Are Residential Schools Taught Enough in Ontario’s Education?

Ontario’s history is largely Indigenous, yet the provincial secondary school curriculum barely scratches the surface. The recent discovery of the unmarked graves of residential school victims makes me question the awareness of this issue in Ontario’s curriculum.

     As a current Ontario highschool student, I think that it is crucial to expand the history curriculum. The material taught in schools is vague and barely relevant today. For example, I was not aware of the treatment of Indigenous communities in Canada today, like the contaminated drinking water in Indigenous reserves. If the future of our country is not informed about the issues facing these communities, then how will we ever solve them?

     Residential schools and Indigenous history is not covered properly in the Ontario School Curriculum. If we take a look at the current history curriculum, the government of Ontario only requires the material be taught in grades seven, eight, and ten. The curriculum follows New France and British North America, and the creation of Canada. They briefly touch on the struggles of First Nations, Metis, and Inuit communities but are primarily focused on Early European Settlers.

     The curriculum paints our country as fair and equal by avoiding to acknowledge the mass genocides and discrimination of Indigenous communities both in the past and the present. Ontario students should be taught about the treatment, culture and history of Indigenous peoples in Canada.

     The Truth and Reconciliation Commission was developed in 2008 and tasked with reconciling with former students, their families, and communities across Canada. They released 94 calls of action. One of which was issued a mandatory curriculum from kindergarten to grade twelve about residential schools. No province or territory has implemented this curriculum today. 

     Ontarians are not aware of the country’s treatment to Indiginous communities in residential schools due to the lack of education in the curriculum. The Canadian Race Relation Foundation and the Assembly of First Nations polled a week after the Kamloops unmarked gravesite was discovered. 47 percent of responders knew little about residential schools, while 20 percent knew nothing prior to the Kamloops discovery. The same survey showed that one in ten students who were taught about residential schools were informed it was a good thing. 

     This year a pastor in Mississauga, Ontario claimed that “good was done” by the Catholic Church who operated residential schools.  Thousands of other people in our country share the same mindset due to the misinformation in schools. If the future is taught that mass genocide and discrimination is a “good thing”  how will that result in our future? 

     Revisiting The Canadian Race Relation Foundation and Assembly of First Nations survey, we find out 41 percent of Canadians were not taught about residential schools at all in their curriculum, and two thirds thought they did not learn enough. The Ontario School Curriculum for Grade 7 and 8 history book mainly covers 1750-1800, 1800-1850, 1850-1890, 1890-1914. Although it touches on residential schools the basis of the curriculum follows the Colonization of Canada, and early European settlers.  

     The first step to changing the injustice against Indigenous communities is to acknowledge it. The government’s failure to educate our future affects the treatment of Indigenous communities in the future. This is more than teaching children about our history but making social change.

[1] “Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada”. 2021. Government of Canada.

[2] Mckinley, Steve. “Until Remains of 215 children found in Kamloops, two-thirds of Canadians say they knew just a little- or nothing- about residential schools”. 2021. Toronto Star. 

[3] “A look at what Canadian students are taught about residential schools across the country”. 2021. Global News. 

[4] Fox, Chris. “Ontario pastor under fire for comments about ‘good that was done’ by residential schools”. 2021. CTV News. 

[5] “The Ontario Curriculum”. 2018.