NWT educators promise to confront systemic racism

Last modified: July 9, 2020 at 10:33am

The NWT’s school boards say they will develop new ways “to ensure historical injustices related to racism and colonialism are actively addressed.”

Territorial education leaders this week issued a statement supporting the Black Lives Matter movement and promising “to continue fighting for an end to systemic racism targeting Indigenous peoples.”

One superintendent said students were challenging teachers “as educators, and as a system, to do better and be better.”


Simone Gessler, superintendent of Yellowknife Catholic Schools, said she had met with recent graduate Sarah Chapman for an hour to discuss the school board’s approach to racism.

“She was not resentful or accusatory, she was simply asking us to rethink our content and curriculum to put more focus on understanding racial inequities and include more racial perspectives,” Gessler said in a series of tweets on Thursday.

On YouTube, Chapman said she and Gessler had discussed “the importance of bringing Black history into our classrooms.”

She told her former teachers: “It is now on you, as our next generation’s educators, to start building an anti-racist learning environment.”

Referring to Yellowknife’s recent march in support of Black Lives Matter, Chapman said: “Fighting against white supremacy does not stop after just one march. If you are a white individual, you must be educating yourself on these matters and using your voice to help the silenced.”


‘Collectively confront racism’

Both Chapman and Darlene Gruben – chair of the Beaufort Delta Regional Education Council – quoted South African anti-apartheid and human rights activist Desmond Tutu in saying: “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”

Gruben, in a statement, added: “NWT leaders and our youth cannot be quietly neutral about horrific historic and modern-day discrimination against Indigenous peoples. We must stand up for change and equality.”

RJ Simpson, the education minister, said in a statement: “I stand beside NWT education leaders in supporting Black Lives Matter and other anti-racist movements, and urge our students to collectively confront racism in their classrooms, communities and country.”

The Department of Education, Culture, and Employment, in a joint news release with the school boards, said it would “continue to focus on development of new curricula and ways of incorporating current affairs.”


There was no further detail regarding those plans.

The NWT currently has a northern studies course, mandatory for graduation, which features a module on residential schools alongside modules about the land, languages, history and cultures of the territory.