Nanaimo school district needs to know what reconciliation looks like to First Nations people, says trustee Jamie Brennan.
“How will we be sure that we’ve done the necessary things, made necessary changes to gain your trust, to be responsible for your children – that is a huge area,” he said. “That’s one we’re finding now, many First Nations are abandoning the public school system, setting up their own schools on reserve or we’re seeing the Nanaimo Aboriginal Centre, a sort of urban-based First Nations education.
“If we don’t very soon regain that trust there won’t be any First Nations students in our schools.”
Nanaimo trustees shared reflections and ideas for next steps on reconciliation within the school system during an education meeting Wednesday, Nov. 1.
School trustees took part in a blanket exercise in August where they learned about colonization and role-played a time in history for Canada’s aboriginal people and last month, they heard the experiences of witnesses of that exercise.
Anne Tenning, district vice-principal of aboriginal education, told the News Bulletin that ultimately the goal is to come up with a working definition of reconciliation that works in the context of the school district. While there had been an idea to get that definition done earlier, the decision was made to slow the process.
“We don’t go straight to reconciliation,” said Tenning. “You start with truth, which was the blanket exercise, the powerful learning, hearing from the community and allowing that to inform the reconciliation goal and a working definition of reconciliation.”
A dominant theme among the board last week was the need to speak with First Nations partners about reconciliation.
Tania Brzovic, trustee, said there’s a part of her that says it doesn’t matter what she thinks reconciliation means, what matters is what it means to the people who have been the victims of hundreds of years of racism.
“For me, it’s a question of finding a respectful, safe way of asking kids, of asking parents, how do we make our schools better? How do we make this a place you feel as much valued as a much an equitable, equal part of our schools as people who are not indigenous,” she said. “I don’t know what that looks like yet.”
Trustee Steve Rae said he wants to ask First Nations partners how far they think the district has come, if they’ve come anywhere at all, and what they feel next steps should be “because this is something that we need to do together” while Bill Robinson, trustee, said he thinks with aboriginal students it’s important to focus on building pride, language and culture that lead to a growing self-confidence and a positive vision of where they can go.
Brennan said if the board wants reconciliation, it has to meet face-to-face and find out what the steps it has to take look like, suggesting there could be formal means of reconciling, like a feast, or informal with the use of elders or visiting reserves as a board to meet on a regular basis and find out what’s happening, if there are issues of concern and how those could be addressed.
“I see this as being ongoing and not resolved in the short term, but through a lot of energy and a lot of commitment and trust because that I think is lacking in some areas,” he said.
One thing that came to mind for Natasha Bob, acting chairwoman of the education meeting, was a focus on success rates, trying to address concerns and changing the trajectory of aboriginal learners, realizing challenges they face in their communities, like social isolation and transportation barriers.
She also said for every wrong doing within a First Nation culture or community, there would be a ceremony to wash away the shame.
“I like your idea about talking to our community members and getting an idea from them on what that would look like, how they’d like like to see that,” she said of the idea for a feast. “It could be a symbolic learning opportunity for our school district and our community.”