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SD57 to support request to province for two additional Indigenous Trustees

Board of Education will write support letter at Lheidli T’enneh First Nation, McLeod Lake Indian Band’s request
Lheidli T'enneh Dayi Clay Pountney and McLeod Lake Indian Band Chief Harley Chingee signed a letter to the school board outlining their request. (via Hanna Petersen, PrinceGeorgeMatters)

School Board 57 (SD57) will now be writing a letter in support of adding two trustee seats for elected representatives from the Lheidli T’enneh First Nation and McLeod Lake Indian Band.

For additional trustee seats to be approved, the provincial government would have to amend the School Act and BC elections Act.

At last night’s public board meeting (Nov. 3), SD57 trustees unanimously approved writing a letter expressing support of acknowledging the right for Lheidli T’enneh and McLeod Lake to move forward their request.

The motion to write the letter was approved following an earlier presentation by Lheidli T’enneh Dayi Clay Pountney and McLeod Lake Indian Band Deputy Chief Jayde Duranleau.

“First Nations children, only about a quarter of them are graduating right now and to that it’s unacceptable,” said Dayi Pountney at the meeting.

Lheidli T’enneh has been requesting the board's support in this process for over a year. On May 28, 2019, Dayi Pountney first requested that the board support their efforts to have a board position filled by a band member.

Then on Nov. 29, 2019, SD57 and Lheidli T’enneh attended a Balhats (potlatch), the first one to be held in over 70 years, where they agreed to work together in a government-to-government relationship.

About 27 per cent of the total SD57-student population is considered Indigenous.

“This has been a year in the making and it shouldn’t take that long. It’s an easy piece. We are not asking for dollars, we are not asking for things, we are asking for support,” added Dayi Pountney.  

On Sept. 29 of this year, both Lheidli T’enneh and McLeod Lake officially requested SD57 Board of Education support for the addition of two Indigenous trustees, one to represent each First Nation.

“I am here to advocate for Indigenous youth and for a better spirit of collaboration and teamwork. Our community shares the Lheidli T’enneh’s view that the graduation rates for Indigenous students is of great concern,” said Duranleau to the board.

“We strongly feel that in order to rebuild trust, improve accountability and transparency and to improve graduation rates for students we need to have two indigenous trustees on the SD57 board and we need you to support our proposal.”

Trustees then discussed the recommendation to write a letter of support to the two Nations, who have already received a letter of support from District of Mackenzie Mayor Joan Atkinson.

“I think it’s important that the public realizes this is not our process,” said newly-elected vice-chair Shuirose Valimohamed. 

“This is a letter of support for Lheidli T’enneh and McLeod Lake's request to change trustee variation with the ministry of education and the provincial government. It is just a letter of support.”

However, some trustees noted that, as this would be a precedent-setting request, it could be held up in bureaucracy for years.

“I support what we are doing and it is a long journey,” said Trustee Sharel Warrington. “Legislation doesn’t change at the snap of a finger, but I still support whole motion moving forward.”

Trustee Tim Bennett said although this request is out of the board jurisdiction there’s a greater discussion to be had.

“I would encourage the district regardless of the outcome of this motion, regardless of the outcome of the decision of the minister of education, to look at how we are including authentic voice in our decision making that we are not just listening but listening, engaging and enacting.”

SD57 trustees debated the exact wording of the motion, amending it twice before it was approved unanimously.

The final version is as follows:

“That the Board of Education write a letter of support to Lheidli T’enneh Nation and McLeod Lake Indian Band regarding their request for the addition of two Indigenous Trustees, one elected to represent McLeod Lake Indian Band and the other elected to represent the Lheidli T’enneh Nation on the SD57 board of education and that the letter of support include the following:

The Board recognizes the strong support received from a number of indigenous and other community organizations regarding the joint request from Lheidli T’enneh Nation and McLeod Lake Indian Band.

The Board acknowledges that it is not within the mandate of the Board of Education to change the School Act, BC Elections Act or any other legislative process. The Board recognizes that jurisdiction to make the requeted changes lies within the Provincial Government.

The Board supports the government to government relationship between Indigenous First Nations and the provincial government as stated in Bill 41 and acknowledged the right of Lheidli T’enneh Nation and McLeod Lake Indian Band to move forward their request to the provincial government.”