A Quebec school, École Lajoie in Outremont, Canada, has come under fire after two of its grade 3 teachers wore aboriginal headdresses and also forced students to wear them on their first day of classes.
Jennifer Dorner, whose daughter and niece both attend the same school, posted a photo of one of the teachers on Facebook. Apparently her niece Zoe expressed unhappiness with the headdress and wanted to rip it off.
"I was pretty horrified, I was hoping that this kind of thing stopped happening a long time ago, but apparently it continues so I took a picture and posted about it," she said in an interview.
The headgear, which is of great spiritual and political importance among indigenous communities, was meant to teach students about native communities in Quebec — and help them find their teachers on the first day, as explained by school board spokeswoman Gina Guillemette.
Since there is a spiritual and cultural significance attached to these headdresses, Dorner found what the teachers did with it to be extremely disrespectful.
“I felt the same way when I saw this. My only thought is that perhaps if we invited a representative/leader of an indigenous group to speak to the school administrators to explain why cultural appropriation isn't actually an appropriate way to teach about native culture? I don't know — I feel so discouraged by this kind of thing ongoing at Lajoie,” one woman commented on Dorner’s Facebook post.
Dorner posted an update on her post, informing people that the school board had communicated with CBC after an interview request following Dorner's post. The two teachers involved in the incident have studied anthropology and history and donning of the headdress was apparently their way of introducing indigenous history in the curriculum.
Part of the day's lesson revolved around the various contributions aboriginal communities have made to Québec society. However, they must note that wearing costumes does not represent indigenous traditions and cultures and is instead rather offensive. Perhaps instead of using certain costumes, languages or music to teach students about minority communities, a member from the community could be invited in for a talk.
This isn’t the first time the school has landed itself in the public eye for cultural insensitivity.
In 2014, it had a Christmas play in which Santa went to Africa and was infected with an Ebola-like illness. Dorner’s daughter was supposed to appear in blackface, but after her mother objected to it, the requirement for children to darken their faces was removed. However, the school authorities expressed bewilderment about why Dorner objected to the blackface makeup.