An agreement that’s been credited for helping influential local Indigenous educational programs and boosting First Nations student graduation rates has been renewed.
The Aboriginal education agreement between the Sea to Sky School District and the Squamish Nation has been extended for another five years.
This agreement doesn’t necessarily guarantee specific courses, but creates a mandate for educators and the Nation to collaborate on Indigenous programming.
“It has really nothing to do with programs,” said Susan Leslie, who oversees Aboriginal education in the school district. “It’s more of a contract to meet, to discuss, to make sure the work that we have agreed to do together in the agreement gets done, and a schedule to help us get the work done.”
“This isn’t symbolic,” Leslie told The Chief. “This is action.”
She said that the agreement forces her to meet with principals and other district staff to ensure they’ve met their commitments to Aboriginal education.
In the written agreement, the protocol states that its purpose is to “establish and maintain a co-operative and collaborative relationship.”
Special attention will be given to implementing the enhancement agreement.
This is a reference to the Aboriginal enhancement agreement the school district has with the local First Nations community.
In broad strokes, the enhancement agreement calls on local schools to aid the physical, intellectual, emotional and spiritual development of Aboriginal youth.
This includes the mandate to “enhance understanding, respect and engagement in Aboriginal language, culture and history.”
While the renewal between the Squamish Nation and the school district calls for authorities to pay special attention to the enhancement agreement, this will not stop other actions or programs from being developed.
With respect to enforcement of the agreement, the protocol outlines steps to contact authorities and administrators, should one of the parties feel someone isn’t keeping their part of the bargain.
This can include holding meetings with First Nations elders, mediation and appeals to the superintendent and the school board.
It doesn’t stop there – the document notes that “nothing in this protocol agreement is intended to limit legal remedies available to a party.”
Finally, the protocol is also careful to note that the school district and the Squamish Nation will maintain their independence throughout this agreement, which expires in June 2022.
“Nothing in this agreement shall be construed as creating a partnership, joint venture or other legal entity of any kind,” the document reads.
Prior to its renewal, the protocol had been credited with helping boost local Indigenous graduation rates.
Statistics from the Ministry of Education show that the six-year graduation rate for Aboriginal students in the Sea to Sky School District shot up to 82 per cent for the 2015 to 2016 school year.
Previously, it was pegged at 61 per cent from 2011 to 2012.
The overall graduation rate for students across the province is 83.6 per cent, according to ministry statistics from 2015 to 2016. For Aboriginal students across B.C. this number is 63.8 per cent.
Under the agreement, support workers have met with Indigenous students to help them choose the right courses. Data teams also track students’ performances and make support plans for vulnerable children.
Furthermore, programs such as the 24-Hour Drum and the Aboriginal Youth Council have been able to flourish in recent years.
“This is good news,” said Squamish Nation Coun. Chris Lewis in a news release. “But we must continue to improve the education system for Skwxwú7mesh students so they have the opportunity and ability to lead us toward a better future.”