The Ministry of Education, the Howe Sound School District and Aboriginal leaders signed an agreement to improve the success of Aboriginal students in the district on Friday (June 1) at the Totem Hall.
The Squamish Nation, Lil'wat Nation, N'Quatqua Band, Douglas Band, Samahquam Ucwalmicw, Skatin Nations and Métis, Inuit and Off-Reserve First Nations all signed the five-year Aboriginal Education Enhancement Agreement along with Ministry of Education representative Victor Jim and school district board of education chair Dave Walden during a ceremony that included a banquet, speeches and First Nations dancing and songs.
The Aboriginal Education Council (AEC), comprised of First Nations elders, representatives from First Nations education committees, school district representatives and teachers, drafted the agreement and is being praised by signing members as the reason for the agreement's success.
"[The council] allowed us to bring in the parents' and the children's and the Aboriginal communities' voice to the table," said Squamish Nation councilor Dale Harry.
The agreement comes into effect July 1 and sets out four goals as well as strategies to achieve those goals over the next five years. The Ministry of Education has mandated enhancement agreements for all of B.C., which has goals to improve Aboriginal students' school completion, academic performance of those "at risk" and literacy.
"We as teachers, as administrators, have always been aware that First Nations children experience challenges that other students didn't," said board of education chair Dave Walden. "We've done the best we can but it hasn't always been good enough."He said the agreement brings a new attitude of cooperation and respect that signals the start of a "new era."
No new funding will come from the Ministry of Education to support the agreement. The province uses targeted funding - an estimated $1,014 per Aboriginal student for 2007-08 - to fund existing language and culture programs and support programs. Walden said that money to support the initiatives of the agreement will be shifted from existing programs.
"The way we spend money will then be with the approval of both the school district and First Nations partners."
Samahquam Ucwalmicw chief Keith Smith said the agreement helps create a working relationship between the school district and First Nations.
"It helps schools be more mindful of our traditions and our cultures."
It took two-and-a-half years of monthly meetings for the 30-member AEC to research and draft the agreement. School district superintendent Rick Erickson echoed AEC members, saying the work has only begun.
"It will take all of us working together," he said. "So let's get moving."
One of the most significant changes to the school district as a result of the agreement is the creation of a District Administrator for Aboriginal Education, whose job it will be to oversee both existing programs for Aboriginal students as well as the implementation of the agreement.