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Parents disturbed by racist Kindergarten worksheet

The worksheet shows a stereotypical cartoon of Indigenous children. (Supplied) Tracee Smith has made her point with a local school and the school board about offensive material given to her son’s Junior Kindergarten class.
The worksheet shows a stereotypical cartoon of Indigenous children. (Supplied)

Tracee Smith has made her point with a local school and the school board about offensive material given to her son’s Junior Kindergarten class. Now she wants to know “what concrete steps will be taken to make sure it won’t happen again.”

Smith and her husband are Indigenous parents of two children at St. Davids Public School.

Last week her son, Ekkian Christmas, came home from JK with a worksheet designed to teach students to recognize the capital letter I, and a small i.

The graphic on the worksheet showed two Indigenous cartoon children, complete in fringed clothing, headbands and a feather, with the wording that began “two little Indians are eating ice cream,” and instructions to colour the correct letters.

“Indigenous people don’t walk around with feathers on their heads, and neither do we,” she told The Local.

Smith, a member of the Missanabie Cree First Nation in northern Ontario, spoke to principal Carl Glauser and District School Board of Niagara staff, and although “they said all the right things, they apologized and said they were looking into it and were conducting an investigation, what they haven’t said yet is what is actually going to happen as a result of it.”

She has been told they don’t know where that particular worksheet came from, and understands teachers are able to choose the resources they use as curriculum supplements.

But the question she had for the principal and board staff was “how do you take this paper, photocopy it 25 times, hand it out to a bunch of four- and five-year -olds, read it to them, do the exercise with them, and not know this is a problem?” asks Smith.

“The bigger picture,” she says, is what will be done next, what kind of training will be given, what is being done now that isn’t working and what can they do more of that will work? “That
is what hasn’t been communicated.”

Smith says staff she has talked to “have definitely acknowledged that they probably have to do more education and training, but how much more, and what does that mean? Until I actually explained the problem with the assignment, some of them didn’t really get it, they didn’t really understand, they asked me what’s offensive about this?”

Georgie Groat, the lead for Indigenous education with the District School Board of Niagara, “gets it,” says Smith, who works in Indigenous education herself on a national level. As founder of Outside Looking In, an organization  created to empower Indigenous youth, she understands there are always limits to time and budgets, but says there has to be a better job done of training.

The teacher who handed out the worksheet is young — she started teaching in 2017, says Smith.

“The bigger story includes what teachers are learning and not learning in teachers college. Every human being has their own views of other cultures, but as teachers, do they not have a bigger responsibility, are they not held to a higher standard to not perpetuate stereotypes and racist and discriminatory information to young minds?”

Smith hasn’t heard from any other parents — although a letter from the principal was sent home, she isn’t sure whether it went to every family or just those in her son’s class, and she doesn’t think they would know who made the complaint. But she does know she is the only parent who brought the issue to the school’s attention.

She has however heard from the wider community, “from people who are appalled.”

The good that could out of that worksheet would be to use it as a tool to teach other students, to have kids look at it critically and see if they have a problem with it, she says. “I know a few of my friends who have done that with their own kids, so it’s already being used as a learning opportunity.”

Kim Sweeney, senior manager of communications at the DSBN, told The Local the principal at St. Davids, “is supporting staff to review resources from the perspective of decolonization, equity, diversity, inclusion, and anti-racism.”

The origin of the worksheet is not clear, said Sweeney. “It is not a ministry document, and it didn’t come from the DSBN.”

Sweeney spoke of “disciplinary action,” but would’t share what that might look like — Smith says she certainly doesn’t want the teacher to lose her job, just to learn from her mistake.

All staff and schools at the DSBN have been notified of this incident, said Sweeney, outlining what steps are being taken to ensure teachers are more mindful of the material they choose in the future:

 • The Indigenous Education team are continually working with educators to provide professional development and authentic resources to support educators with embedding Indigenous knowledge into their teaching practice to strengthen the presence of Indigenous culture, languages, history, and current realities of students

• This will continue along with training sessions focused on understanding Eurocentric bias and how they negatively impact sovereignty-seeking individuals and communities

• Administrators at all schools will be reminding staff about the necessity to review resources with a decolonization, equity, diversity, inclusion and anti-racism lens.

This has come up at the time schools are about to celebrate Orange Shirt Day, and the DSBN recognizes National Truth and Reconciliation Day on Sept. 30 “as a whole system with every school participating. The Indigenous Education team has provided educators
with a variety of grade-
appropriate activities to support the learning of all students (Kindergarten to Grade 12) in the work toward Truth and Reconciliation. Students and staff are encouraged to wear something orange on that day,” Sweeney told The Local.

The DSBN has an Indigenous Education team of seven people led by Georgie Groat, for students from Kindergarten to Grade 12.

 “We know that supporting educators and staff at the DSBN is a process, and we are continually working to educate, provide PD sessions, and authentic resources to support administrators and teachers to build capacity when teaching and embedding Indigenous content and learning in their schools and classrooms,” said Groat. 

Her team is working toward further supporting the well-being and school experiences of First Nations, Métis, and Inuit students to promote student achievement, she said, and to strengthen the presence of Indigenous culture, languages, and history for all students, and assist educators to incorporate Indigenous knowledge into their teaching practice. 

“We are also working with Indigenous Education Advisory Council to involve community partners in the work we are doing.”

In his letter to St. Davids school families, principal Carl Glauser said when the worksheet was brought to his attention and he reviewed it, “it was clear that the content was racist and discriminatory.”

He apologized on behalf of the school and DSBN,saying they were “sincerely sorry to the students, families, and entire school community that this offensive material was distributed. It should not have been used as a learning resource.”

He said the  DSBN “is committed to embedding Indigenous learning across our curriculum, including education on Indigenous histories, perspectives, culture, contributions, and the current realities that exist today. And we continue to acknowledge and teach about the true history of residential schools and the impact they have – and continue to have – on families and communities across Canada.”

 However, he added, “we know there is still much more work to be done as we keep with our journey
towards truth and reconciliation. We remain committed to being an active partner in the reconciliation process.”

Smith is ready to move forward, hoping for concrete steps to be taken, and says “there will always be more to do, but you have to start somewhere.”

About the Author: Penny Coles

Penny Coles is editor of Niagara-on-the-Lake Local
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