Offensive workbook sent home with students

Word search a relic of the past, but opportunity to learn from mistake, says Tony Baldwin

Representatives of Prairie South School Division are apologizing and vowing to make changes after students were given material offensive to Indigenous people before the long-weekend.

“I feel terribly badly that this happened, for everybody,” said director of education Tony Baldwin on Wednesday. “Mostly for kids and families and people who are First Nations and Métis, who we are working with and serving.”

The sheet in question contained a vocabulary exercise under the banner “An Indian Word Search” and was one of about 15 in the package a teacher passed out to a Grade 3 class at Palliser Heights School for students to work on after they had done their regular assignments. Children were asked to look for words like “squaw” and “Indian.”

Baldwin said he was torn between feeling bad for the teacher who he said certainly did not mean to distribute the sheet, and knowing that they should have reviewed it before passing it out.

“She reached in, grabbed a packet of papers, ran it through the photocopier, and here we are,” he said. “I think the bigger question is connected to our practice in schools. We hoard stuff all the time.”

Gerry Stonechild, an elder who has worked with Palliser Heights on Treaty education, said he knows this kind of thing won’t happen again.

“I advised them to notify the parents, and to apologize,” he said. “And to have a teacher conference to make sure everyone knows what to do.”

Stonechild also said teachers need to take a look in their files and root out out-dated material like this word search.

“There’s still a lot of this old material around,” he said.

Superintendent of school operations for the division Darran Teneycke said in a release that the teacher should have previewed the worksheets more closely.

“When the teacher became aware of the contents of the handout, they were horrified,” he said. “The materials in question were removed from the school immediately and school staff will be providing information to parents by the end of the day.”

While regretting the situation, Baldwin noted that it is also an opportunity to learn from the mistake. He said he would put Palliser Heights up against any other school in the province in terms of working towards reconciliation, but there is always room for improvement.

“When we talk about reconciliation, we need to recognize that we’re talking about screw-ups from 50 years ago, and screw-ups from last week,” he said. “It’s not always going to be pretty, but we need to keep grinding away at doing a better job. This week is what reconciliation looks like, it’s just that we didn’t do a great job of it this week; but we’re smarter for next week now on how to do a better job.”