TDSB looks to raise Aboriginal awareness

The Toronto District School Board hopes a switch to November will raise awareness of Aboriginal Education Month.

Scarborough residents, even some students, may not be familiar with the occasion as up until now it has always taken place in June, the last month of class.

It provides a time to highlight the history, culture, achievements, and perspectives of Canada’s Aboriginals, however, now much earlier in the school year curriculum, and for good reason.

“We felt June just wasn’t suitable anymore,” says Eddy Robinson, the TDSB’s Anishnawbek Education Consultant. “With report cards on the way the marks have to go in, and most of the curriculum is wrapping up.”

“Kids are gearing up for summer, and there’s not much time to introduce new things.”

Robinson emphasized that November is the perfect month to because it’s a less hectic time, and coincides with many important dates.

“On Remembrance Day the TDSB holds an Aboriginal Veterans’ Sunrise Ceremony,” he says. “Most schools also do something for Louis Riel Day, which takes place on the 16th, and there is the Feast of the Dead in November as well.”

“It all leads up to the end of the month, on the 28th students from the TDSB can attend the annual Canadian Aboriginal Festival at the Rogers Centre.”

Robinson stressed that Aboriginals have voice in the form of history, social studies, geography, and specialized native studies and languages courses at the elementary and secondary level. However, he felt having Aboriginal Education Month in the fall would allow teacher’s to incorporate Aboriginal awareness in the classroom early, and leave more chance to follow up on information learned later on in curriculum.

Still, there are some local residents feel that more can be done.

George Heighington is a teacher at East York Collegiate with Aboriginal roots. Photo courtesy of Jordan Heighington.

George Heighington of East Scarborough has Metis roots, and is a teacher in the TDSB at East York Collegiate.

“Celebrating it in November is a good start,” he says. “The kids will get learn some important lessons in their country’s past, but I don’t know if people can ever truly understand the way we have destroyed the culture and tradition of Canada’s aboriginal peoples.”

Heighington felt students could use the influence of a guest speaker, and could benefit from assemblies or ceremonies first hand, something that is not visible where he teaches.

Robinson added that not only is it important to outline the struggles of Aboriginal history, but present issues they face today as well.

“You can’t get everything from a textbook,” says Heighington.

However, a textbook seems to be the only source of information available right now.

Maggie Vernon, is in grade nine at Woburn Collegiate, and hasn’t heard any teacher mention Aboriginal Education Month this November.

“I’m sure we will cover natives of Canada in class eventually, but I haven’t seen any Aboriginal culture or heard announcements of events or assemblies to honour them coming up.”

Vernon did not even know she had the option of attending the Aboriginal Festival, as it as not been offered as an option to her and her peers.

Robinson says he will be happy if students would attend the festival, and learn even a little this month, to become more considerate of the damaged livelihood of Aboriginals in this country.

“We must acknowledge the rights of Aboriginal peoples in Canada as the original peoples of this land,” he says.