My name is Stephen Davis and I am a French immersion elementary school teacher, currently in my third year as an educator in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. This year I have the distinct pleasure of teaching a Grade 3/4 class, which is my favourite grade range to teach. My students are kind-hearted, inquisitive, and optimistic, equally enthusiastic about multiplication and Captain Underpants. Additionally, they are passionate about planets, fervent about fractions, and delirious about dodgeball. Moreover, my students are dedicated to discovering Indigenous knowledge at school and consider this learning an essential element of their education and citizenship.
Indigenous ways of life have forever been central to the history of Saskatchewan. Nevertheless, First Nations, Inuit, and Métis knowledge has only been introduced to the provincial curriculum in relatively recent years. Indeed, treaty education has only been mandatory for all grade levels in the province since 2007 (Government of Saskatchewan, 2013). It is important to note, however, that Saskatchewan was the first province to require treaty education and has since inspired several other provinces and territories to do the same. Additionally, several initiatives throughout the province contribute to the critical work of revitalizing Indigenous languages, such as the Nêhiyâwiwin Cree Language and Culture Program in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan (Saskatoon Public Schools, 2017). Today, Cree and Dene represent the third and seventh most widespread mother tongue languages throughout Saskatchewan, respectively (Government of Saskatchewan, 2011). Whereas the effects of colonialism throughout Canada, both historic and ongoing, have threatened the vitality of Indigenous languages and ways of knowing, we would like to think that some progress has been made over the years towards acknowledging the importance of Indigenous knowledge and treaty education in Saskatchewan.
Notwithstanding the important efforts being made throughout the province to support the learning of Indigenous knowledge in Saskatchewan, this important work has faced obstacles in recent weeks. Minister of Education Bronwyn Eyre stated in a speech in the provincial legislature that certain themes, including Indigenous education, have become too “infused” in the classroom, offering the following comment regarding the place of Indigenous content in the curriculum: “One thing we might discuss is, should there be a specific course on… Indigenous history, history of residential schools and treaties and so on, in a high school-level course as opposed to maybe more infusion into social studies?” (CBC News, 2017). Furthermore, the minister purported that her son’s teacher had taught that “European settlers were colonialists, pillagers of the land who knew only buying and selling and didn’t respect mother earth,” which was refuted by a parent with a child in the same class (Warick, 2017). Somehow the aforementioned remarks do not seem to embody the famous phrase in Saskatchewan often attributed to former Treaty Commissioner, the Honourable Judge David M. Arnot: “We are all treaty people.”
There have been several occasions in my career that I have been keenly aware of my limited understanding of Indigenous knowledge. I feel that there were many gaps in my own instruction of Indigenous history, and that my privilege as a white settler often precludes me from understanding First Nations, Inuit, and Métis knowledge as deeply as I would like. But I also recall the words of an Elder who visited our staff during my first year of teaching who said that the most important thing we could do as teachers was to approach treaty education with an open heart and an open mind. To me, this means that when my students ask challenging questions that I feel unprepared to answer, I must not allow my insecurities to become barriers for their learning. Rather, I must be committed to journeying alongside my students as we learn together. I believe that treaty education is too important for my students for me to offer less than my best effort.
Whereas the current political climate of Saskatchewan presents significant challenges for Indigenous education, the Minister of Education’s recent comments provide teachers the opportunity to reflect on the importance of such knowledge for learners today and the responsibility to advocate more passionately for continued First Nations, Inuit, and Métis education throughout the province. Indeed, the urgency for treaty education for all ages in Saskatchewan has never been more evident. Together, let us reaffirm our commitment to teaching Indigenous knowledge and treaty education as we strive to live out the words we have come to hold dear in Saskatchewan: “We are all treaty people.”
CBC News. (2017). Teachers’ Federation raises concerns about Sask. Education minister’s comments on Indigenous education. Retried from http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/saskatchewan/sask-education-bronwyn-eyre- under-fire-1.4392377
Government of Saskatchewan. (2011). Saskatchewan Language. Retrieved from http://www.stats.gov.sk.ca/stats/pop/2011Language.pdf
Government of Saskatchewan. (2013). Treaty Education Outcomes and Indicators. Retrieved from https://www.edonline.sk.ca/bbcswebdav/library/materials/engli sh/docs/Treaty%20Education%20Outcomes%20%26%20Indicators%20- %20Feb%2021%202013.pdf
Saskatoon Public Schools. (2017). Nêhiyâwiwin Cree Language and Culture Program. Retrieved from https://www.spsd.sk.ca/school/confederationpark/Programs Services/cree/ Pages/default.aspx
Warick, J. (2017). Minister apologizes for drawing her son into controversy over treaty education. CBC News. Retrieved from http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/saskatchewan/bronwyn-eyre-homework-speech- 1.4399728