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Burnaby not the only school district using exam that asks how First Nations benefited from colonizers

Materials created by Western Canadian Learning Network used in online courses provincewide

Burnaby’s school superintendent said an online test question that asked Grade 9 students how First Nations people benefited from their relationship with European colonizers and “took advantage” of it should never have been asked – and the district will be reaching out to the educational consortium that created it to express concern.

In a story published by the CBC, 14-year-old Sofia Milandri expressed anger at a question on her online Grade 9 social studies test that asked her to explain how Indigenous people in North America benefited from their relationship with colonizers.

“The people who were here were not just victims,” states the question. “Many took advantage of their relationship with the colonists.”

Superintendent Gina Niccoli-Moen was made aware of the question on Thursday, according to the school district.

In a statement, she said she was “deeply saddened and sorry” the question had been put on the exam and the district will take steps to prevent it from happening again.

“It is inappropriate and, worse than that, this kind of question is harmful and could be trauma-inducing for Indigenous youth and damaging to meaningful relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people,” Niccoli-Moen said. “This is not the way we integrate Indigenous perspectives and worldviews into curriculum in the Burnaby school district. This does not represent our values or the true impact of colonization on Indigenous peoples. And yet it happened.”

The district will follow up with the teacher involved and “continue working with people to build understanding of appropriate resources and help them understand where resources are problematic,” according to a district statement.

The exam question was part of the Grade 9 social studies course at Burnaby Online, the school district’s distance learning arm.

Course material for the online school, including the exam with the controversial question, comes from the Western Canadian Learning Network, a consortium of school districts in B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, the Yukon and the Northwest Territories.

The non-profit organization is the main resource for online schools across the province.

The question used on Milandri’s exam was not the most up-to-date version.

Western Canadian Learning Network director Bruce Weitzel told the NOW on Saturday that the question had been discarded and replaced with an entirely new one about birch-bark canoes.

“We must assume that the teacher did not see the posting advising of the necessary changes and the fix that should've avoided this situation,” Weitzel wrote in an emailed statement.

But Weitzel did not say when the consortium had tossed the question.

And Burnaby school officials told the NOW they had downloaded the course last Thursday (June 10), and found only a slightly amended question asking students to write about the positives of colonization.

“We all recognize that colonization had a tragic effect on the First Nations culture in North America,” stated that question. “There were, however, some positive results for both sides from the relationship between the colonists and the First Nations people. Write a paragraph where you look at the positive effects of the relationship between the First Nations people and the colonists.”

That version of the exam also still included an 1863 illustration titled “Innu at an HBC trading post” for students to make reference to in their answers.

To stop such things from showing up in courses in the future, the district said it’s working with administrators and teachers to review materials and reinforce appropriate learning resources; getting guidance from elders and the Indigenous community; and reaching out to the Western Canadian Learning Network to express its concerns.

“Immediate action and follow up is under way,” Niccoli-Moen said.

Follow Cornelia Naylor on Twitter @CorNaylor
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