Survey in northern city asks parents: should O Canada be sung in schools?

The Canadian flag. (Philippe Duclos/CBC)
The public school authority in Iqaluit, Nunavut is looking into whether O Canada should be sung at its four schools.

The Iqaluit District Education Authority (IDEA) sent a survey to parents asking them to choose one of three options:

  • Have the anthem sung at schools every morning.
  • Have the anthem sung only on special occasions, such as Remembrance Day.
  • Not have the anthem sung at all.

In an email to CBC News, education authority chairman Doug Workman said the survey was an initiative of the authority, and surveys were sent to parents of students in all of its schools.

Workman said the authority does not need permission from the territorial Department of Education to make changes to policy in this case.

The issue of playing O Canada in Iqaluit schools arose after 12-year-old Miles Brewster was sent to the principal’s office at Aqsarniit Middle School in September 2018 for refusing to stand while the anthem was being played.

Miles Brewster said he remained seated during O Canada in September to make a statement about residential schools. Now, the Iqaluit District Education Authority in Nunavut is asking parents if they think the national anthem should be played in its four schools. (Travis Burke/CBC)
Country ‘doesn’t celebrate us’

He said his decision stemmed from concerns that his class had not discussed the meaning behind Orange Shirt Day, which is a day dedicated to survivors of residential schools. Miles’s stepfather had experienced abuse at a residential school in Inuvik, Northwest Territories.

Miles’s mother, Janet Brewster, said she suspects her son’s action was the reason why the education authority is surveying parents on the issue now.

“I think it’s really important to give parents and students the opportunity to have the discussion about the national anthem and to have an opportunity to give input into it and to make a decision that is one that the community has considered and is involved in making,” she said.

Workman said the decision to launch the survey came after parents, who had heard about Miles Brewster’s decision, started asking the education authority questions about the playing of O Canada at schools.

Brewster said her son continues to sit through the national anthem on most days. She said a couple of other students have since joined him in refusing to stand, and his action has created dialogue among students.

“I feel that it’s important to acknowledge that we are Canadians, but it’s also really important to acknowledge that the national anthem celebrates a country that doesn’t celebrate us,” she said.

“Until we reach substantive equality as Inuit in this country, I don’t feel that it’s necessary to stand or sing the national anthem.”

Brewster said she does not yet know how she’ll respond to the education authority’s survey, but she will speak with her son before making that decision.

Written by Donna Lee, based on reporting by Jackie McKay

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: First Nation in northwestern Canada ponders what to do with residential school site, CBC News

Norway: Inuit, Sami leading the way in Indigenous self-determination, study says, CBC News

Sweden: Sami abused in Sweden’s church-run schools, Radio Sweden

United States: Governor Walker apologizes for historical trauma at Alaska Federation of Natives convention, Alaska Public Media

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