Hamilton, Ont. School Asks Kids To Roleplay Colonizers For History Homework

Students roleplayed as European settlers.

PSA for any well-meaning history teachers out there: It’s never a good idea for kids to roleplay colonizers. Especially not for grades.

A Hamilton, Ont., educator found this out the hard way, after assigning their Grade 7 class a final activity last week in which students would need to write speeches from the perspective of a French settler.

A handout of the assignment instructed students to convince Indigenous people to let them stay on their land and used outdated terminology in reference to the speech’s intended audience.

“You have just discovered North America,” it reads. “The aboriginal people that were there before you are having issues with you staying.”

“The more convincing you are,” the handout states in capital letters, “the better your mark will be!”

Vancouver community activist Stephanie Allen decried the handout in a tweet that quickly went viral, along with a screenshot taken by a family member’s daughter attending the class.

“Black and Indigenous students playing the role of their enslaver/colonizer/land thieves,” Allen tweeted. “White supremacy is a system in Canada, working as designed.”

Many were quick to call the assignment out for being racist towards Indigenous people, for making students defend colonialism, and for downplaying the sovereignty of Indigenous people in North America.

While the teacher hasn’t come forward to explain or apologize for the assignment, a school board representative for the unnamed Hamilton school said the teacher has “learned from the situation.” The representative also apologized for the “insensitive” handout.

“Absolutely we understand how this specific assignment is seen to be insensitive and inappropriate,” Pat Daly, chair of the Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic District School Board, told the Hamilton Spectator. “I express regret and [on] behalf on the board, I apologize for any concern that it has caused for the parent and the Indigenous community.”

The assignment followed their curriculum guidelines for using “historical inquiry processes to investigate the perspective of different groups and communities.” The outlet reported that the board’s Indigenous Education lead would soon follow up with educators to ensure future assignments “promote truth and reconciliation.”

Given the increased worldwide focus on racism over the last few weeks, and given that two Indigenous people, Rodney Levi and Chantel Moore, were killed by Canadian police in two separate incidents this month, Daly called the assignment ill-timed.

“I would not suggest that it would have been appropriate at any time, but absolutely we understand why it would seem that much more insensitive and inappropriate now,” he told CBC.

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