Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools trustees have green-lit policy that will guide the school district as it continues down the path of reconciliation.
The school board has unanimously approved the Syeyutsus Reconciliation Framework, which aims to achieve balance between indigenous and western traditions in decision making. According to the policy, “Syeyutsus begins by understanding and embracing the teachings of this land on which we live and work as a basis for our journey to truth and reconciliation” and those can only “be fully appreciated by first understanding and recognizing the relationship between the land, language and culture.”
Syeyutsus, Hul’q’umi’num for walking in two worlds, is a culmination of work by previous and current trustees and with the board already having a goal of reconciliation, coupled with new provincial curriculum integrating aboriginal perspectives, Ted Cadwallader, school district principal of aboriginal education, said Syeyutsus is complementary.
“We’ve been doing a number of things that align with this policy already because of the curriculum, so when we talked to our students (during consultation) and asked them about what was going on in their lives around reconciliation, they were able to give us terrific feedback of what is already happening,” said Cadwallader.
Students suggested what to focus on moving forward and Cadwallader said there is potential for more place-based learning (learning outside on how Coast Salish people use the land), and presence of Hul’q’umi’num language in schools.
“I love seeing it woven through cross-curricular activities,” said Charlene McKay, board chairwoman, when asked how she would like to see it incorporated to learning. “I know we see teachers embrace an aboriginal theme for the year and then they use that theme to teach everything from math to writing skills to learning outdoors and outdoor spaces and connecting with the land … What I’ve seen so far around cross-curricular and having an aboriginal theme I think is really positive and it’s been really beneficial for my kids.”
Denise Wood, Nanaimo district teachers’ union president, said the framework will allow the school district to not only examine what’s going on in classrooms, but also identify “colonial structures” that are in place.
“To me, this framework says that policies and procedures that come out of the school district from now on and … are already in place are going to be looked at with this lens of how do we address this from a less colonial, less paternalistic, less racist structure then what we are seeing right now,” said Wood.
Natasha Bob, former trustee and Snaw-Naw-As First Nation member, said it will be beneficial to indigenous students, as she has seen pride students share in their indigenous culture and it makes a difference when everyone in the school acknowledges aboriginal history.
“Whereas if you were to look 20 years ago and the typical approach was that (if) a student were to encounter racism in the school and often times, it was said to the child, or the parent, that racism is part of life and [it] is something that everybody will have to learn how to deal with on their own…” Bob said. “But it’s almost like there’s more of a zero-tolerance policy around it and everybody seems to be working towards concepts of respect and anti-bullying and those sorts of things. I see it as a move towards social justice in many ways.”