­ing points in hold­ing the gov­ern­ment and ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tions ac­count­able for their prom­ises.

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