As B.C.’s provincial election approaches Saturday, IndigiNews asked candidates from the three major parties in Greater Victoria to comment on what they think it would take to improve education for Indigenous Peoples on Vancouver Island.
- Plan: Funding for on-reserve education, Indigenous curriculum, TRC calls to action, UNDRIP
Rob Fleming is the incumbent NDP candidate in Victoria—Swan Lake. He’s also the current B.C. education minister.
“One of the things our government is really proud of is the BC Tripartite Education Agreement and its commitment to secure 100 million dollars in additional funding for on reserve education and also for kids that live on reserve and study in district schools,” he says.
“A huge part of that additional 100 million from the federal government is directed towards language revitalization which is of course a goal of our government since we created the language revitalization fund with the First Peoples Cultural Council.”
He explains that a big part of the new funding is for language revitalization in schools over the next five years, which allows the government to continue to work on the TRC Calls to Action as it relates to the school system and improving Indigenous student outcomes.
“We are beginning to see in a couple of parts of the province Indigenous Language Immersion programs which are really exciting. It’s the next step to be able to turn the corner and recover languages that are at risk of disappearing.”
Fleming says B.C. being the first province to adopt UNDRIP as law is one of the most exciting things that the government has done in the last few years.
“UNDRIP is really a framework around reconciliation,” he says.
“And the way to advance reconciliation is to … have a curriculum that finally reflects the contributions, worldviews, and culture of the original inhabitants of our land and how British Columbia developed, both the good and the bad, and the way to look at the future.”
Having Indigenous content in the curriculum through all grade levels is what Fleming thinks will improve the learning experience of all students but allows Indigenous students to finally see themselves reflected in what they are learning at school. This includes outdoor education which Fleming says is a huge trend that he suspects will continue.
“The long term health benefits we are just beginning to understand in terms of kids that have way too much screen time. Teaching them about proper nutrition, the value of exercise and having a connection with nature is something that is really really important.”
- Plan: Indigenous history in schools, community partnerships, Indigenous grad rates, UNDRIP
Adam Olsen is running for re-election in Saanich North and the Islands for the Green Party, where he says that there needs to be a deeper understanding of how Indigenous education in particular works in the province.
“We need to make sure that Indigenous education is geographically important,” he says.
“One of the real tragedies in my education is that the Indigenous education was ‘here’s what was happening in upper and lower Canada when Canada was forming’ not ‘let’s teach you and you can learn about the beautiful culture of the Saanich people who are right here.”
Olsen provides a nuanced approach to how he thinks the province can improve Indigenous education further. First on the list, the need to follow up on the UNDRIP action plan. Second, supporting the return of Indigenous languages. Third to reform approaches to Indigenous heritage and culture such as repatriating sacred items that have been taken from Indigenous lands and lastly finding ways to rebuild houses of governance.
In terms of how these broader issues could improve Indigenous education, Olsen uses attendance as an example to outline the importance of how they work together.
“Attendance is a symptom of all of these other broader issues,” he says. “You can’t just say improve attendance rates. Everyone wants to improve attendance rates, or improve grades. Deal with systemic racism in the education system, how are you going to do that?”
Olsen believes he has the answer, “By working in these areas you then start to demonstrate a real commitment and understanding to the challenge that Indigenous peoples and communities face.”
Nicole Duncan, a current school Board Trustee for the Greater Victoria School District, Duncan is running for the Greens in Oak Bay—Gordon Head. Being involved in the school board has been illuminating for Duncan who has worked on many issues within the education system and says that one of those issues is around equity and inclusion in particular.
“Looking at how we can work with Indigenous communities in order to address some of the concerns about the disparity between the graduation rates of our Indigenous students and graduation rates for non-Indigenous students,” she says.
Duncan says in order to find a solution to this gap it is important that decisions are not made in silos but instead in partnership and collaboration with Indigenous communities.
“Ensuring that we have collaborative and respectful open dialogue before we move forward on anything is absolutely essential,” she says.
Duncan believes that there should be a graduation course for all students on Indigenous cultural and history, Indigneous rights and traditions and languages embedding Indigenous ways of knowing into the curriculum and into the very design of learning spaces. To do this, Duncan says that she is about action not just creating reports but putting those plans into motion including UNDRIP legislation.
“Taking action, meaningful action, is so so important,” she says.
“I’m keen to focus on that and certainly raise the profile on some of these issues and push hard for provincial leadership on this.”
- Plan: Indigenous grad rates, technology, reconciliation
RJ Senko is the Liberal candidate in Esquimalt—Metchosin, which includes the Esquimalt, Songhees and Beecher Bay First Nation. He says improving education for Indigenous peoples is about participation.
“Indigenous students have some of the highest dropout rates across the province and we need to change that,” he says.
“And how we do this is by creating access to education. And one way to do that is to create hybrid learning.”
Senko says that increasing high speed internet will help remote communities to access education and encourage Indigenous participation in education.
“Education is a key to future success and unfortunately without it, especially in today’s techonogially driven times you can be left behind, and we don’t want to see anyone left behind.”
Senko says he’s proud of the fact the B.C. LIberals supported the adoption of UNDRIP in the legislature, but he says in order for it to be meaningful, the government must ensure that any work going forward is consistent with the intent of the declaration.
As for the TRC, Senko says it’s a federal-led initiative, however he “encourages the province to engage with the federal government towards true reconciliation with Indigenous peoples” in the broader context.