An Open Letter to Canadians – BC Ministry of Education continues Politics of Denial and Exclusion for Métis
After almost eight (8) months of correspondence, it appears that the BC Ministry of Education (MoE) is still unwilling to support Métis education in this province with strong equal partnerships. They talk of “revised curriculums” but the Métis ‘focus’ of these programs and policies continue to be piecemeal, fragmented and inconsequential.
Attached is a letter received recently on August 19th by the MoE where Minister Bernier makes claims in about a process that ensures that Aboriginal perspectives and knowledge are embedded throughout the redesigned curriculum, but the Ministry clearly ignores or suppresses values that include the concept of the learner as a member of the total community or self governing ‘Nation.’ MoE talks about integration of Aboriginal content into the curriculum with the support of Métis, but clearly choose to disregard their former written assurances to partner with the BC Métis Federation on behalf of our partner communities back in March 2015.
It seems that the truncated perspective of the MoE in this letter – as representatives of the people – is to focus on what ‘they have to offer’ rather than see the possibilities for shared ‘growth’ as a result of partnership with all Métis peoples. They can’t imagine a healthy respect between each ‘other’. The context here in British Columbia is a long history of denial that Métis have collective Aboriginal rights and title. They claim to hold to the law to support their political viewpoint but the reality is that elements of British Columbian Métis policy to-date have not been just, beginning with BC’s entry into Confederation way back in 1871. In British Columbia, our colonial policies were influenced by American practices that transformed Aboriginal title into private property without the consent of First Nations.
In Oregon, it was understood that the “law must benefit the white population.” Founding politicians like Governor James Douglas were shrewd businessmen who ignored British policy on the unique and prior claim of Aboriginal rights and title. In 1871, part of the terms of BC’s Confederation was that Aboriginal rights and title would remain unrecognized. Legislative assembly members in BC would never speak of rights and title and these matters were kept secret by MLA’s. It’s not as if rights and title had gone away though but it did take some 125 years and the Delgamuukw Case for BC’s government to finally recognize the Aboriginal title that they had always claimed did not exist.
Métis self-governing communities are still waiting to be recognized as having existed. In the meantime, successive governments have used public policy and public institutions to segregate, marginalize and assimilate Métis people in order to dispossess what they perceived to be the “other.” We see the roots of this thinking in education way back in 1877. A superintendent of education visited a school near Langley. Writing in his diary:
“Found 21 pupils, chiefly half breeds and Indians… half breed children very unpromising, dull and stupid, apparently incapable of learning.”
These colonial ideas and their intergenerational consequences have never been acknowledged and rejected by any BC Education Minister. In the letter, the Minister claims to focus on the history and impact of the residential schools. As recent comments at the conclusion of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission have noted, however, there is a strong movement towards cultural, social and political renewal in Canada. Included in this broad sweeping change is an opening in the public imagination for a different view of our nation’s past, a vision that is being supported by a host of scholarly insight that tells the story of the encounter of diverse and dynamic cultures, sharing of land, resources, technology and ideas, diplomacy based on the equality of nations, and exchanges that resulted in rich cultural transformation and new nations being formed.
The transformative movement also recognizes the impact when the balance of power shifted and Canadians made the choice not to abide by the founding principles of mutual respect, reciprocity and friendship and resorted to policies of segregation, assimilation and marginalization in order to dispossess, once again, what they perceived to be “the other”.
It is fitting that as we near Canada’s Sesquicentennial in 2017, which will recognize 150 years since Confederation, that the story of our country’s birth is also going to include the resurgence of Aboriginal people and their dynamic history alongside that of a plethora of newcomer pasts that tell of how they came to understand this place called ‘home.’
In British Columbia, however, the consequence of Province of British Columbia’s narrow education approach is that we will have a generation of students in 2017 who will be completely ignorant of the history and vitality of Métis peoples in Canada and specifically here in BC. Many will go into public service, teaching or even politics where they will be exposed to the same choices that well meaning people in Canada’s past were faced with. Let’s hope the consequences of these interactions will be less disastrous than the British Columbia legacy.
If the long history of Métis – Canadian relations has taught us anything, nation to nation relationships require negotiation and compromise and not subjugation and violence (especially through the application of ‘law’, which is supposed to represent justice.) What the Minister calls an “education transformation process” in his letter is simply not transformational in any way, but about maintaining power.
Joe DesjarlaisSecretary Portfolio Holder for Education BC Métis Federation
Encl. MoE Letter to BC Métis Federation August 19th, 2015