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Ontario public servants to get mandatory sensitivity training on indigenous people, history

Ontario workers to be taught about the legacy of colonization in hopes to improve understanding.
Feb. 17, 2016
By Tanya Talaga

More than 60,000 members of Ontario’s public service will soon receive mandatory sensitivity training regarding the history and experiences of the province’s indigenous people, the Star has learned.

Premier Kathleen Wynne is expected to announce on Wednesday that every OPS employee will receive mandatory indigenous cultural competency and anti-racism training. Ontario’s public servants work in all government ministries from finance to child welfare, agencies and Crown corporations.

Wynne is also expected to further outline mandatory learning expectations in the province’s public education curriculum to include the impact of residential schools, the history of colonization and the role of treaties signed between the Crown and First Nations.

The changes push Ontario toward addressing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC) 94 recommendations, released last June, which are meant to incorporate indigenous culture and teaching throughout Canadian society.

For 100 years, residential schools - run by churches and sanctioned by the government - took nearly 150,000 First Nations, Métis and Inuit children away from their families and communities and sent them away to school. Thousands of children never made it home and died while at the schools.

TRC chair Justice Murray Sinclair called this dark period in Canadian history an act of cultural genocide as the impact of the mass removal of generations of children from their families left a legacy of broken families, poverty, mistrust of government, abuse, alcoholism and fractured lives.

A key component of the sensitivity training will be focused on violence against indigenous women and girls.

Exactly how many murdered and missing there are in Canada is the subject of ongoing debate. The RCMP released a report two years ago that said there were 1,181 murdered and missing indigenous women and girls between 1980 and 2012. However, some say that number is twice as high, closer to 4,000, as not every death was properly investigated.

Some families of murdered and missing women and girls have spoken of their displeasure with the investigations into their loved one’s deaths and the problem of police racism.

Police racism came to the forefront last December when RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson boldly admitted to a special meeting of Assembly of First Nations chiefs that there are “racists” in his police force and that he does not want them there. Also in December, Ontario Provincial Police Commissioner Vince Hawkes echoed Paulson by adding there is no room for racists on his force, either.

Since then, the RCMP has reached out to indigenous organizations to try to figure out how to go forward and mend a history of mutual mistrust.

The sensitivity training will instruct employees on terminology, colonial history in Ontario from treaties to child welfare and Indian hospitals such as the Fort William Indian Hospital Sanatorium, which operated from the 1940s to the 1970s. The training will discuss how social disparities and inequities grew from these experiences.

The training will include interactive cultural activities, the harm of stereotyping and the legacy of colonization. It will also teach better “communications and relationship-building skills to promote positive partnerships with indigenous people,” according to information on the event obtained by the Star.

Other courses required for Ontario public servants to take include workplace violence prevention and training on Ontario Human Rights Code requirements regarding persons with disabilities.

The premier is also expected to discuss further progress on collaborating with First Nations, Métis, and Inuit partners on how they are incorporating indigenous history and culture into the public school curriculum.

Last August, the province and the Chiefs of Ontario signed a political accord that signaled a new relationship between the two. The accord affirmed, among other things, the inherent right to First Nations self-government and the importance of working together.