Aboriginal education or victim studies?

BCTF and trustees want mandatory high school course on residential schools. Will it tell the whole story? Not likely

Colonial Chief Justice Matthew Baillie Begbie holds court in Clinton during the Cariboo gold rush in 'Justice

VICTORIA – The B.C. School Trustees’ Association is calling for a mandatory high school course on the history of residential schools set up to assimilate aboriginal children into European culture.

Trustees propose a 25-hour course required for all graduating students, using interviews with residential school survivors, presentations by aboriginal leaders and discussion of current events.

This would build on aboriginal courses already in offered in B.C. schools, and a public education effort that began with Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s 2008 apology and compensation for Canada’s residential school policy.

B.C. Teachers’ Federation vice-president Glen Hansman gave a speech on the need for mandatory education to a 2012 teacher conference. He said current aboriginal culture courses are poorly attended, and went on to denounce a school system he said is still based on “colonialism” and a “settler construct” of history.

“We need to acknowledge that racism is the norm in public schools – still today,” Hansman said.

Is it really? He also claimed that the purpose and legacy of the residential schools have been “deliberately hidden” from school curriculum.

Rather than provide current evidence, Hansman recounted an old anecdote about American-style stereotyping in the form of a tomahawk-waving sports mascot, from his own high school days in Ontario in the 1990s.

But mostly he demanded social engineering in schools that must of course include more funding, more teacher professional development time and an affirmative action program to recruit more aboriginal teachers.

Do Hansman’s allegations reflect the kind of attitude that would lead to truth and reconciliation? Or are they signs of another unfortunate legacy, that of the victim studies mentality that permeates our universities?

Here’s a suggestion for this mandatory course. Students could spend a couple of hours on one of the definitive works of B.C. aboriginal history, A Stó:lo Coast Salish Historical Atlas. A long-term project of the Stól:lo Nation, the atlas has meticulously documented chapters on European contact and residential schools, and others that piece together oral histories and what few written records there are of B.C. First Nations life at the time of European contact.

A journal kept at Fort Langley from 1827 to 1830 documents some of the raids between aboriginal communities on the Fraser River and Vancouver Island, corroborating elders’ accounts. During those three years, Cowichan men attacked the Chilliwack Stó:lo community four times. In the same period, the journal records 30 incidents of inter-community violence, some reaching down to present-day Washington state.

Atlas editor Keith Thor Carlson summarized the research this way: “Viewed from the perspective of the aggressor, raids and attacks appear to have been motivated primarily by a desire to obtain quick wealth (in the form of slaves and property such as dried and smoked salmon) or to exact revenge for previous insults.”

Archaeological study of stone fortifications and weapons at fishing sites in the Fraser Canyon traces a history of inter-community violence back at least 3,000 years.

Historians characterize some of this as warfare. British colonial authorities developed a “settler construct” about these activities: they saw them as assault, robbery, abduction and murder as well as slavery.

This is the seldom-discussed backdrop for the European settlement of British Columbia, the imposition of British law and the later establishment of church-run residential schools.

None of this is to excuse the forced removal of aboriginal children from their families, the horrendous abuse and neglect or the multi-generational damage to a culture already weakened by waves of smallpox. This 1928 plan to fix what was called the “Indian problem” deserves to be understood by everyone.

But glossing over historical context and presenting a guilt trip to students would serve no one well.

Tom Fletcher is legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press. Twitter: @TomFletcherBC

Just Posted

Kelowna woman missing

RCMP are asking for assistance in locating Christine Olsen-Meissnitzer

Plane lands safely after takeoff issue

An airplane departing Kelowna International Airport had an issue with a landing gear, landed safely

KSS rocks and rolls for 37th straight year

Kelowna secondary students let loose with annual Air Bank competition

YMCA launches teen program for mental health

Starting April 5, the Kelowna Family Y will host its first run of Mind Fit

Kelowna’s Community Calendar

Check out some upcoming events, or add your own event to our community calendar

REPLAY: B.C. this week in video

In case you missed it, here’s a look at replay-worthy highlights from across the province this week

Anti-pipeline protestors block Kinder Morgan tanker near Seattle

Protest was spurred on by the 28 anti-Kinder Morgan activists arrested in Burnaby

Some surprises in new book about B.C. labour movement

“On the Line” charts history of the union movement back to the 1800s

Cancer fundraiser takes to Okanagan Lake

Penticton and Naramata joining growing fundraising event

Elke’s Garden Tips: Good time to prepare

Lake Country garden columnist talks about what to do at this time of the year

Letter: Crying fowl over goose cull witness

Kelowna letter-writer says Canada geese come with many issues

Letter: I was born in Kelowna in 1930…

Kelowna letter-writer has some ideas on how things should run nowadays

B.C. cyclist races to first win of the season in New Zealand

Casey Brown captures Enduro title by more than two minutes at Crankworx Rotorua

How to keep local news visible in your Facebook feed

Facebook has changed the news feed to emphasize personal connections. You might see less news.

Most Read