A number of statements in the May 13 Brandon Sun story “Teachers Encouraged To Embrace Treaty Education” and in the editorial “Treaty Education, E-cigarettes Key Issues For BSD” give the incorrect impression that treaty education is not part of the Manitoba school curriculum and that it is not mandatory for teachers to cover it.
The provincial social studies curriculum does, in fact, include specific learning outcomes related to treaty education at several grade levels. For example, Grade 6 learning experience 1.4 Aboriginal Peoples and the Growing Nation of Canada includes the outcome, “Give reasons for the establishment of treaties and reserves and describe their impact on individuals, families, and communities.”
The Grade 11 History of Canada course, which is a prerequisite for high school graduation in Manitoba, includes a learning experience (3.3) dealing specifically with treaties. Students investigate the essential question, “How did Canada’s relationship with First Nations, Métis, and Inuit peoples change after Confederation?”
In this learning experience, “students explore changes in First Nations and Métis life brought about by the decline of the fur trade and buffalo hunt, and the arrival of settlers in the West. They acquire knowledge of the numbered treaties and the different understandings of the treaties held by the First Nations and the Canadian government. Students also examine the Indian Act and issues related to the creation of reserves and residential schools, as well as the resultant marginalization and attempts at assimilation of First Nations.”
In a subsequent learning experience (5.3), students continue to investigate the ongoing challenges in the relationships between Canada’s aboriginal peoples and governments and society.
Since these outcomes are part of a curriculum that all Manitoba students must study, teaching them is mandatory. It is the curriculum that guides teacher instruction and student learning and teachers do not have the option of which outcomes they wish to cover and which ones to ignore.
Rather than simply omitting topics that they may not be familiar with, teachers should, with active encouragement and support from school and division administrators, seek appropriate resources and professional development opportunities so that they can engage their students in this critically important part of our history.
Bryanne McLaughlin, the teacher quoted in the Brandon Sun story, stresses that teachers must be knowledgeable in treaty education and be creative enough to integrate it into their teaching. Furthermore, she correctly states that treaty education is not an additional thing to teach, but that it could be seamlessly integrated into what teachers are already teaching.
This is true because many of the outcomes in the Treaty Education Kit, a resource mentioned in the story, are referenced directly from the provincial curriculum, thus they should be covered whether or not teachers are using the kit. The Treaty Education Kit and other learning resources made available through the Treaty Relations Commission of Manitoba are excellent resources that provide teachers with background information, cross-cultural knowledge and many creative strategies to enrich the learning experiences of their students as they cover the required curriculum.
As suggested by the Grade 11 History of Canada course subtitled “How has Canada’s history shaped the Canada of today?,” knowledge of the treaties and their immediate and longer-term impacts on both aboriginal peoples and other Canadians is critical in order for us to understand and seek solutions to the many cross-cultural issues and challenges we still struggle with today.
It is only through adequate treaty education, along with learning about other important themes in Canadian history, that education can truly achieve the goal of social studies as articulated in the curriculum front matter: “Social studies enables students to acquire the skills, knowledge, and values necessary to understand the world in which they live, to engage in active democratic citizenship, and to contribute to the betterment of society.”
Al Friesen, retired social studies teacher, curriculum writer and Manitoba education social studies curriculum consultant