FORT RUPERT—Hundreds of North Island students looked on Friday as Minister of Education George Abbott and local First Nations leaders and educators renewed a historic pact during a ceremony in the Kwakiutl Big House.
The second Aboriginal Education Enhancement Agreement will run through the 2016-17 school year. Signatories hope it will continue the successes of the initial agreement, which saw the six-year completion rate for Aboriginal students in public schools increase by 12 per cent.
“These agreements have proven to be a powerful tool in support of Aboriginal students, and I applaud the school district and local First Nations for their success at improving Aboriginal student achievement,” said Abbott. “I am confident that this historic agreement will continue to strengthen
the bond between First Nations and the Province of B.C. as we work together to support our students.”
With a fire blazing at the centre of the floor, the minister and guests were treated to songs, dancing and greetings from First Nations leaders.
The ceremony ended with a luncheon feast for the students who traveled from many North Island schools.
“I believe the second Aboriginal Education Enhancement Agreement marks a greater commitment by First Nations and the school district to further our collective responsibilities to students and families,” said Kaleb Child, District principal for First Nations programs, initiatives and assessment. “And to
build stronger relationships together in supporting and nurturing individual student success and achievement.”
The agreement mandates four specific goals for Aboriginal education in public schools:
• All Aboriginal students will experience a sense of belonging and respect through the recognition and honouring of their culture, history and values;
• All partners will work towards increasing the level of academic success for each Aboriginal student;
• All students will experience Aboriginal content in all subject areas and at all grade levels; and
• All partners will work together to foster success for Aboriginal students through relationship building and partnerships with parents, families and communities.
Following the signing ceremony, Aboriginal students presented SD85 superintendent Scott Benwell with a large, framed poster signifying the agreement, which he held aloft to cheers as everyone was invited to the floor to dance. Other participants were given smaller versions of the poster.
The hosts had hoped to deliver Abbott to the Big House in a traditional canoe, but a storm bearing high winds and heavy, cold rain scrapped that plan.
The agreement signing also took place under the shadow of an ongoing job action by British Columbia’s teachers, with Abbott scheduled to return to his office to direct drafting of legislation to end the standoff between the BCTF and the B.C. Public School Employers’ Association.
Friday’s ceremony, though, focused on the partnership between the province and aboriginal communities in the education arena over the past decade.
According to information provided by the Ministry of Education, B.C. had invested $63 million, or more than $1,100 per student, for Aboriginal education in public school for the current school year. Funds are used to support Aboriginal language and culture programs, support service programs and other localized Aboriginal education programs.
“Our community’s first agreement was in 2005 and was a major success,” said Leighton Wishart, who signed as chair of SD85’s Board of Trustees. “We are thrilled to welcome this second agreement and are excited to build on past successes to ensure that our Aboriginal students feel supported and
welcome in our schools.”