School District No. 72 is moving ahead with an Aboriginal education policy that will see all staff receive training in indigenous issues.
School trustees unanimously passed a resolution at the May 8 meeting to adopt a new indigenous education policy for their policy handbook, to replace the old red book policy and procedure I-08 First Nations Education.
“We weren’t sure if this is being done anywhere else,” said trustee Richard Franklin, who introduced the motion.
The new policy is more far-reaching and puts the district in front of others in B.C. when it comes to practices supporting indigenous students, who make about 23 per cent of the student body in the school district.
Boards around the province have been taking steps in recent years to acknowledge local First Nations communities inside and outside the classroom, even acknowledging they are meeting on indigenous land at the start of meetings.
The new policy for School District No. 72 includes provisions that all staff have training regarding indigenous people. This, according to Greg Johnson, district principal for Aboriginal education, covers everyone including all new employees who will learn about local First Nations as part of online orientation. Beyond this, the process will include professional development days for all staff including teachers, office staff, custodians and bus drivers, typically the first district staff person whom students see each day. To support these measures, the district agreed to add money to next year’s budget.
“There’s a been a recognition that all people who interact with the students in the district need to have an understanding of the people whose territory we’re on, as well as First Nations, Metis and Inuit,” Johnson said later. “It’s a matter of building the background knowledge of all our educators and all staff…. That’s precedent-setting in the province.”
The process has started for some employees already with a “blanket exercise” in which they had a history lesson about this country, or “Turtle Island,” which covered pre- to post-contact questions.
Crucial to this and, in fact, the whole process of revamping the district’s policy is the indigenous advisory council.
“As far as what the curriculum will look like, that will be done in consultation with our local communities as well as the indigenous advisory council,” Johnson said. “It’s not going to be the district saying this is what all our educators and employees have to learn.”
The school board has established a budget to implement the policy. The district has been in the process of making Aboriginal culture a bigger part of its own culture, having signed enhancement agreements with local First Nations.
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As for the latest development, Franklin gave Johnson credit for his work to move along the policy, saying the principal did research and put together an early draft, which was circulated to partners for review.
“Greg is awesome…. He’s just done a tremendous job,” he said.
As a former teacher, Franklin knows how much the curriculum has changed, recalling an old textbook for Grade 4 students that Campbell River students once used, even though it focused on indigenous groups like the Haida and the Inuit rather than local First Nations.
“A lot of us have a Eurocentric view of history,” Franklin said. “We can learn so much from the indigenous culture…. The history of British Columbia is thousands and thousands of years old.”