Grace Masse was left in a state of shock on Jan. 5, when she noticed that one of her 10-year-old son’s take-home math worksheets from J.R. Reid School contained racist imagery associated with Indigenous people.
Masse, who is Cree, eventually posted the offending page from this remote learning package on Facebook later that morning, showcasing a cartoonish Indigenous person with a bow and arrow chasing two figures in a covered wagon on the Prairies.
"It’s images like this ingrained into the general population that promotes fear and misunderstanding of our people," she wrote on Facebook.
When Masse chatted with the Sun on Sunday, she revealed that this math worksheet wasn’t relegated to students from J.R. Reid School, since fellow parents whose children attend other institutions within the Brandon School Division told her they received the same package as well.
In fact, according to a statement released from the division on Monday, a total of 208 students received that same learning package, which was compiled for pupils who chose not to return to in-person classes after the holiday break
To Masse, this points to a broader problem with the education system, since this image was allowed to circulate in the first place without much oversight from BSD officials.
"I realize this may be just an image to some people but it’s symptomatic of larger perpetuated negative stereotypes of Indigenous peoples, which plays a huge part in upholding systemic racism and does not tell the real history from the Indigenous perspective," she wrote in a follow-up email on Sunday.
On Jan. 5, assistant superintendent Mathew Gustafson addressed this issue in an email to parents, apologizing to those who were disturbed by this image’s presence in the division’s Grade 5-6 math materials.
"This material is unacceptable and in direct conflict with the mission and vision of Brandon School Division," he wrote in an email obtained by the Sun. "Homeschooling materials were assembled from various sources and I deeply regret that the unacceptable material was not identified and removed."
Gustafson went on to write that immediate action was taken by BSD officials to remove the offensive content from circulation and to review all homeschool packages to ensure that no other unacceptable content was contained therein.
However, Masse told the Sun this past weekend that the division’s response to the issue did not give her great comfort.
"It really opened some wounds and … it made me a bit more unsettled, wondering what else is being taught," she said.
As such, Masse said she’s in the process of filing a human rights complaint against the school division and is thinking about forming an Indigenous parents council to facilitate more positive collaboration with BSD moving forward.
But for right now, the mother of six said she’s going to remain increasingly vigilant of what the division teaches her children, just in case last week’s events repeat themselves.
"I’m only trying to live and help my children to thrive in a world that was built on my ancestors homeland," she wrote in Sunday’s email.
In a Monday email to the Sun, a BSD spokesperson reiterated that the division accepts full responsibility for the inclusion of this image in its remote learning packages.
"This error reinforces the need for our continued learning, commitment and action towards reconciliation and Indigenous education," the statement read.
» Twitter: @KyleDarbyson