Prince George school board votes in favour of dedicated seats for Indigenous trustees

·2 min read

Members of the Prince George, B.C., school board have voted unanimously to call for the creation of two dedicated seats for Indigenous trustees at the board table.

However, the final decision over whether to move forward with the proposal will have to come from the Ministry of Education and provincial officials, who have the power to make the change.

"We don't have the authority to change the Education Act," said Trent Derrick, who was named the board's new chair at the same meeting. "It's a nation-to-nation process."

Derrick said it's important for the board to support efforts to improve graduation rates for Indigenous students in the region.

The chiefs of the Lheidli T'enneh First Nation and McLeod Lake Indian Band made the request for dedicated seats at a previous meeting, arguing it is necessary to represent the interests of the roughly 30 per cent of Indigenous students who are in the school system in north-central B.C.

"When [almost] one-third of the kids are First Nations, the biggest piece is to have a say within our own nation's territory," Clay Pountney, elected chief of the Lheidli T'enneh First Nation, told CBC in an interview in October.

"To actually have at the highest level — to have that say — is what we deserve."

A precedent for the proposal has been in place since 2018 when the education ministry created a ward system within School District 57.

It allowed voters from the Robson Valley and Mackenzie regions to elect trustees specifically from those areas.

The board's recommendation to the province is that the Lheidli T'enneh and McLeod Lake Indian Band representatives be elected, as well.

Andrew Kurjata/CBC
Andrew Kurjata/CBC

The support for the change comes just six months after the board came under fire for another attempt to increase Indigenous representation.

At the request of the Lheidli T'enneh, the board considered a request to change the name of Kelly Road Secondary School to Shas Ti, a phrase meaning "Grizzly crossing" in the Dakelh language.

That sparked backlash in the community, and ultimately the board opted for a dual name with both Shas Ti and Kelly Road appearing side-by-side at the school's entrance.

Derrick backed the full name change at the time, arguing it was a necessary step for reconciliation. He was supported by representative Shuirose Valimohamed, who on Tuesday was voted in as the board's new vice-chair.

In September 2019, the district named its first ever director of Aboriginal education to help Indigenous students succeed within the school system.

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