By Paul Dickinson
It was an historic day at the Xaxli'p Band office as representatives from 17 St' át'imc, Nlaka'pamux, and Secwpemc bands, the Gold Trail School District, the Ministry of Education, the Ashcroft Mtis Association, and the Lillooet Friendship Centre met to sign the Aboriginal Education Enhancement Agreement (AEEA) on June 1.
Xaxli'p Chief Roger Adolph welcomed over 100 guests in a brief speech to open the ceremony.
"We've come a long way," Chief Adolph told the crowd, "but we've still got a long way to go. Education is what opens the doors for our youth, but at the same time, it's important to hold on to our language and culture."
The five-page agreement has been in the works since early 2002, and bears resemblance to agreements signed in many districts across the province. Under the leadership of School Trustee Val Adrian and Administrator of the First Nations Education Council (FNEC) Dineen Manuel, FNEC met monthly to develop the document, which went through 15 drafts before the final signing last Wednesday.
In addition to the 17 band representatives signing, one elder from each Nation also signed the agreement as "honourary overseers."
Funding for the new goals will come from regular funds already targeted for First Nations education.
The document's aims are:
* to ensure continual improvement in the quality of programs delivered and the educational achievement of all Aboriginal students;
* to ensure both teachers and students have access to information regarding the history, language, and culture of all three First Nations;
* to commit to the development of Kindergarten to Grade 12 language programs for St'át'imc, Secwépemc, and Nlaka'pamux;
* "to commit to ongoing development and implementation of Integrated Resource Packages" for the three languages' courses that are authorized by the school board and the province;
* to support frameworks for improving the school climate, in order to promote trust between the parties;
* to develop and maintain strong relationships, as well as communication systems, between the schools and Aboriginal families; and
* to encourage Aboriginal family participation and input in all school-related meetings and activities, as well as encouraging School District staff and all families to attend Aboriginal community hosted meetings and activities.
In order to monitor the progression of these goals, the agreement includes several performance indicators, which focus mainly on noting the increase in quantity and quality of language and other courses, the number of students completing the courses, the resources available for such courses, First Nations content and awareness across the curriculum, and the number of non-Aboriginal staff and parents attending First Nations community events.
The next step, said Trustee Adrian, is to get the various groups together to decide on strategies.
"We want to be able to sit down and chat," Adrian said. "We know what we want, but we thought it would be easier to develop strategies if we sit down and talk than if we wrote them on paper."
Here's what others were saying about the Aboriginal Education Enhancement Agreement:
Nancy Wells, superintendent of schools: "To me, this document is about what is critical. It's about healing and reconciliation. It's about creating a future for our children."
Keith Zabotel, chair of First Nations Education Council (FNEC): "It's been a long process. It's been a lot of work. This day has been filled with a lot of energy. To get all the bands together like this, to have the majority of them signing the agreement, it's history, and it shows the importance of education.
"I'm very proud of the students for their songs and dances that they performed today. It shows the confidence within our students in the schools."
Dineen Manuel, administrator of FNEC: "It's been a lot of work, but the communities really pulled together for the betterment of First Nations education. I think everyone is one the same page that something different needs to happen. This is one of the most exciting things to happen to the district."
Trustee Val Adrian: "It's exciting. It's great to see three nations come together like this. We're going to do what's best for all students. We're working now to get everyone together to develop strategies to implement our goals.
Carmen Ranta, school board chair: "It's a very special day. A lot of people have put effort into this. What is important is that we've been able to gather together 17 bands; our district has the most bands of any school district in BC. I think relationships (between the different parties) have strengthened already through the development and sharing in this process.
"The school board trustees are excited to see something positive with a clear plan. This document represents a commitment to action on behalf of the board and the district. It's a united plan to improve achievement of Aboriginal standards, and all students will benefit from that. We're all tired of pieces of paper that don't mean anything. This is a fresh start."
Chief Garry John, Seton Band: "This document will be a test of commitment on both sides. I'm asking myself, "why do we need this agreement? Is that what it takes for education to work better?' I don't want to be here in a year amending it. We need to make better education a reality for our children."
Chief Mike Retasket, Bonaparte Band, Secwépemc Nation: "There's always room for improvement when it comes to our children's education. We pay a lot of money to the district, but we can't look at it in terms of dollars. The cost of education is expensive, but the cost of ignorance is triple.
"We should acknowledge the people here today, and the people who worked on the draft."
Bridge River Lillooet News May 25th 2005.USLCES Home page.