WARNING: This story contains details some readers may find distressing.
A Mi’kmaw student says she was saddened and hurt to see racist stereotypes about Indigenous people included in her Nova Scotia Grade 10 English correspondence course, which also asked students to list the advantages and disadvantages of being placed in a residential school.
Malaika Joudry-Martel started the correspondence course — which was sent out by the province’s Education Department — in March and was slowly plugging away at it this week when her mother, shalan joudry, asked to take a look at it.
“I was scrolling through and some of the other language through the other units was problematic, and my Spidey senses were tingling. And she said, ‘Mama, you’re not going to like the First Nations unit,'” said joudry, who spells her name with lowercase letters.
Assignment asked for ‘benefits’ of residential schools
When joudry scrolled through to the last unit, she found an assignment where students were asked to read an article, write a personal response and then create a chart based on the article, listing the “benefits” and disadvantages of being placed in a residential school.
She said it “was such a stark moment to be looking at this” coming on the heels of the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation in Kamloops, B.C., announcing the discovery of what are believed to be the unmarked burial sites of 215 children at a former residential school.
Late last month, children’s remains were found at the site of a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C. Preliminary findings suggest the unmarked burial site could contain the remains of 215 children, according to the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation.
joudry said in her small community of L’sɨtkuk, also known as Bear River, N.S., a generation of children who went to the Shubenacadie Residential School in Nova Scotia “did not come home well.”
“We today are living with the effects of that school,” she said.
The course also asks students questions such as, “Why are poverty and alcoholism common problems among First Nations populations?” and “Why is unemployment high among First Nations?”
joudry said the material perpetuates racism and stereotypes of Indigenous people.
“This is going against the flow of where we want to head in reconciliation,” she said.
‘I cried a lot that day’
Joudry-Martel said when she first saw the material a couple of weeks ago, she closed the computer and cried.
“I very much was overwhelmed and I cried a lot that day,” she said. “It was very hurtful.”
She said it’s troubling to think other students could read that material and accept it as fact.
“They’d be like, ‘OK, well, here’s a fact and this is true.’ And so they’d be taking that with them, and then in the future, they’d still believe that because it would stay with them,” she said.
Correspondence courses are self-directed and have no teacher, but students’ work is sent to a marker for evaluation.
joudry wrote a post Wednesday on Facebook about the course content, and the post eventually made its way to Education Minister Derek Mombourquette, who called her the next morning to apologize and tell her the material was being removed.
Education minister responds
Mombourquette told CBC News Thursday he wasn’t sure how old the course material was, or what type of approval process it went through before being sent to students.
“This was an oversight and it made it out and it shouldn’t have made it out. And I apologize for it getting to the students,” he said Thursday.
Mombourquette said the material was created in 2003, 12 years before the Truth and Reconciliation Committee released its recommendations in 2015.
Mombourquette said the province is in the process of phasing out its correspondence courses, but he is now ordering a review of all such courses to ensure they meet provincial standards.
He said the content of that class does not reflect the general curriculum in the province.
“We work very closely with our Mi’kmaw elders to design treaty education and education around residential schools based on the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission,” he said.
Mombourquette thanked the family for coming forward and raising the issue.
He said about 75 students were taking the correspondence course, and the department is contacting all of them to offer support.
Support is available for anyone affected by their experience at residential schools, and those who are triggered by the latest reports.
A national Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support for former students and those affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866-925-4419.