Ottawa school advisory group discusses dropping ‘O Canada’ from classrooms
OTTAWA -- It’s the start to every school day in Ontario: students standing for the national anthem.
But in Ottawa public schools, there are conversations about whether that tradition should continue.
Minutes from a meeting of the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board’s Indigenous Education Advisory Council say a member of the committee, Lili Miller, “expressed the opinion that this practice is distasteful and should be replaced with something more healthy and positive,” in regards to students standing and singing the Canadian national anthem.
Elder Albert Dumont, a spiritual advisor from the Kitigan Zibi Anishnabeg First Nation, was at the meeting and says the suggestion sparked thoughtful discussion.
“It wasn’t something that I expected we would talk about. But whenever it did arise, I definitely know very well Canada’s history with Indigenous peoples,” he said. “There was immense oppression that occurred. So maybe I could ask you: would you be up for singing the national anthem of a country that did that to you?”
Dumont says he thinks it’s okay to have the national anthem played in schools, but would support students who wish not to sing along or stand.
“I will honour and respect the good things that Canada has done, but they’ve still got a long ways to go to reconcile,” he said. “If an Indigenous student chooses not to stand up in the classroom for the singing of O Canada, I would support that child or that student to make that decision.”
CTV News reached out to Miller, who declined to comment.
A professor of Indigenous studies, who isn’t part of the advisory council, said removing the anthem from the morning ceremony isn’t necessary.
“I don’t think everything Canadian should be tossed out wholesale,” said Veldon Coburn, an Indigenous Studies professor with the University of Ottawa.
Coburn argues that when it comes to reconciliation there are a number of more pressing issues.
“I think we’re disproportionately concentrated and focused on the symbolic gestures rather than making a material difference in the lives of Indigenous peoples,” Coburn added.
Instead of removing the anthem, Coburn says it needs to be a learning opportunity for students.
“I think there might be role for teachers to explain more about the national anthem; even the lyrics themselves they speak to something that’s entirely foreign to Indigenous peoples; you lose that sense whenever you just abandon it,” Coburn said.
In a statement, the Ottawa Carleton District School Board said the singing of the anthem provincially mandated, but students are not forced to participate.
“The singing of O Canada is a required component of schools' opening exercise (Education Act, section 304 and Ontario Regulation 435/00),” spokesperson Darcy Knoll said. “Students may be exempted from participation in circumstances set out in the Regulations to the Act and in accordance with the Ontario Human Rights Code.”
The rule states the student does not need to sing O Canada if a parent/guardian, or an adult student, requests that the student be exempted from doing so. No explanation is required.
The Indigenous Education Advisory Council “plays an important role in helping advance our commitments to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action,” the statement said.
“We are grateful to the IEAC for their wisdom in helping the OCDSB critically examine practices that may impact on Indigenous people differently.”
According to the meeting minutes, Jody Alexander the Vice-Principal of First Nations, Métis, and Inuit Education, said the board is committed to informing staff that students do not need to participate in the anthem.
The minutes also mention an educational program through the Inuuqatigiit Centre for staff and students. CTV News reached out to the centre but they declined to comment.
A spokesperson for Education Minister Stephen Lecce said the government expects the national anthem to be played in schools.
““We expect the national anthem to be played each morning within all Ontario schools, as a reminder of the many blessings we share as Canadians,” the statement said. “On the eve of Remembrance Day, we pay tribute to those who served in defence of our country, values, and flag.”