First Nations council wants a say in Quebec's ethics and religious program reform

The First Nations Education Council (FNEC) says it is waiting to see if Quebec ‘walks the talk’ when it comes to revamping its controversial ‘Ethics and Religious Culture’ program.

"We firmly believe that cultural content is an important cornerstone of education," said Denis Gros-Louis, FNEC general director.

The organization, which works with 22 First Nations communities in Quebec, says it plans to vocalize its opinion during the consultation process.

“The FNEC plans to submit notions of Quebec First Nations cultures and realities, developed by these same First Nations, for inclusion in the new course,” it stated, pointing to the Viens Commission, which investigated the relationship between Indigenous people and public services in the province.

In total, 142 recommendations were made to increase access to services and acknowledge systemic racism against Indigenous people.

“This reform is taking place at a time when the government must respond to the Viens Commission's calls to action,” the group argued. “[This includes] the recommendation to ‘further enrich the Quebec curriculum by introducing a fair and representative portrait of Quebec First Nations and Inuit history, working with Indigenous authorities,’ and ‘introduce concepts related to Indigenous history and culture as early as possible in the school curriculum.’"

Quebec Education Minister Jean‑François Roberg notes the new program will most likely focus on democratic participation, legal rights, eco-citizenship, sex education, self and interpersonal development, ethics, digital footprints and culture.

The FNEC insists incorporating First Nations-created content within the new program will teach self-respect and understanding between children.

Consultations on revamping the ‘Ethics and Religious Culture’ program started last Friday with an online survey, which will be available until Feb. 21.

In addition, three public forums will be held on Feb. 7, 14 and 21, respectively in Trois-Rivières, Quebec City and Montreal. Various players in the province’s education community will be invited to share their views on the reform.

Following that, a report will be submitted to the education minister in the spring of 2020, which will be used to draft a new curriculum that “will be tested in some schools during the 2021-2022 school year.”

The ministry says the goal is to introduce a new version of the program at the start of the 2022-2023 academic year.