For the 2023- 24 school year, Riverside will implement the new four credit First Peoples’ Literary Studies course as a graduation requirement for students working toward a B.C. Certificate of Graduation, the “Dogwood Diploma.” Riverside Secondary school admin had to make a decision as to when the course would be implemented, as a result, all grade 11 students next year must take English First Peoples English 11. What this means is that students’ options at the senior level will be limited, and previously offered courses, such as New Media & Journalism 11 and Creative Writing 11 will not be an option for students. These new implementations have caused some controversy among students regarding the fairness of the requirements, and whether they are beneficial for the school as a whole.
So, why the change? The Government of British Columbia Education website states that “The new graduation requirement will provide all B.C. students with the necessary time and opportunity to develop a deeper understanding of the experiences, cultures, histories, and contemporary contexts of Indigenous peoples in Canada.” However, some students argue that First Peoples Principles of Learning are already integrated into the curricular competencies, starting with primary all the way up to high school courses, especially in Language Arts and Social Studies. Because of that, Riverside students have varying opinions on these new requirements.
“Indigenous content is integrated into our classes already, so I don’t understand why we need to learn more about it, especially if we are not interested, and especially in grade 11 and 12 when options should be available,” said Dylan Schultze, a grade 11 student. Schultze also stated that while reconciliation is important, he isn’t sure if a whole new class is necessary. Grade 10 student Zander Pope echoed some similar concerns, mainly involving the mandatory First Peoples English 11 course. “I feel like we need more variety and English options because they provide more diverse opportunities to learn,” said Pope. He also mentioned how New Media and Journalism as well as Creative writing should be options, as students are still demonstrating core competencies with those courses; the best class for each student can vary. He said that having an Indigenous English class is a good idea, but perhaps it could be beneficial for the students to have a choice in the matter, make the requirement in an earlier grade or spread out the credit to other subject areas more, such as Social Studies. “I think the new class could help us gain new knowledge in First Nations traditions and experiences, and it is worth trying in order to reach reconciliation.”
“I think the new class could help us gain new knowledge in First Nations traditions and experiences, and it is worth trying in order to reach reconciliation.”
However, other students are embracing the new course and are excited. “I think the new class could help us gain new knowledge in First Nations traditions and experiences, and it is worth trying in order to reach reconciliation,” said grade 10 student Qayim Mecklai. Terry Teegee, the regional chief in the BC assembly of First Nations believes that the course is more than just a graduation requirement. “Having knowledge fights racism. That is why it’s so important to have this graduation requirement,” said Teegee. Mecklai and Teegee both say a similar point, that this class is meant for more than just requiring students to learn about First Nations, it is about preventing racism and building towards reconciliation.
The new indigenous requirement has been a source of controversy, but people are also hoping for it to be a source of illumination of pathways to acknowledging that the First People’s Principles of Learning are beneficial for all of society.
The course is meant to help repair relations with Indigenous groups, but to some students it feels unfair and limits choice. As the district continues to move towards reconciliation, these two motives may continue to collide, but all parties are hopeful for a resolution that makes everyone happy.