Woman wants change to Indigenous studies course listing pros and cons about residential schools

Brye Roberston spoke out after receiving worksheet at university in Alberta


A student at Mount Royal University in Calgary is asking for a change to an Indigenous studies course because one segment teaches about the positives of the residential school system.

Brye Robertson is the daughter of a residential school survivor and just finished her first year of social work at the university. Her mother went to a residential school in Inuvik, N.W.T., so she knows the damage caused by the schools.

While taking the introduction to Indigenous studies course, she was given a worksheet by her professor Barbara Barnes that listed the positive and negative effects of residential schools.

She says she was shocked that anyone would find any positives.

“We know from the TRC that there were no positives in residential schools,” said Robertson. “And even the fact we call it residential schools, it’s intentional so the word school is there so people can say, ‘Oh, but they got an education.’ That wasn’t the purpose of the schools when they opened them.”

She emailed Barnes asking what she meant. Barnes — whose profile states she is from the Six Nations of the Grand River in Ontario — sent Robertson this reply.

It read in part, “Some positive is that the females learned to clean their houses so that diseases not take hold in the houses, they all learned English which has helped them communicate, learning to make foods and clothes. Boys learned carpentry taking care of gardens etc.”

Robertson replied she was teaching misinformation; the professor replied and wrote in part, “If you think of the positives deeper you would realize that the resiliency and not giving up attitude is such a strength that all the res.scool survivors emanating is a very much positive.”

Robertson says she wants the course to stop teaching falsehoods about the residential schools.

“I hope all educators think differently about what they are going to teach about residential schools. Sometimes it’s hard to teach the truth,” she said. “But there are age appropriate ways to do it starting from elementary school right to university.”

We asked the university to comment on Robertson’s concerns. They told us Barnes is a contract instructor and we should speak to her. But they did release this statement.

“Faculty members who deliver courses bring different experiences and approaches to the content. There is a process in place for students to formally voice their concerns,” it said.

Barnes has not retuned APTN’s request for comment.

Video Journalist / Edmonton

Chris Stewart has been in the media for 20 years. He has worked at CBC, Global and CTV as a news camera operator and editor. Chris joined APTN in 2012 in the Saskatoon Bureau and moved to APTN Edmonton bureau in 2015 as a Videojournalist.