Leaders signing a five-year enhancement agreement with School District 27 said it marks a willingness to work together while acknowledging there is still a long way to go to ensure the success of First Nations students in the Cariboo-Chilcotin.
“We’ve come a long way in the education we provide to our students,” said Supt. Mark Thiessen during a signing ceremony held at the school board office Wednesday afternoon.
“But we have a long way to go to close the achievement gap between our non-First Nations and First Nations students.”
The new agreement, which replaces the first one signed in 2006, aims to create a culturally sensitive, welcoming and supportive climate for First Nations at all the district’s worksites by honouring and actively supporting the revitalization of the histories, cultures, governance and languages of First Nations.
Before signing the agreement, Ulkatcho (Anahim Lake) Chief Betty Cahoose said the goals in it need to be monitored and evaluated continually.
“I will continue to advocate for our Carrier language being taught in school,” she said, noting it is also crucial the curriculum is up to par for all First Nations children.
Ulkatcho’s education advocate Gloria Elgin said seeing the children from Marie Sharpe elementary attending the ceremony was so important.
As a residential school student she was classified as a special needs student and was never taught to read and write.
“When the time came for me to heal myself, I went to the court, and I was delivered and began to learn to read and write,” Elgin said, noting she also fights to make sure students don’t take courses they don’t need for graduation.
“I lost my culture and do not know how to speak my own language but one day I will receive that.”
District Principal, First Nations Education David DeRose, began his work on the agreement in 2013, after Joan Gentles retired from the district.
“It’s about the community and school district working together to further Aboriginal education,” DeRose said of the new agreement.
Gentles was on hand for the ceremony and said she has always appreciated the working relationship the school district has with First Nation communities.
“To have the district call it a working document shows an openness for us all to voice our opinions,” Gentles said.
Anaham Chief Joe Alphonse was absent from the ceremony and told the Tribune he won’t sign the agreement.
“Between Anaham and Stone Reserve we have our own elementary schools and the school district chooses to run an elementary school so they are competing for our children,” Alphonse said.
During the consultation for school closures Alphonse told the district to shut the Alexis Creek school down or convert it from Grade 8 to 12 so the Anaham community has an option to keep its children close to home rather than send them to secondary school in Williams Lake.