Letter to School District 36 Aboriginal Principal

 Solomon Lee 
Acting Aboriginal Principal 
School District #36 

Re: Métis Engagement 

Dear Mr. Lee,

As education portfolio holder of the BC Métis Federation I want to take some time to explain some of the broader challenges Métis people face and conclude with some practical recommendations.

The Indigenous and particularly the Métis ‘focus’ of BC public education programs has historically been piecemeal, fragmented and inconsequential. In BC, thanks to our narrow education approach, we have a generation of students who will be completely ignorant of the history and vitality of Métis peoples and communities in Canada. Racism continues in BC classrooms, both for individuals and systemic or institutional in nature.

Métis education has been largely cast in narrow utilitarian terms like “addressing the education gap” for individuals, student recruitment schemes, “cultural appreciation” programs or “moral or political begrudging accommodation.” School districts and the BC Ministry of education have not been accountable to the Métis learner in context of historic or contemporary Métis communities and the curriculum is unaccountable to Métis communities, histories, perspectives, and traditions.

The BC Métis Federation facilitates strong partnerships between educational institutions and Métis communities to resituate the future of K-12 and post-secondary education in this Province toward reconciliation. It is up to Métis to hold the school district of Surrey accountable to the principles of respect, reciprocity, and generosity.

We are not alone in these efforts toward renewal. As recent comments at the conclusion of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission final report have noted, there is a strong movement towards cultural, social, and political renewal in Canada. Education is a way to renew and transform relationships. The TRC Commissioners put it this way:

“As First Nations, Inuit, and Métis communities access and revitalize their spirituality, cultures, languages, laws, and governance systems, and as non-Aboriginal Canadians increasingly come to understand Indigenous history within Canada, and to recognize and respect Indigenous approaches to establishing and maintaining respectful relationships, Canadians can work together to forge a new covenant of reconciliation.” As well, recently we heard that the Auditor General recommended that the BC Ministry of Education collaborate with boards of education, superintendents, Aboriginal leaders and communities to address obstacles to ensuring safe, non-racist, culturally relevant learning environments.”

Education for Métis is connected to quality of life, vital self-governing communities and the ability of Métis to make meaningful choices that impact their livelihoods and ways of being. Education is not an ‘end’ but a means to opening up a space for the historical difference of the Métis to be expressed and, eventually, practiced in all of its fullness. As well it is important to encourage Métis to draw upon their knowledge and provide others in BC and Canada with the language and concepts to understand how co-existence and partnerships can become a reality in every area in society.

Practical issues to demonstrate intention:

  • The BC Métis Federation calls for the Surrey School District #36 to respect current Métis representation and that the school district takes the language of ‘partnership’ seriously with the local community representatives (Nova Métis Heritage Association) so that their accountability and decision-making is inseparable from the relationships that they hope to establish.
  •  To this end, Métis must be involved at the executive decision-making at the district level and on committees in the district at all levels in order to ensure long term sustainable partnerships. Reinforced by language from the TRC Commissioners, we believe that every Canadian institution (such as our legal or education systems) must be transformed to ensure that Métis and other indigenous peoples have a “greater ownership of, participation in, and access to its central driving forces.” In other words, there cannot ‘be’ the “Surrey school district” or “Aboriginal programming” without each other.
  •  We need to determine together what currently works as well as what constitutes meaningful change through ongoing intercultural dialogue and communication. The key here is listening to and respecting Métis community voices, needs and aspirations, both historical and contemporary.
  •  Keith mentioned that public funds for the Enhancement Agreement should be fairly invested to support this work. The need exists to determine finances for ongoing, long term Métis-specific engagement and capacity and this will lead to best supports to the many Métis in this district.
  •  Other districts for example have Aboriginal education consultants, Aboriginal education enhancement teachers, as well as Aboriginal education enhancement workers, cultural coordinators and resident elders. Partners must decide upon best approaches and this must include Métis equally along with First nations in these paid positions.

The Truth and Reconciliation report talks about sustained political will from every institution, and every Canadian. Meaningful partnership between Métis people and communities and School District 36 takes commitment, implementation and funding.

Métis people and the Nova Métis Heritage Association community look forward to “establishing and maintaining respectful relations” with the Surrey School District.

I look forward to a timely response to this draft document and next steps.

Thank you

Joe Desjarlais 
Education Portfolio Holder 
BC Métis Federation 
BC Métis Federation Board and Members 
Nova Métis Heritage Association 
President Ken Fisher 
Vice President Anthony Krilow 
Board Member Sharon Eyford 

[ilink url=”http://bcmetis.com/wp-content/uploads/BC-Metis-Federation-Letter-to-Mr.-Lee-February-2nd-2016.pdf” style=”download”]Click here to download this letter in PDF format.[/ilink]


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