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Nepean High School: Students tackle English through new Aboriginal voices course

By Anna Berglas and 
Ellis Bissonnette

Truth and reconciliation is a vital part of Canadian culture. Although the last residential school was only shut down in 1996, many adults are learning about this aspect of our history through their children. Only recently have students studied residential schools as part of their history courses. Now, Nepean High School is taking it a step further by introducing the “English: Contemporary Aboriginal Voices” course to Grade 11 students as a replacement for the traditional English class.

The OCDSB website defines “English: Contemporary Aboriginal Voices” as a course that “focuses on themes, forms, and styles of literary, informal, and graphic texts of First Nation, Metis, and Inuit authors.”

Parents concerned that this will shift priority away from developing communications skills do not need to worry; while students analyze texts and gain insight into Indigenous culture, conventional English skills are still being taught. The Ontario curriculum of this new course notes that: “students will also conduct research and analyse the information gathered; write persuasive and literary essays; and analyse the relationship between media forms and audiences.”.

Nepean students have been finding the course both informative and relevant, and agreed that it was important to learn about Indigenous culture.

“We live on Indigenous land and are woefully uninformed about Indigenous people, culture and history,” says Charlotte Dwyer, a Grade 12 student. “These are incredibly written and relevant works that have been sidelined for years. In order for us to have reconciliation, we must have truth, and truth takes time and must come from the mouths of those who have lived those truths. Teachers have immense responsibilities in teaching these sensitive topics, and must consult and bring in Indigenous community members to the classroom.”

“It’s been a learning curve for everyone. Cultural sensitivity has been something that all staff are learning. It’s new and exciting and relevant,” says Ms. Russell, who is teaching an Indigenous Studies course for the first time.

As part of the course, students create editorials on the importance of clean water, two of which will be featured on the Nepean High School online newspaper, Knightwatch. In addition, the class is reading Marrow Thieves, a novel by Métis author, Cherie Dimaline. The class also watches lots of videos on powwows and other aspects of Indigenous culture.

This class has proved to be an excellent addition to Nepean High School, increasing cultural awareness, participating in the truth and reconciliation movement, and ultimately ensuring that the past will not be repeated.

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