Leaders praise support for Indigenous school board trustees

·2 min read

Representatives of Lheidli T'enneh Nation and the McLeod Lake Indian Band welcomed School District 57's decision to support the addition of two Indigenous trustees.

Saying he is happy with the outcome, Lheidli T'enneh Nation Dayi Clay Pountney added that the "work begins now" in terms of getting the provincial government to agree to the request.

MLIB deputy chief Jayde Duranleau echoed Pountney's comments.

"This has been a long time coming," Duranleau said. "We've been in the news for awhile with this and I'm just glad to see the want for teamwork and collaboration."

Pountney asked 18 months ago to have one of the seven school trustees elected by members of the First Nation. The McLeod Lake Indian Band joined that request in September.

School District 57 will now send a letter of support to the education ministry and other provincial officials who have the authority to make the change.

Duranleau said securing approval from the province will be a step in the right direction for indigenous students.

"We can address some barriers our children are facing and obviously get them the skills and the tools that they need to graduate, get a better education and come back to the community and support our community and make a difference," Duranleau said.

They want to see the changes in place in time for the next round of civic elections in October 2022.

Duranleau said the additions would allow the two bands to participate in board-level decisions and influence school district spending and policy, particularly in relation to instances of systemic racism.

Pountney said it could set a precedent for the rest of the province.

"I think a lot of other first nations have been watching us closely to see how this is actually going to turn out... if we're going to open that door for other first nations, we're totally for it," he said.

About 30 per cent of students in the school district self-identify as Indigenous and neither nation has an on-reserve school.

Pountney said the move will not only help Indigenous students but improve education within the school district in general by promoting greater cultural awareness "and kind of getting rid of the ignorance that still exists."

"I don't think people realize who we are and what we're about and when that's taught more, I think a lot of that is going to go by the wayside," he said.

Mark Nielsen, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Prince George Citizen