After years of work, SD 19’s Aboriginal Education Agreement is signed

By David F. Rooney

After years of hard work, SD 19 and its Aboriginal Education Enhancement Committee finally signed an agreement with the province that commits the district to improving the sometimes troubled relationship native and Metis kids have with the school system.

The document, which was signed on Friday during a ceremony and banquet at Columbia Park Elementary School, outlined the following goals:

  • Strong relationships are the foundation on which the Enhancement Agreement will succeed; these relationships must be nurtured and sustained through on-going respect and dialogue.
  • The needs of our Aboriginal students must be continuously assessed and supported on an individual basis.
  • Aboriginal families are welcomed into a school environment that respects their ancestry and culture, and inspires┬ápride.
  • Our Aboriginal students are provided with opportunities to learn and lead in the broader community.
  • Our commitment to continued reflection and review will support a vibrant, living document for present and future generations.

“We envision aboriginal students who are successful and confident,” said SD 19 Superintendent Anne Cooper as she launched the signing ceremony.

Indeed, native and Metis kids are already doing better in the district, according to figures included in the agreement’s working document. In 2003/04 only four of seven graduating aboriginal students at RSS participated in the┬áBlanket/Sash Ceremony, which is a kind of declaration of their identity. That number has risen. In 2005/06 five of five students participated. Since then all identified aboriginal students have participated in the ceremony.

Trish Rosborough of the Ministry of Education said the document is clearly “a symbolic statement of all the work that has been done in the district.”

Education Minister Margaret MacDiarmid could not be present for the ceremony and George Abbott, Minister of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation, also cancelled his attendance.

MacDiarmid did, however, send a letter in which she said this kind of agreement supports “the integration of aboriginal culture in our schools, which is essential to ensuring that each and every child has the best chance for success.”

Marilyn James, long-time advocate for the Sinixt people who have been declared extinct as an identifiable tribe by the federal government, said that despite a history in which native children were forced into white-run schools and robbed of their identity, agreements such as this show that education can benefit native children.

Here are some images from the evening’s event, which also featured a meal catered by La Baguette:

Mayor David Raven (left) and School Board Chairman Alan Chell and his wife, Linda, listen as SD 19 Superintendent Anne Cooper welcomes dignitaries and other guests to the banquet marking the signing of the district's first Aboriginal Education Enhancement Agreement at Columbia Park Elementary School on Friday evening. David F. Rooney photo
Lynne Barisoff (left), Brenda Percell and Shan Jorgenson-Adam share a light moment as they wait their turn to sign copies of the agreement. Margaret Verhaeghe, chairwoman of the SD 19 Aboriginal Enhancement Committee, was the first person to sign the agreement. The over-size documents are copies of standard 8x11 documents that they also signed. One of the large copies will be kept in the SD 19 archive and the other will be put on display at Revelstoke Secondary School. David F. Rooney photo
Lynne Barisoff (left), Brenda Percell and Shan Jorgenson-Adam share a light moment as they wait their turn to sign copies of the agreement. Margaret Verhaeghe, chairwoman of the SD 19 Aboriginal Enhancement Committee, was the first person to sign the agreement. The over-size documents are copies of standard 8x11 documents that they also signed. One of the large copies will be kept in the SD 19 archive and the other will be put on display at Revelstoke Secondary School. David F. Rooney photo
School Board Trustee Doug Hamilton signs the agreement as Lynne Barisoff snaps his picture. David F. Rooney photo
Hamilton was obviously popular with the lady photographers. Here he signs one of the letter-sized documents as another woman photographer takes his picture. David F. Rooney photo
Arrow Heights Elementary School teacher Sue Leach, who was a long-time member of the committee, signs the document. David F. Rooney photo
Trish Rosborough of the Ministry of Education speaks to the crowd of about 90 people who attended the signing and a feast of salmon and roast beef, followed by chocolate mousse, tea and coffee. David F. Rooney photo
Marilyn James, long-time advocate for the Sinixt, a tribe the federal government has labelled "extinct" blesses the agreement with tobacco as her friend Lola Campbell looks on. The Sinixt were one of four tribes that used this area. The other were the Ktunaxa, the Shuswap and the Okanagans. David F. Rooney photo
RSS student Michelle Barisoff signs on behalf of native youth. David F. Rooney photo
Margaret Verhaeghe's grandaughter Alassa dances with hoops to the sound of a drum. David F. Rooney photo
Jannica Hoskins-Doizi, SD 19's Aboriginal Education Assistant, beats a drum for the young dancer. She also induced the crowd to sing a song in Michif, a Metis dialect. David F. Rooney photo
AHE teacher Sue Leach takes SD 19 Chairman Alan Chell on a tour of the art work produced by her Grade 3/4 students to mark the signing of the Aboriginal Educaiton Enhancement Ageement. David F. Rooney photo
Sue Leach's students produced dioramas and lots of drawings and collages. David F. Rooney photo
Alan Chell ponders the meaning of this collage produced by 3/4 students at AHE. David F. Rooney photo
Members of the Aboriginal Education Enhancement Committee pose for a photo after the event. From left to right in front are: Brenda Percell, Jannica Hoskins-Doizi, Michelle Cole, Margaret Verhaeghe, Lynne Barisoff and Doug Hamilton. From left to right in back are: Sue Leach, Anne Cooper and Shan Jorgenson-Adam. David F. Rooney photo