The Importance Of Indigenous Voice In The School Curriculum

 By Mia Fernandes 

Courtesy: Mia Fernandes

Grade 11 English is going to look a little different for high schools across Ontario. Next year, Understanding Contemporary First Nations, Métis, and Inuit voices will be taken by all students in the eleventh garde. 

So what does this mean? No more Shakespeare? What students will be reading? What will they learn?

Christos Vritsios is a teacher at Etobicoke School of the Arts. He says this new course gives both staff and students alike the opportunity to be exposed to the contemporary voices of First Nations, Metis, and Inuit peoples. Students will engage with short stories, poetry, dance, song, novels and more, as in any English course. The only difference is that these resources will be centered in Indigenous voices. 

“It’s not a matter of replacing one text with another, it’s far more that has to happen,” Vrtisios says.

This course has been running in the TDSB for years, but was only made a mandatory part of the curriculum this past winter. The course is supported by the Urban Indigenous Education Centre, a centre that works to provide Indigenous education to all staff and students in the TDSB. 

Vritsios also references the Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Action, which is a report calling upon the Canadian government to take steps towards reconciliation. Number 62 specifically addresses how to incorporate reconciliation into education, and is stated as the following:


“2. We call upon the federal, provincial, and territorial governments, in consultation and collaboration with Survivors, Aboriginal peoples, and educators, to:

 i. Make age-appropriate curriculum on residential schools, Treaties, and Aboriginal peoples’ historical and contemporary contributions to Canada a mandatory education requirement for Kindergarten to Grade Twelve students.


Since settlers arrived in Canada, colonial views regarding education have been imposed and forced upon Indigenous Peoples. This course offers a chance to not only learn, but to unlearn a lot of the systemic bias in our education system. The negotiation of these Indigenous perspectives and stories must be done with respect. 

Vritsios references the 4 R’s: Responsibility, Reciprocity, Relevance, and Respect. He says these are necessary components to this new course, and the only way it can be successful. If taught with the 4 R’s in mind, this course has the opportunity to shift the structure of education as we know it, expose thousands of students to a diverse array of material, and be a catalyst for change. 

And while the material in this course will seem new to many, it is important to recognize that there is countless amounts of material by Indigenous Creators that has been in existence for centuries, and that has been ignored in much of our curricula. 

 “From the very beginning, the land, the teachings, the stories, have always been on this land,” Vritsios says. “And so effective was the genocidal actions of government at erasure, that most Canadians have no clue or idea of the stories, the richness and diversity of the nations, the philosophies, the teachings, so this will offer an opportunity for canadians on this land to be able to listen to the voices that have always been here.”

When asked to touch on some of the material that may be used in the course, Vritsios stressed the importance of building a good learning foundation, using authentic voice and materials. Some titles that have been most useful for him in his work teaching this course as well as the Grade 10 Understanding Contemporary First Nations, Metis, and Inuit Voices course have been Greg Younging’s “Elements of Indigenous Style”, Daniel Heath Justice’s “Why Indigenous Literatures Matter”, and authors such as Dr. Joanne Archibald, Chelsea Vowel, and Bob Joseph. 

Courtesy: Mia Fernandes

And why is it so vital that this course is taught well? Vritsios puts it simply, “If you don’t do it mindfully and reciprocaly, if you don’t center Indigenous voice and Indigenous voice does not lead every aspect of the course, then you risk replicating erasure, and replicating colonial systems that put in place…do not center the voice and do not center the truth.”

“What students will walk away with will be life changing awareness of the land that they’re on, the relationships that have been embodied on the land from time immemorial,” Vritsios says. 

When it boils down to it, Shakespeare isn’t going anywhere. He’s been taught for decades and continues to be…but we can make room for some other authors, don’t you think? It’s about time. 

Related Articles