B.C. high school students will soon have to take Indigenous studies to graduate.
Secondary students in public, independent and offshore schools will be required to complete four credits of Indigenous-focused coursework.
The Ministry of Education says the new requirement — the first of its kind in Canada — will be in effect for students graduating in the 2023-2024 school year.
The ministry says it collaborated with the First Nations Education Steering Committee on the graduation requirement, and was guided by the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. It plans to consult with Indigenous communities this spring to address gaps in the K-12 curriculum.
The change is also in response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s report on the residential school system, which recommended that an age-appropriate curriculum on residential schools, treaties and Aboriginal peoples’ contributions to Canada be mandatory for kindergarten to Grade 12 students.
The ministry has launched an online survey to gather feedback on the proposed change, at engage.gov.bc.ca.
Sooke School District associate superintendent Peter Block said Monday the district is “thrilled” with the new requirement.
“We think it’s an amazing piece that helps us take one more step towards truth and reconciliation … To raise that level of awareness and have those conversations with our students in secondary school is just an amazing opportunity for them as students and their own growth. It’s also an amazing opportunity for us to address diversity and inclusion and equity in our own district, but also in Canadian society.”
The district already offers two ministry-approved courses — First Peoples’ English at the Grade 10, 11 and 12 levels and First Nations Studies 12. The school district has also been developing courses to offer Indigenous students credit for participating in language and culture programs in their own community.
“We’ve noticed over the years that a good number of our students miss weeks of school based on cultural events and cultural activities. We’re looking at ways to create credit for those activities,” said Block. “We hope to put those forward before the end of the year so they are an option for our students in the coming years.”
Social justice is important to youth, who adjust quickly to changes such as shifts in sexual orientation and gender identity, Block said.
“Where adults struggle with these concepts, our youth in secondary schools are quite OK with them and look at them as being part of normal life. It suggests a lot of the work we’re doing around truth and reconciliation is incredibly positive right now, because that’s the frame of mind they have,” said Block.
The requirement will be implemented two years from now because it would be unfair to ask a Grade 11 student who has already planned out courses over three years in preparation for post-secondary education to disturb those plans, said Block.
But B.C. is ahead of the wave, he said, adding it’s important to be aware of what Indigenous peoples have experienced for the past 75 years.
The new requirement will deepen students’ understanding of the “experiences, cultures, histories and knowledge of Indigenous Peoples,” Education Minister Jennifer Whiteside said in a statement. “This will help us to understand the truths of our shared history, while also building knowledge so all students feel a sense of responsibility for our collective future.”
First Nations Education Steering Committee president Tyrone McNeil said building awareness and understanding of First Peoples’ perspectives, cultures and histories will serve as an important step toward reconciliation and help combat racism.