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SD79 Prepared for Difficult Classroom Discussions on Residential Schools

The disturbing news from Kamloops about the bodies of Indigenous children being found in unmarked graves at a former residential school created some difficult conversations in classrooms around BC.

In the Cowichan Valley School District, the Principal of Indigenous Education at SD79, Charlie Coleman, says while the news was unexpected, they were prepared to handle the questions.

According to Coleman, “the horrific news out of Kamloops kind of woke everybody up,” but the Indigenous education team at the district had resources available that it could quickly get out to schools.

Students in the Cowichan School District have been learning the history of colonialism and Canada’s residential school system for some time.

Coleman says the Indigenous education classes create awareness and understanding of the problems First Nations faced from colonization and residential schools in Canada.

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“We also have spent a lot of time over the last number of years, increasing language, culture, histories, and ways-of-knowing throughout the district, we have our district elder, Dolly Sylvester, and we have a staff of Hul’q’umi’num language and culture advisors.”

Coleman says the topic of residential schools has only recently become a part of the curriculum and its development continues to be a work in progress.

The different learning materials they use are “age-appropriate” so that a different conversation can take place in different grades.

However, he adds it’s “not a fully developed and robust curriculum” and the district needs to do better.

Coleman says the Ministry of Education has revamped the curriculum over the last few years with “indigenous ways of knowing and indigenous content woven into every subject and every grade,” and is confident the district has done a good job of increasing visibility and awareness of Indigenous issues.

Coleman believes the overall outcome of the Indigenous education in the Cowichan Valley School District has been positive.

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