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English classes to include mandatory indigenous writers

Troy Shantz The local public school board is implementing a new mandatory English class that focuses on First Nations writers and literature.

Troy Shantz

The local public school board is implementing a new mandatory English class that focuses on First Nations writers and literature.

“Instead of talking about Romeo and Juliet, you’re going to be talking about Canadian indigenous authors,” said Mark Sherman, a superintendent with the Lambton Kent District School Board.

Starting in September, the native-focused course will for the first time become mandatory for about 1,700 eleventh grade students at the board’s 12 high schools.

The English course will retain the same core elements but will also include material that better mirrors the demographics of the board - which includes four First Nations, Sherman said.

“You can learn about Lord of the Flies but that (has) a British post-colonial perspective,” he said.

“It’s a great book, but it probably doesn’t speak to who we are as a local community.”

Some of the study titles include Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese, Medicine River by Thomas King, and The Night Wanderer by Drew Taylor.

Fans of English classics by Shakespeare and Dickens needn’t fret, Sherman was quick to point out. None of the traditional works will be displaced, just relocated and still accessible to students in other English courses.

The new curriculum was developed internally by the board over the past three years and included opportunity for parental input.

“Staff and students have embraced it, and certainly we’ve got some positive feedback from our First Nations partners,” he said.

Aamjiwnaang First Nation Chief Joanne Rogers welcomes the new course.

“This just shows that the LKDSB is willing to be partners with the First Nations in educating all of students about our history,” said Rogers. “I think that’s absolutely great.”

The decision also comes at a critical time in Canada’s history, with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s call to action still fresh in people’s minds.

As communities prepare to celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday this summer, many still aren’t aware of the contribution and sacrifices of First Nations people, Rogers said.

“A lot of people just don’t understand,” she said. “They don’t know about residential schools, they don’t know about the ‘60s scoop, they don’t know about the medical testing on our people.”

Rogers said information and education is key to telling a more accurate version of the nation’s history, and she hopes the new course can help do that.

“The more they know, the more they’ll understand,” she said.

The English course adds to a growing list of First Nations-themed classes Sarnia-Lambton high school students can take, Sherman added.

They include a Grade 9 First Nations art course, a Grade 11 elective on Native studies, and a Grade 12 class on global perspectives of Indigenous culture.

“How engaged can students be when they don't see themselves reflected in the curriculum?” asked Sherman.

“This reflects better at who we are as a community.”

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