The First Nations mother of a London, Ont. Grade 6 student says she’s angry her daughter was given a school assignment in which she was asked to write a diary entry in the voice of Grey Owl, a U.K.-born man who rose to fame in the 1930s while pretending to be of Indigenous descent.
Stefania Giesbrecht said her daughter Willow Hanley was taught about Grey Owl while learning at home as part of a social studies unit taught back in September.
As CBC News reported on Monday, the information presented to students failed to point out that Grey Owl was a fraud, a white man who passed himself off as part Indigenous while promoting his books on lecture tours abroad.
The London District Catholic Board has agreed that failing to mention the fact Grey Owl was an imposter was a serious omission. The textbook publisher that produced the one-page biography has agreed to change the material, which has been pulled from the curriculum.
CBC News was unable to contact Giesbrecht, who is Anishinaabe or Anishinaabekwe, for the initial story. She came forward a few days later, wanting to explain more about how the mistake has affected her daughter, whom she refers to as Anishinaabenindaanis.
Giesbrecht was interviewed on London Morning Wednesday. You can year the full interview by clicking on the link at the bottom of this story.
These are types of micro aggressions that are going on in the education system that we are not aware of.– Stefania Giesbrecht, Anishinaabekwe/mother
Giesbrecht said she had a number of concerns with how aspects of the social studies course were taught when it came to Indigenous issues, but said holding up Grey Owl as a voice of Indigenous people is unforgivable.
She also said she wouldn’t have caught the omission had her daughter been learning in a classroom instead of at home.
“It was frustrating,” said Giesbrecht. “I continued to provide educational links, resources. I tried to express how this wasn’t proper knowledge about Grey Owl and the legacy that he left. I feel like it didn’t matter what I said and that’s why I went to the school board.
“[Grey Owl] culturally appropriated Anishinaabe people and we are Anishinaabe people. So to have my Anishinaabe daughter hear that this caricature of Grey Owl was going to be exemplified to the rest of her class was just unbelievable. These are types of micro aggressions that are going on in the education system that we are not aware of.
“I really feel as though there should be an apology.”
School Indigenous leads helped
Giesbrecht said the board called in its two Indigenous leads: Tammy Denomme and Ray John. Together they stepped in to help teach the social studies course, giving more accurate information about Grey Owl and other aspects of the course that mentioned Indigenous people.
John hails from Oneida Nation of the Thames and Giesbrecht said his perspective in the class made all the difference.
“I felt heard. I felt that my concerns were actually being understood,” she said.
Willow also spoke to CBC News and said it was frustrating to be told Grey Owl was being held up as someone to be admired when he actually appropriated an Indigenous identity for his own gain.
“He disguised himself as an Anishinaabe man,” said Willow. ” He made himself rich as a conservationist.”
You can listen to the full interview by clicking on the link below.
London Morning6:58Correcting Indigenous curriculum