BY BILL PHILLIPS
The Lheidli T’enneh want a seat on the School District 57 Board of Education.
Chief Clayton Pountney told the board Tuesday one of the seven positions should dedicated exclusively for a Lheidli T’enneh member. Currently all trustees are elected, with five elected from Prince George, one from Mackenzie, and one from the Robson Valley.
“The Lheidli T’enneh have a duty to ensure that Lheidli students are supported properly and we believe that extends to other indigenous students in our territory,” said Pountney.
He estimated one-third of students in school district are of indigenous ancestry and the only way to ensure they are properly supported is to have a Lheidli member be part of the board which makes decisions that impact those students. Not all students, however, are Lheidli T’enneh with about 40 bands having students in the district as well.
“Supporting ours and other indigenous students properly will ensure the sustainability of our communities and our nations for future generations,” Pountney said.
The board has discussed the request and while it hasn’t taken an official position yet, it is willing to have further talks with the Lheidli T’enneh.
“The board has made the commitment to meet with the chief and council in the relatively near future to talk about that suggestion and some of the concerns that they have and how we can work together,” said Tim Bennett board chair.
He said board has a good relationship with the Lheidli T’enneh through their signed Local Education Agreement.
Bennett said the request is similar to a request from Mackenzie a couple of years ago to have a trustee elected from that community. The provincial government subsequently ordered the district to have a trustee from both Mackenzie and the Robson Valley for the 2018 election. Previously trustees were elected from the district at large.
“There’s a process that needs to go forward, working with the Ministry of Education,” Bennett said. “The school district will, at that time, be then asked for its official position. Then it will be up to the minister of education to make the decision.”
While Mackenzie and the Robson Valley were determined geographically, creating a new Indigenous trustee would have a different set of criteria and Bennett said he doesn’t know how that process would work yet.
“One of the things that would have to be looked at is how voting would be done, how would you determine eligibility, who would get to vote and part of that consideration would be to look at is how the representation works,” Bennett said. “As well there would have to be conversations with McLeod Lake Indian Band and (other Indigenous communities).”
Bennett said regardless of outcome, the board will continue to ensure the Lheidli T’enneh will have an active voice in decision-making through the Aboriginal Education Committee in the district.
Pountney said that four of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s ‘Calls to Action’ deal with increasing educational content about residential schools and indigenous history in Canada, and to support more training for teachers to share this knowledge with students. He added that Article 14 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) states that indigenous peoples have the right to establish and control their own education systems and institutions.
“We believe the most efficient and effective way for us to fulfil our duty to ours and other indigenous students is to have a seat at the Board of Education table and to be represented by a Lheidli trustee,” Pountney said. “We also believe strongly that this would build on the success that we’ve seen through the Local Education Agreement signed between our nation and School District 57 in July 2017. Having a Lheidli trustee is the logical next step forward.”
In a somewhat unrelated matter Tuesday, the board supported a motion from trustee Trent Derrick to strike a committee to examine how the district can meet the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Report and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
The district was the first in the province to open an aboriginal choice school and graduation rates for Indigenous students have been increasing.
The aboriginal student six-year graduation rate increased from 57.3 per cent in 2016/17 to 65.8 per cent in 2017/18, representing a one-year percentage point increase of 8.5.