Lheidli T’enneh and McLeod Lake Indian Band in northern British Columbia are calling for changes in governance structures within the local school district.
The nations are hoping to turn around low graduation rates for First Nations students in the Prince George area.
The high school graduation rates of First Nations students are nearly 30 per cent lower than other students in the Prince George area.
Jayde Duranleau was on the Indigenous Education Advisory Committee at School District 57 (Prince George area) for McLeod Lake Indian Band.
She is currently a youth councillor for the nation.
She said those low graduation rates worry her.
“Indigenous graduation rates and success rates are definitely lower than non-Indigenous. Here at School District 57 we actually have the highest amount of Indigenous learners, we are at about 33 per cent and it’s not only Indigenous people from Lheidli T’enneh or McLeod Lake,” she said.
“There is a lot of other surrounding areas that First Nations come from here in the district.”
Duranleau is also a mother of three young students and said changes need to be made at the upper levels to improve outcomes.
“We don’t have on-reserve schools, so we really rely on the school district to provide those services, and when those services aren’t adequate, we need to be at those tables making changes and recommendations and providing input on our Indigenous learners’ education,” she said.
The Lheidli T’enneh First Nation and McLeod Lake Indian band pushed for a trustee position on the school board.
But that push for a higher role was not supported.
“Having those trustee positions for Lheidli T’enneh and McLeod Lake would really be putting us at those higher levels of decision making tables of the school district,” Daranleau said.
“Having a say with budget, having a say with curriculum and being able to help with graduation rates.”
The two nations also called for transparency that funding for Indigenous students is spent in the right places.
“Some of the first things you do is you look at the dollars, we start calling and say what’s happening with the dollars that are supposed to hit our Indigenous youth and is it hitting those marks,” said Lheidli T’enneh First Nation Chief Clayton Pountney.
“Then moving forward, we started looking there and talking to the ministers, the minister took notice.”
In February, the BC minister of Education sent a statement that she would be sending two special advisors to Prince George to review school board practices.
“We have heard several concerns raised regarding the Prince George School District, ranging from relations among partners and rights holders to lower student outcomes,” said Jennifer Whiteside in an email to APTN News.
“That’s why I have appointed Kory Wilson and Catherine McGregor as special advisors to find out what is happening and to recommend any further steps that need to be taken.”
Whiteside said she’s confident in the advisors’ experience.
“The special advisors have extensive expertise in Indigenous education and relations, as well as educational leadership and effectiveness, which will support their review,” she said.
“It’s important that any decision by the Province be informed by Indigenous perspectives, particularly given the significant number of Indigenous students enrolled in the district.”
She said the report from Prince George is set to be complete by the summer.
“The advisors will provide a final report with recommendations by June 1, 2021.”
School District 57 Board Chair Trent Derrick also responded with an emailed statement.
“Through communications with the Nations, we have decided to continue this work once the work of the Special Advisors has been completed, ” he wrote.
Both nations are now waiting for those recommendations.
They said they’re hopeful that they will have more input implementing Indigenous culture and curriculum to improve education outcomes for all Indigenous students in the future.
Chief Pountney is glad the BC Minister of Education sent advisors, and now he is hopeful there is follow-through.
“Obviously, the advisers are going to do their job, and they’re going to have recommendations that come out of this,” he said.
“I want to make sure the minister and School District 57 for the accountability piece moves forward with these recommendations but also having us at the table to make sure we have that decision-making ability.”