Trustee believes that making First Nation history classes compulsory in secondary schools a mistake

RAINBOW DISTRICT—The Rainbow District School Board’s First Nation Advisory Committee put forward a motion at the board’s June 30 meeting that would make the study of First Nations history compulsory for secondary school students, which raises serious questions for Manitoulin school board trustee Larry Killens.

“I put up quite an argument about this,” Trustee Killens told The Expositor.

The agenda for the June 30 meeting came just four days before the actual date and with a motion such as this on the table, more time to gain insight from his constituents on Manitoulin was needed, Mr. Killens said.

The motion reads: “That, as a result of the Charter of Commitment to First Nation, Métis and Inuit Education adopted by the Ontario School Boards’ Association, that the Rainbow District School Board recommend that Native Studies courses be compulsory for all secondary students, given that adequate funding for resources be provided by the Ministry (of Education).”

The trustee explained that at the beginning of the school year in 2013, the board endorsed the Charter of Commitment for First Nation, Métis and Inuit Education as guided by the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

“Why are we endorsing it if we don’t do it ourselves?” Mr. Killens asked. “We’re trying hard to be inclusive, but we need a little more time,” he said of the compulsory classes.

Mr. Killens said he worries that because the board is now signed on, it can now be measured on its performance.

Currently, teachers of Grades 1 through 6 take mandatory Native awareness courses. “And I’m proud of that, especially when we’re led by a director who is advancing First Nation concerns, but the only person who can mandate (compulsory classes) is the government.”

“With only four days notice, I’m not going to recommend it without discussions with education stakeholders,” Mr. Killens said. “And because of the way the motion is worded, I feel like if I don’t support it, I could be accused of being discriminatory.”

The trustee said he worries that adding compulsory classes to secondary students’ schedules, especially for those who have a clear career path and know the courses they need to take to get into university, is not fair.

“I want to make it clear that I’m not opposed, in fact I think it’s necessary, but not to be compulsory,” he added.

Grace Fox, the chair of the First Nations Advisory Committee and fellow Island trustee, was not available for comment.