School District 5, College of the Rockies, Ktunaxa First Nation and local Métis cultural groups are continuing their mission to make the school system more inclusive for Indigenous students.
Representatives gathered at College of the Rockies campus on June 23 to renew and update the School District 5 Indigenous Education Enhancement Agreement. The document provides a framework for indigenous education in the Southeast Kootenays, so that indigenous youth can achieve academic success and benefit from a supportive community. It is updated every five years.
Students and elders from across the district were consulted in the development of two new sections within the document that outline the wishes of the local indigenous community. The wishlists will ensure that each school in the district has a gathering space specifically for indigenous students, that indigenous culture is promoted through school-wide events and that youth have the support network they need to succeed.
“That education and that acknowledgement and understanding is going to then lead to reconciliation. We need to include our children, right from the little guys in daycare all the way to high school and into our college and university settings. It’s deeper than having a recognized day. It’s having some of those tough conversations and learning that tougher history. Sometimes it hurts a little bit, but through that hurt we gain healing and we can heal together,” said chief Heidi Gravelle of Ktunaxa’s Tobacco Plains band in a speech.
Terminology in the document has changed from aboriginal to indigenous. Although aboriginal is not an incorrect word, Chief Joe Pierre of the ʔaq’am band said indigenous encapsulates the Ktunaxa identity better.
“The definition of the term indigenous is ‘being original to a place,’” he told the Free Press. “It’s really important in this time period to recognize place. The other big R with reconciliation is recognition.”
Pierre explained that racism is alive and well within schools and it continues to be a barrier that indigenous youth encounter along the road to success.
“I do know that our Indigenous students are still very much feeling racism in the system and being confronted with it,” he said.
“There was tough tough racism that I faced and my cousins faced. It’s still present, but maybe even a little more subtle these days and maybe that subtleness is actually what adds the sharpness to the blade when it’s being wielded.”
He anticipates that with greater cultural representation, schools will be a more welcoming place for indigenous youth and that youth will be able to reach their full potential.
“A sense of belonging in school will lead to a sense of achievement and achieving in the school system will lead to a sense of belonging.”