An assignment taken home by a Grade 4 Kelowna student has sparked a heated online conversation about cultural sensitivity.
Scarlette Arie posted to Facebook photos of a “racist” homework assignment she said a nine-year-old Indigenous student had taken home from a new school.
“While going from a school that celebrated her culture, she has come to one that is devaluing it by calling her culture nasty things that she has to recall in the work,” said Arie, in the post that’s been widely shared.
“It was Pink Shirt Day (Wednesday) and as far as I am concerned this teacher is the biggest bully out there for sending a First Nations’ girl home with such a disgusting assignment.”
The assignment in question mimics the journal of a European settler in Upper Canada.
“Father and the other men have been arguing a lot lately. They don’t want us children to hear, but I can’t help but listen. Sounds like the First Nations are wanting us to leave. They don’t like the way we treat the land,” reads the assignment, written from the perspective of a child.
“I don’t think they understand the land doesn’t have feelings and it is our land now. I must remember that we are more educated than they are, but still, some of the ideas are silly.”
In a later page of the assignment students are asked to write words to describe how the girl’s family feels about First Nations people.
“It goes on to say how the white father doesn’t want his daughter associating with ‘them’ and the young girl claims Small Turtle (cue stereotyped name) isn’t like ‘the others’ she is not ‘savage’, she is kind and protecting,” writes Arie in her Facebook post.
While Arie and others who have shared the post are pointing to what they say is racist material, the principal of Quigley Elementary school, where the assignment was handed out, said it’s being taken out of context and part of a larger unit of study that involved a number of readings, many class discussions and writing portfolio inclusive of numerous student responses to those readings and discussions.
“As part of the revised B.C. curriculum, our Grade 4 teachers have been working with students over the last couple of weeks to learn more about the different perspectives of the First Nations’ people and early European settlers to Upper and Lower Canada as it was in the 1800s,” said principal Des Sjoquist.
“In order to understand the challenges facing Canada today, we believe it is necessary to explore the perspectives of the past.”
Cultures, both currently and historically, he said, can mistreat one another and it is only through analyzing the past that people can learn to not make the same mistakes in the future.
“An ethno-centric worldview during the formation of our country led to many conflicts,” he said. “It is important to discuss how different groups of people perceive each other and it is only through dialogue and discussion that we can develop empathy and appreciation for each other. This is perhaps even truer today than it ever has been in our global society.”
As for the online frustration it sparked, Sjoquist said the school always encourages parents and community members to work with teachers to move forward to build empathy and understanding.
“Taking resources out of context is always a dangerous and slippery slope,” he said.
“As is always done when dealing with sensitive topics, a great deal of time and care goes into designing lessons and discussions to support the learning process around these topics.”
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