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When did progress become a dirty word?

The Toronto Star by Amy Ede and Amanda Parriag 5 September 2018

While Canada embraces education as a crucial foundation for progress toward a more equitable society, the province of Ontario is taking a step back. Cancelling an opportunity to make the Ontario curriculum better equipped to teach students about reconciliation is a grave error and a great disservice to our citizens.

By this one action, progressive mandates and efforts to end systemic racism and violence against Indigenous peoples are facing failure in Ontario.

Our full disclosure here: we have a vested interest in this curriculum being resuscitated. Amy is a First Nations/settler woman and Amanda is a researcher, both with a keen focus on social justice.

Remember when schools started teaching environmentalism and children nagged their parents into recycling until it was the norm? Children were able to exercise direct pressure and further influence their families through their sense of stewardship and ethical responsibility. Education provides base knowledge on the environment, and also on our history, social and political institutions.

If we are serious about the implementation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) recommendations, we have to be serious about teaching our children about the history of Indigenous peoples in Canada. Weaving reconciliation objectives into the curriculum is a key tool to shaping a generation to value the TRC as a part of our heritage.

Individuals, communities, and organizations saw the need to enact the TRC Calls to Action before Ontario committed to revising the curriculum. For example, Mamawi Together has grown from a single school initiative into a reconciliation and education movement. And the Simcoe County District School Board has begun addressing systemic racism by bringing grassroots Indigenous voices into the classroom to lead conversations and hands-on projects honouring Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.

We know that this curriculum is needed from our own experience. Amanda spent weeks last year engaging with parents, teachers, school officials, educational liaison officers and community members across Ontario. The message was clear: there is a thirst for the right tools to expose children to both the many gifts that First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples have to share, and the history of colonization that has impacted their well-being.

Lived experience informs our opinion that this curriculum rewrite is critical. The reaction of bystanders and officials made Amy’s Centretown Ottawa sexual assault particularly alarming. As she pushed her attacker away, yelling for help, both the man who had grabbed her crotch and a well-dressed settler man across the street just laughed.

She raced over to two police officers to ask for help. They informed her that, as RCMP, this was not their responsibility, but that they could dial 911 for her. She reported the crime to two settler women officers from Kanata, who expressed well-meaning but patronizing concern as to why she was not more upset. For Amy, as a First Nations woman living downtown, this harassment is her daily life.

Amy has been reminded, again, that as a First Nations woman in a country whose rates of violence against Indigenous women are astounding, her safety and value are substandard. Indigenous women are reported to experience a rate of violence 3.5 times higher than non-Indigenous women.

That an able-bodied, socio-economically empowered, Indigenous woman still experiences high rates of sexualized violence suggests that further marginalized people are at a greater risk of experiencing violence and that reported rates are unfathomably low. Ninety-nine per cent seems about right.

Amy compares her experience to that of the many people who do not have the privilege of education around their human rights or a supportive community. A lack of education around race and Canada’s history, and other intersecting factors, push those at the greatest risk further towards the edge.

This month, Ontario is sending its children to classes with backpacks full of pencils and pens, but without tools to unpack the complexity of our shared lives during a time of reconciliation.

We are not shaping the next generation to empower change or grow up safe and secure. Nor are we equipping them with the critical tools to challenge systemic biases. What kind of bottom line do Ontarians need to see to agree that progress is for everyone? Asking for a friend.

Dr. Amanda Parriag owns ParriagGroup and volunteers as president of Media Action.