Fortunately it still surprises me when an educated human makes blatantly colonial and racially thoughtless public statements.  This was the case with Bronwyn Eyre’s comments about Saskatchewan education as shared in the House last week.  The fact that they were a reaction to the perceived “oppression” or denigration (my words not hers) of her sons heritage in his Social Studies classroom only serves to deepen the blow.  Part of Ms. Eyre’s displeasure seemed to originate in the “facts” as laid out in the classroom, so I thought it important that I use facts to respond.

Bronwyn Eyre has been in my classroom and is perfectly aware that Indigenous studies courses exist. 

 

In fact we had a lengthy conversation about the difference between that curriculum and the History curriculum.  While this was a few years ago, I can’t imagine that she doesn’t remember it at all.  The infusion of Indigenous knowledge in other classrooms is actually minimal in my experience, even in classrooms where Indigenous students make up the majority.  While a few of the secondary curricula have been renewed within the last 5-8 years, this is not the case with several Saskatchewan courses, and so Indigenous content has not yet been included in the actual course material.  Furthermore, while it is a provincial mandate that Saskatchewan teachers “infuse” Indigenous ways of knowing into their delivery, most teachers are very early in their efforts to do so.

Indigenous students have been chronically under served by education in this province.

I am not interested in how well we are doing in comparison to other provinces.  While I will not bore you with statistics, it is publicly understood that the graduation rates of our Indigenous students is MUCH lower than that of our non-Indigenous students.  In other words all other groups are being better served by our provincial public educational institutions than Indigenous students.

The Ministry of Education states publicly that it is committed to the success and well-being of ALL Saskatchewan learners and the enhancement of literacy for ALL Saskatchewan people.

As a government office, the ministry must consider the context of education as well as the “audience” for it.  Saskatchewan was first home to several Indigenous Nations and was made possible through the negotiation of treaties.  This seems like a great place to start all learning.  Furthermore as of 2011 16% of Saskatchewan residents are Indigenous and that number grows every year.  As a matter of fact, the Government of Saskatchewan states that it is working in partnership with First Nations and Métis people and organizations toward improved education outcomes for First Nations and Métis students.  If this is the case, how will they continue to do so in light of Ms. Eyre’s obvious distaste for the process.

Racial stereotypes are automatic and exaggerated mental pictures that we hold about all members of a particular racial group.

Education is the first and best way to battle racism and stereotypes.  Learning about Indigenous ways of knowing and understanding the world is a necessary step for non-Indigenous people towards creating an ethical shared space within which our children can grow and thrive as one community.  Arguably, it is the blatant “othering” of Indigenous peoples in our province that has led us to where we are now, and only education can move us forward.

Finally, and this is an opinion of my own and not a verifiable fact. Bronwyn Eyre’s statement was a blatantly unethical mismanagement of her role in government.  It is her responsibility as a public figure to address concerns with her son’s classroom directly with the classroom teacher or the administrator, not attempt to publicly shame the teacher for actions that may or may not have been taken out of context.  As a human I understand the difficulty in stepping outside my own worldview, but for educators (and politicians) this is required.  We owe all teachers who take on this challenge a debt of gratitude, and all those who don’t -our patience.

Shame on you Bronwyn Eyre, for your actions and positions on Saskatchewan education.

And shame on me for expecting better of you.