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The forgotten history of francophones in Alberta?

History is written by the winners! A formula that would seem to apply in Alberta. Last summer, the provincial Conservative government undertook a reform of the school curriculum established by the NDP. A year later, the leaked recommendations about this project foreshadowed the absence of Franco-Albertan history from books for young students.

Geoffrey gaye

Claudette Roy, who had worked for the recognition of the francophone history of Alberta in the 2005 curriculum, denounces the lack of prospects. The latter was affiliated with the Liberal Party in 2008. Credit: Courtesy

“Education has always been the most important thing for the Alberta Francophonie,” says Claudette Roy, president of the Francophone Historical Society of Alberta. This dean of the community knows the subject inside out. Her career as a social studies teacher, her successful commitment to the creation and management of Francophone schools, or even her participation in the creation of the 2005 school curriculum, “which for the first time integrated Francophone and Native perspectives”, make her an expert.

Now retired, Claudette is as if plunged into the past reading the recommendations for the future school curriculum, published by CBC on Wednesday, October 21. “What is being proposed now is really a step back,” she laments. All these battles for nothing? She is offended that Franco-Albertans are not mentioned in the recommendations of the new social studies program. Well, yes, they are, but “like a folk group”.

“It’s not elaborate,” she proclaims, while pointing out certain inconsistencies: “the fleur-de-lys, but not the Franco-Albertan flag; Adam Dollard des Ormeaux, but not Father Lacombe ”. The story we want to portray of the Francophonie is based on Quebec, she comments, before recalling that Francophones have been living in Alberta for over 200 years.

Majorities of yesterday, minorities of tomorrow

The French-speaking builders, often attached to the Catholic Church or the North West Company, are not the only ones absent from these recommendations. Very little mention is made of First Nations and Métis. “We get the impression that the place of aboriginal people is symbolic, but not contemporary,” says Nathalie Kermoal, professor in the faculty of native studies at the University of Alberta. While reading the text, the specialist noticed several paragraphs crossed out. “All aspects of the attachment of indigenous cultures to the land appear to have been erased.”

Nathalie Kermoal professeur à la faculté des études autochtones de l’Université de l’Alberta pense que ces recommandations sont archaïques. Crédit photo  Courtoisie
Nathalie Kermoal, professor in the Faculty of Native Studies at the University of Alberta, thinks these recommendations are archaic. Credit: Courtesy

The teacher also points to pedagogy. “Especially remembering dates, she wonders, as if remembering dates, it allowed the sense of accomplishment.” Let’s read on with her. “We talk about what is true, good and beautiful, that surprises me a bit. I think young people are able to integrate a lot of information and develop a critical mind ”.

Teaching the history of residential schools is not part of the new curriculum either. The authors of the document deem it “too sad for young children”. Madame Kermoal is indignant. “The fact of not talking about the realities of residential schools because it’s too sad, when we talk about slavery… We choose the degree of sadness, is that it? For her, this future curriculum does not seem to go in the direction of the recommendations of the Truth of Reconciliation Commission.

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Why a new curriculum? This project responds to the curriculum reform undertaken by the New Democrat government, contested by the United Conservative Party. When it came to power, Jason Kenney’s government put a stop to the curriculum change process, before announcing a new process.

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Carol Leonard. Credit: Courtesy

Carol Léonard, professor specializing in Education at Campus Saint-Jean, had participated in the development of the curriculum that was to be implemented under the previous mandate. He regrets that it was never applied. He indicates that hundreds of people, living across the province, had worked on it. According to him, the NDP “had in mind the idea of ​​an all-out contribution in order to take advantage of the most diverse opinions”.

Education policy

Is it all a question of perspectives? “The Prime Minister cannot meet a microphone without it storming in the East which would not pay attention to the Alberta perspective, well the Anglo-Albertan perspective. He claims that we pay attention to the prospect he cherishes, but he does not pay attention to other perspectives. Except that at home, it seems to me thought and premeditated ”, says the professor also holder of a master’s degree in psychology.

Nathalie Kermoal’s understanding goes in the same direction as her counterpart. She notices that in the “economy” part of one of the documents, “we only talk about oil companies”. “I also noticed that there is a lot of emphasis on the queen. One has the impression of returning to the grandeur of the British Empire ”.

Frederic Boily professeur de sciences politiques au Campus Saint Jean constate linfluence conservatrice de ces recommandations. Crédit photo   courtoisie.
Frederic Boily, professor of political science at Campus Saint-Jean, notes the conservative influence of these recommendations. Credit: courtesy.

“If I understand correctly, they want to review the content of the social studies program because, supposedly, the one developed by the previous government was very politically oriented, but this document is very conservative oriented,” says Nathalie Kermoal.

Frédéric Boily, professor of political science at Campus Saint-Jean specializing in conservatism, is not surprised by these orientations. “It fits with how the Conservatives think of history, a more traditional political narrative.” He says, however, that debates over the need to include different perspectives have been fiercer over the past two decades.

ACFA “extremely worried”

The Association canadienne-française de l’Alberta, spokesperson for the Francophonie in the province, reacted to the revelation of these documents by CBC. Entitled The ACFA extremely worried about the recommendations, the text denounces “a conception of the history of the Francophonie based in large part on that of Quebec”. “French was the first European language spoken in Alberta and it was the most widely spoken European language in the territories until around 1870. The Alberta Francophonie is rooted in a rich history and has its own historical and cultural references which are worth being taught, ”said President Sheila Risbud through this press release.

She also insists on the fact that the Francophonie is not only historical, “it is current, vibrant, diverse and growing”, recalling subsequently that the community is not a minority among others, because having one of the country’s two official languages. Contacted by the newspaper, the president denounces “the victors who have the right to destroy history”.

Sheila Risbud even speaks out on issues related to Aboriginal communities: “The path to commitment to reconciliation involves educating Alberta’s youth. It is essential, in 2020, that these perspectives are taken into account in the curriculum. “

The ministry wishes to reassure

Contacted by Le Franco, the Ministry of Education through press secretary Colin Aitchison insisted that these documents “are only recommendations”. According to her, they should be submitted this fall to the study program task force made up of hundreds of teachers, including francophones and natives.

“The new program will teach our students a comprehensive history of Canada, including the history of Francophones, First Nations, Métis and Inuit. As Minister LaGrange reiterated throughout the week, residential schools will also be covered by the program. No final decision has been taken and a preliminary version of the program will be made available to the public in the new year ”. Colin Aitchison concludes: “Be assured that the content and history of Francophones and Aboriginals will be included in the future curriculum of Alberta”.

Le Franco also obtained a list of 17 people who worked on these recommendations for the new curriculum. Five of them represent Indigenous perspectives. Only Srilata Ravi, professor at Campus Saint-Jean, represents the French-speaking community through “French and French-speaking Literature”, as specified in the list sent by the ministry.