LEFT: Krista Macinnis, with a red handprint across her face that symbolizes the silencing of First Nations people, displays the homework assignment that her Grade 6 daughter received on Tuesday. (Submitted photo)

Abbotsford school district must make amends for harmful residential school assignment: superintendent

'The first step is to unreservedly apologize for the harm … caused to our community': Kevin Godden

Abbotsford School District superintendent Kevin Godden has promised that the district will work to fix the damage caused by a school assignment in which students were asked to list the positive aspects of residential schools.

In a letter to parents posted Friday on the district’s website, Godden writes, “We take responsibility for the impact of our actions and commit to repairing the harm we have caused.”

On Wednesday, Krista Macinnis posted online about her child’s school assignment in which a W.A. Fraser Middle School teacher asked students to Google “positive experiences with residential schools” and write five different good things about such schools.

The assignment generated waves of outrage both locally and well beyond Abbotsford.

Macinnis, who is of Cree and Blackfoot heritage, said the assignment obscured the true horrors of, and systemic harms caused by, the residential school system. She compared the assignment to asking someone to list five positive things about slavery or Nazism.

RELATED: Abbotsford mom angry that students asked to list positive stories about residential schools

“As a First Nations person, I understand that we all have our own voice about the things that happened there,” she told The News. “Unfortunately, I don’t think that this is something that should be taught in a classroom environment, when it’s not the true horrors and events of residential schools.”

Godden, in his letter to parents, apologized and said the assignment was a setback to the district’s efforts to incorporate Indigenous perspectives into classrooms.

“I want to assure you of our commitment to appropriately respond to situations of this nature and to reaffirm our commitment to creating equitable and inclusive spaces for our students and staff. The first step is to unreservedly apologize for the harm it has caused to our community, and in particular to members of our Indigenous community, and to our district aspirations to be leaders in our nation’s journey of truth and reconciliation.”

Godden pointed to an agreement between the district, Ministry of Education and Indigenous community that led to stronger relationships with local First Nations, and provided more opportunities for teachers to learn about ways to incorporate “activities related to truth and reconciliation” in classrooms.

In the letter, Godden also urged parents to talk to their children about the issue.

“During times like this, our children may need the support of caring adults to help them process the discourse related to this event. I encourage all families to have conversations at home about these important topics, including the intergenerational trauma and impacts of residential schools.”

He also pointed to mental health support for children in and out of school.

“This has been a humbling experience for all of us,” Godden wrote. “As a school district, we will redouble our efforts to interrupt and disrupt racism and all forms of discrimination, and remain committed to revealing and correcting miseducation related to our Indigenous peoples. We will work with our Indigenous community elders to move forward together in a manner that honours each of our children and our common humanity.”

The letter doesn’t address any specifics related to the teacher involved in the assignment.

READ THE FULL LETTER

-with files from Vikki Hopes

Do you have something to add to this story, or something else we should report on? Email:tolsen@abbynews.com


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